Have Fun, Do Good
Paul von Zielbauer’s life began in Illinois. His journeys have taken him around the world. As a New York Times reporter he was in Iraq during the height of the insurgency.
He’s trekked through Vietnam, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and gone whitewater rafting in the Andes.
In his travels, after leaving the New York Times in 2009, von Zielbauer helped to build playgrounds, schools and organic community gardens.
When he left the newspaper business von Zielbauer wanted to combine the beauties of journalism – travel, new people, fresh experiences – with a desire to leave the world a better place. He also needed to earn a living.
Von Zielbauer created Roadmonkey, an enterprise for “adventure philanthropy” for like-minded souls. Roadmonkey is a for-profit company, von Zielbauer explained recently during a visit to the University of West Georgia. He was the second speaker in the BB&T Lecture Series in Free Enterprise.
Roadmonkey takes travelers off of the normal tourist paths, he said. But what sets Roadmonkey apart is that the travelers also complete a much-needed project while on their journeys.
To get the work done, Roadmonkey works with local groups to choose a project that can be completed in a few days. Before setting foot in the country, travelers are asked to raise $500 each through their social networks for the project. This approach brings between $4,000 and $7,000 to each project, he said.
“I’m not a guy who grew up thinking he needed to save the world or do good,” von Zielbauer told the audience.
“I’m not coming from a perspective of someone who just had -- in his life and career -- to put himself out there in some special way,” he said. “At least that’s how I thought of myself. I’ve always thought of myself as just a sort-of normal guy.”
Still, throughout his life the voice inside of him said: “You have but one life. It’s over in a relatively short time. The world’s been good to you…. You owe it to the world to leave it a little bit better than you found it,” he said.
Since Roadmonkey got underway, the travelers’ projects have included: a playground for children in Vietnam; a refurbished a laundry in Argentina, an enterprise that helped poor college students support themselves and their studies; and an adobe dye house for indigenous women in Peru.
“We are trying to do things that are sustainable, that are positive change, small change. We are not saving the world. We don’t do disaster relief…. We would be in the way more than anything else. What we do is small, positive change,” he said.
“The point is to connect everyday people, like my clients, to people who otherwise they would never, ever quite meet.”
Von Zielbauer left the audience with something to consider: “Ask yourself what you believe. What do you believe about yourself? Because what you do proves every day what you believe.”
Do you have a comment or opinion about this story's topic? Send your thoughts to West Georgia Voices.
- Chronicle Home
- In Focus
- Campus Talk
- I Am West Georgia
- West Georgia Voices
- Other News