Cover to Cover: A Passports with Purpose Interview

Millenium Development Goals painting by roadside (Zambia) by Maaret Virtanen

As many of us know, the initial phase of the 2011 Passports with Purpose fundraiser has begun. This year’s goal is to raise $80,000 and build two libraries in Zambia. Recently, I had the privilege of conducting a Q&A session with Pam Mandel and the founders of Passports with Purpose. So, without further ado, shall we begin?

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If you don’t mind, I’d like to start with a little bit of history, then move on to the 2011 project.

What brought all four of you together in the beginning, as a group, outside of Passports with Purpose?

We all live in Seattle. We’d been showing up at the same meetups, sharing ideas, talking about the blogging conferences… so I suppose it was geography and common interests – we’re all travelers, wired ones at that. We added Meg Paynor in our second year to help us with our PR — she’s another one we just kept meeting at travel events and we really wanted to work with her, she just got us.

If the answer to #1 is Passports with Purpose, which one of you proposed the original idea for creating such a project and how did you choose who to recruit to aid in said project?

Debbie’s idea was, “Hey, let’s do something good… I’m not sure what that means.”

It was initially Debbie Dubrow’s idea. She’s the blogger behind Delicious Baby. But the creation of PwP was totally organic. Debbie’s idea was, “Hey, let’s do something good… I’m not sure what that means.” And together, we developed the idea of PwP.

How long did it take to put the concept together and launch the 2008 project for Heifer International?

Oh, an afternoon? A week? Really, it seems like we just didn’t spend that much time on it. See, we were using things we all knew how to use. Blogging. Twitter. Web enabled stuff. We probably worked together for three weeks or so, it was all very last minute, but it just sort of came together.

How does PwP decide which organizations are good candidates? (I know from your website, PwP believes all people are equal and avoids religious and/or politically motivated projects.)

We look for projects that are sustainable over the long term without our help – they should have local partnerships that support the project after our engagement. We really don’t want, for example, to fund the construction of a clinic and then find that there are no doctors to staff it – the project needs to live on its own, we’re just jump-starting it. We like projects that benefit women and children or have an educational focus.

In 2009, PwP asked for $14,000 to build a school in Cambodia and actually received $30,000. Last year, PwP set a goal of $50,000 and gained $64,128 to build a complete village in India. How do you explain this type of success?

People like being able to make a meaningful contribution, and this gives them a way to do it using the skills and resources they have. Sometimes blogging is like talking into an echo chamber. Is anyone reading? Are you making a difference to anyone? It’s hard to know. Participating in Passports with purpose lets you point to something – a school, or a house, or a library and say “I helped build that. My blog helped build that.”

This year (2011), PwP is asking for $80,000 to build and fill two libraries full of real (hand-held) books in Zambia in cooperation with the Room to Read organization. Do you think PwP will reach its goal?

I’ll confess that every year, we wonder if we’ll make it. Every year we blow past our goal. Right now, I’m still in the doubt phase. Ask me again in January.

Pam, I have read your blog post about  ’short-changing yourself on reading material’ during a recent trip. Like your self, my husband and I grew up with books and our house is overflowing with them. (I pity the person who will have to dispense of our library when we’re viewing the world from the dirt side up.) But, you also comment on downloading several books to your phone. With today’s technology, why choose building libraries rather than computer centers when so many books are available as downloads/online?

Photo Courtesy of Room to Read

This year I traveled in Tanzania, we had water sometimes, power sometimes… I wish I had a picture of that young man at the Internet café when he told me, with a blinding smile (really, he was just so amused) “Maybe Monday! Maybe we’ll have Internet on Monday!” And I was in a campground where the manager said to me, exasperated, “No Internet in ALL of Tanzania!” I could wait. It was no big deal to me to let it slide for a week or two, I just wanted to check my email. But we’re talking about teaching kids to read. I don’t know how you can measure the potential damage to delaying a child’s education because the infrastructure is down, and I’d just rather not.

I also know how to do it and will write about it in an article (soon to be posted), but anything you want bloggers to know about working with PwP until then? (Hint: PwP accolade time.)

No blogger is too small to help. After all, we built a school and a village ten dollars at a time. We are here to help answer questions, just get in touch and we’re happy to hold your hand through the entire process. We’re successful because of the participation of individual bloggers, and we don’t want anyone to feel like they can’t do it or their efforts are too small. They’re not. Every bit of participation matters.

The bloggers who have been most successful at bringing in donations have been the ones who get creative about getting the word out in lots of different ways – face book, their blogs, Twitter, their personal and professional networks.  It’s really amazing how many people we reach when we each tap into our networks.

Any hints on 2012′s agenda?

But for now, we have some libraries to fund, and that’s what we’re focused on.

We don’t have a cause picked out, we’ll do that after this year’s efforts are wrapped. But we’re just about done filing for non-profit status. This will give us a lot more autonomy over the way our funds are handled and give us the ability to run smaller initiatives throughout the course of the year. But for now, we have some libraries to fund, and that’s what we’re focused on.

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Please meet the women behind Passports with Purpose:

Pam Mandel
Debbie Dubrow
Beth Whitman
Michelle Duffy
Meg Paynor

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Discussion »

  • #1Suraj

    To my surprise I’m hearing about PWP for the first times. Good things are never spoken aloud ever. Better late then never, though. I would like to be a contribute myself for this cause. Will surely contact PwP guys.

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