Career Breaks that Give Back
Carolyn Lane is the founder of the non-profit organization Dog Meets World and she’s changing people’s lives one picture at a time. Armed with tools, a little stuffed dog and a portable printer, her Phodographers travel around the world providing kids and parents photos of themselves. A rare treat in these people’s lives.
We typically talk about career breaks as pausing your career to travel and volunteer and participate in activities that interest you. Carolyn is not the typical career breaker, but she has taken these three important elements of a traditional career break and put them together in a groundbreaking idea to make the world a better place. She left her stable career behind to pursue creating a volunteer opportunity around travel.
I had the opportunity to speak with Carolyn about her efforts to bring photography to all corners of the world.
[singlepic=1743,275,,,left]You decided to take a very unusual career break in order to travel and give back. Can you tell us what you did prior to your career break? My eclectic career has spanned from being a research scientist to most recently the Director of Discovery Montessori School.
How did you decide to take the career break leap and pursue your goal?
I returned after 12 years to again head the nonprofit Montessori school which I had co-founded in 1990 and guide it through a growth period. I indicated to the board that I would not be the next long term director but would prepare the school for the future, so I already had an inkling of wanting to do/create something else as part of my life’s work. So after 3 years as the head administrator I resigned to make space to create what would become the Dog Meets World project, which at the time was just a collection of loose ideas.
Were your family and friends supportive of this bold move?
My children, Brittany and Austin, both in their mid-twenties, were completely supportive and have become very involved in Dog Meets World, the rest of my family was luke warm. They were interested, but concerned about risk taking and losing income. Friends were mostly encouraging, and many have actually gotten involved and offered help from legal and accounting assistance to participation and support.
Giving a personal photograph to a stranger is one of the best, easiest and kindest things people can do for one another. It is an incredible vehicle for person-to-person diplomacy.
Most people who take career breaks decide that they want to give back and do so by volunteering, however you decided to create a volunteer opportunity! How did you come up with the idea?
Dog Meets World is a confluence of the things that matter most to me, namely philanthropy or the greater good, travel, photography and children.
An experience in Haiti in ’07 impressed upon me how many children/families in need do not even own a single photograph of themselves. To balance the infinite inequity of me and countless others “taking” hundreds if not thousands of pictures and not sharing with the subjects, this project was conceived. Once cognizant of the dearth of means or access to personal photography for many, I became determined to change this paradigm and recruit others to join a community and practice Take & Give Photography when traveling in the developing world.
Why share photographs? We do intuitively at home. Distributed photographs enable other children and families to see themselves – many for the first time – a visual affirmation of their sacred place in the human family as evidenced in their own image tangibly captured in a photograph. The photographs will preserve for others, like they have for most of us, moments of personal history in time and space. Plus the “return on investment” is so great, an inexpensive gift that is treasured for a lifetime!
[singlepic=1742,200,,,right]After traveling for fun with a little stuffed likeness of my own dog, I realized that people resonate with a toy animal and thus “Foto” became part of the project to serve as a branding mascot, an icebreaker, a prop for children unaccustomed to posing by giving them something to do with their hands, and to link all the children while at the same time identifying the photos as part of an intentional project.
What do you think this career break experience has taught you that you will utilize in your career? I’ve always been a self starter but creating a project from an idea to trying to start a movement has been daunting. What I am most aware of and indeed most thankful for is the support of others. By others I really mean that, friends count, but people I have met and engaged that resonate with my idea and offer real encouragement and recognition that what I have embarked upon is real, has an impact, makes a difference. It’s hard to stay “up” everyday and sometimes one email, encounter, connection etc provides the impetus during periods of doubt. So teamwork and creating a network is important. I’ve learned to listen better.
Do you intend to go back to your prior career field once you get DMW off the ground? No I intend to stay in the nonprofit arena, hopefully guiding Dog Meets World to sustainability as little Foto becomes the worldwide recognizable symbol of photo sharing, of acknowledging others with an indelible affirmations and thereby planting tiny seeds of peace.
The community of phodographers comes together to share their photos and stories on the website. The site is updated with new photos daily from around the world. If you are traveling in remote areas, please consider becoming a ‘phodographer’ and sharing your photos with the people you encounter. You can change the world one picture at a time!