Daniela Papi Thornton

Daniela’s is a forward thinking leader in re-imagining the script on how to serve abroad and how lasting change is created when addressing global problems.

Speaking Options

Learning Service (a new look at volunteer travel) and Social Entrepreneurship

So you and your students want to change the world? So does speaker Daniela Papi Thornton. She advocates for a learning-focused approach to international travel which she calls “Learning Service” and has worked to create videos, guidelines, and resources available on the Learning Service website. She speakes to how we can steer away from harmful patterns that increase the need in the local communities that we aim to support. You will walk away from this presentation with a much more clear idea of how you can take the next steps on your path to social entrepreneurship, educational international travel, and development work.  Her story will encourage you to embrace sustainability and human dignity, and provide insight into the attitudes that are needed to foster global citizenship.

Systems Change Leadership

What does it take to move the needle and address society’s toughest challenges? Daniela Papi Thornton believes it is Systems-Led Leaders. In this talk, she dives into what system-led leader means and how education and funding programs need to start recognizing this way of thinking to make a lasting impact on global issues.

Selected Media

TedX Bend

TedX Oxford

From Social Entrepreneurs to System Change Leaders at AshokaU

Media Links

Click to view the presentation aired by BBC Radio.
Article about social entrepreneurship at Unreasonable.is.
Huffington Post article on voluntourism.


“We selected Daniela Papi-Thornton as our conference plenary speaker for her international experience in numerous roles in cultural education and social impact endeavors.  Daniela challenged the conventional thinking of those present in the field of international education, flipping traditional service learning concepts on their heads to a more culturally-cognitive ‘learning service’ approach. She engaged the audience during her presentation, and the buzz generated continued through the remainder of our conference.”Joan Williams, Annual Conference Coordinator/Events Project Manager, IES Abroad

“Daniela was a very empowering speaker to the students! She not only engaged students throughout her lecture, but pushed them to think critically about how to carefully select an experience volunteering abroad based upon her own experiences in Cambodia. She is a fantastic speaker who ended with students asking lots of questions!” – Lock Haven University, Pennyslvania

“Daniela explores the dark side of volunteering overseas, and asks how local people and wealthy ‘voluntourists’ alike can ensure a positive experience.” -Giles Edwards, BBC Radio 4

About Daniela

Daniela Papi-Thornton is an educator interested systems-led social interventions and is a Lecturer at Yale School of Management. Previously, Daniela was the Deputy Director at Oxford Saïd Business School’s Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship. There she launched educational programming designed to help incorporate systems thinking into social entrepreneurship education, including Map the System, a contest now running at 30 global universities. Her report and subsequent article, Tackling Heropreneurship, have been widely referenced. From that research she designed a tool called the Impact Gaps Canvas, used at universities around the world. Daniela’s work in education design builds upon six years of emerging market entrepreneurial experience in Cambodia, running a hybrid social enterprise. She co-authored a book, Learning Service, released in 2018 which is focused on shifting mindsets and practices related to volunteer travel. Her 2018 Ashoka U Big Idea Talk and her TEDx talk on Reclaiming Social Entrepreneurship highlights some of her more recent thinking.

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