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She built a school in Nepal. What does Maggie Doyne say about passion?

Thursday, February 9, 2012 by Marianne Elliott

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My latest post at Huffington Post builds on something I wrote here recently, Why your passion isn’t enough. I wanted to update and deepen that piece by including the perspective of someone who has incredible passion, and has even been showcased by Nick Kristoff as an example of the effectiveness of passionate amateurs over professionals: Maggie Doyne, founder of Kopila Valley Children’s Home and School in Nepal.

There was so much good stuff in my interview with Maggie, but I was only able to include a little of it in the HuffPo piece, so here is the interview in it’s entirety:

1. After Nick Kristof’s article, some people might see you as the cover-girl for DIY aid, for the power of passion over professionalism. In your experience, is passion enough?

More than a cover-girl for DIY Aid, I’d like to think of myself as a young woman who believes in hard work and the power of creating grassroots community driven efforts to create a better world. I do not regard passion and professionalism as mutually exclusive, especially in the case of my own organization.

I can’t speak for other projects, but in regard to our Kopila experience and the community we have created—our team is filled with passionate and professional perspectives. Working alongside me are, Nepali men and women: a community of care-givers, teachers, health-workers, counselors, subsistence farmers, gardeners, engineers, craftsmen, government leaders, village elders, and mothers. As the director of my project, I am constantly learning and working to improve and hone my skills and knowledge. Together, we make our model work.

The answer to your question really isn’t such a simple one.

Passion lights the spark, it’s what keeps you going when you times get hard but in the end of the day it’s your skill, ideas, hard work, and commitment that add to the formula and make you successful.

Professionalism and passion are both implicit.

We’ve built this project from the ground up and everyone plays a valuable role.

Many of our staff come from extremely impoverished childhoods, and or, were orphans themselves. They know what life was like for our children and they know what it’ll take for them to heal and become self-sufficient moving forward.

We have ambitious goals and we work hard to achieve them. We believe our children will change their communities, country and the world. At times the challenges we face are overwhelming—but together we figure out solutions. We are invested in the long-term impact. Our children speak volumes for us, they are happy healthy and thriving; each has made, and continue to make enormous progress.

2. What, in your view, are the risks (if any) of passionate people launching aid and development projects without experience or professional support?

Every project and person is different and I resist the inclination to generalize advice on risks. I’d much rather focus on what worked and works for our project and for me. Learning the language and local dialects, immersing myself in my local community, and bringing a support team on board to chip away at real world problems, one child at a time, has been the key to our success.

A conversation between Ophelia Dahl and Paul Farmer (founders of Partners In Health) might express it best—at the time both young volunteers in Haiti.

Ophelia Dahl:

“The problems there seemed insurmountable. It seemed crazy to think we could actually do something that would make a difference. Paul said, “Let’s just try to concentrate on one small area.” He taught me an important lesson. You don’t set out to do enormous things quickly. You set out with a reasonable target. If you hit it, you hit it well, and it will grow from there.”

I didn’t land in Nepal with a grand vision. I started with one child, Hima—a seven-year old who I met as she was breaking stones (to sell) on the side of the road.

Everything started with the idea that I could make the life and future of this one little girl better.

3. Do you think a Masters in Development would have helped you do a better job of building Kopila? If so, how? If not, why not?

Many Universities are tackling and addressing critically important global challenges. I am an advocate for education both in and outside the walls of a classroom, with diverse approaches and experienced based learning. In my case, I am not armed with a graduate degree—still, we have made significant measurable progress.

My absolute highest priority has been creating a safe, calm, warm environment so the children of Kopila Valley Home and School may feel their own power, and ultimately grow to share that strength with their families, communities, and the world.

Do I think I would benefit from the intellectually stimulating community a university offers, of course!

Am I happy with the path I took? Yes.

My experiences over the past 6 years have given me deep insight into the complex world of development and creating social change. I have put careful thought and planning into every action and consulted mentors, advisors, and both my Nepalese and U.S. based board of directors along the way.

There are 7 billion people in this world and so many complex pressing problems to solve.

There is still so much to do and there’s room for a diversity of approaches, innovations, collaborations, synergy and everyone’s voice.



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