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Q&A with #SummerImpact winner Marianne Gadeberg

   /   Aug 26th, 2010International, News, Tech

Earlier this month we launched our #SummerImpact contest where we asked you, our faithful readers, to tweet what you’d be doing this summer to make a social impact. We got loads of amazing and diverse world-changing responses.  We selected five winners and we’re giving those folks an opportunity to share their stories here on Dowser.

@Mariannekg: @Dowserdotorg Spending my summer (year, even) creating opportunities for youth in #Cambodia & #Laos http://tinyurl.com/2b2la6m #SummerImpact

Marianne Gadeberg, 28
Brooklyn, New York and Vientiane, Laos

Dowser: How did you get involved with this work?  Was there something specific that got you interested?
Gadeberg: I was working at an arts non-profit in New York City, when I was looking for a job where I’d feel more purpose. On idealist.org I found an ad by Digital Divide Data (DDD), advertising for a Media Fellow, who would help them tell stories about the impact they were having in Cambodia and Laos.

The work of DDD appealed to me because it’s a sustainable social enterprise – they teach people how to fish, rather than just giving fish away, so to speak. Or, as a colleague of mine in Cambodia put it, ’We don’t teach people how to fish, we teach people how to teach other people to fish.’

Can you tell us a little about what this organization does?
Digital Divide Data is a not-for-profit business that brings opportunity to disadvantaged youth in Cambodia and Laos by providing them with employment, training, and scholarships for college education. Over the past eight years, DDD has employed more than 1,000 people as data-entry operators for our world-class IT outsourcing business, and graduated more than 400 of them from entry-level jobs at DDD to employment opportunities that earn them four times the average income in Cambodia.

Has this experience changed how you’ll be approaching your future work, goals, or career path?
Yes, I think it has. I’ve realized that I’m much happier when I work towards goals I feel personally connected to, which probably means I’ll always be working in the non-profit, social enterprise, or development sector.

Do you have any advice for people interested in pursuing a similar experience?
When you realize that you can’t change the world, be happy that you can change little parts of it.

Living in countries like Cambodia and Laos is a constant reminder that there are always going to be many more people who deserve an opportunity like the one we’re providing at DDD. In the beginning, I would be frustrated when thinking about the 400 people DDD has graduated: ’Only 400? Really? Why not more?!’ But in the past seven months I’ve come to know people like Chhayrorn, whose parents took her out of school when her father fell ill. She came to DDD, which gave her a job and a scholarship for a college education, and she just graduated from a university in Phnom Penh with a degree in finance and banking. Her life, and her family’s life, was changed because of DDD. That’s no small thing.

What’s something concrete and tangible you’ve learned this summer?
I’ve learned that it takes effort and commitment to effectively communicate across several cultures, languages, time zones, and continents.

Once, in our office in Phnom Penh, one of my female colleagues came up to me in the hallway with a grim face. ’I’m sorry,’ she said, ’I think you’ve become smaller.’ It took five minutes of questioning back and forth, during which she also kept apologizing for bringing it up, but in the end I realized she was telling me she was sorry I had lost weight. Where I come from, New York by way of Denmark, that would generally have been considered a compliment, but in Cambodia this woman felt compelled to express her sympathy for my misfortune.

We face similar challenges in essential parts of work, since our staff and clients are almost worlds apart, and we’ll find ourselves needing to convey something as foreign as the different components of early 20th century Dutch newspapers to our trainees. Likewise, when trying to explain the workings of our hybrid social business to ’outsiders‘ in the U.S. or Europe, we often wish that we could just bring them into our office in Phnom Penh, so that they can just see how it works, and why it’s important.

Video: Digital Divide Data

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