Andrew Mersmann Interview with Digital Documenters London

Feeling so lucky to have done this interview with Digital Documenters London. I posted about them earlier here, and their great work inspiring young people to volunteer, specifically energizing the movement around the Olympic Games 2012 in London. Through their work supporting young artists, documentary films are being generated now and through the games (and, of course, beyond) to help young hearts, minds, and spirits catch fire.

They’ve recently done a film with young volunteers to inspire volunteering, called Centrepoint & Me, and it has been nominated for an award. Final judging of the projects is done by a judging panel of guests as well as audience voting…so go watch a few amazing short pieces, and vote for Centrepoint & Me.

Interview from Digital Documenters London after the jump.

Andrew Mersmann talks all things volunteering…

February 20, 2011 by oheath Leave a Comment

Following his return from witnessing several outstanding volunteering and community outreach programs in South Africa, Digital Documenters London have a chat with award-winning travel writer, author and editor, Andrew Mersmann. He talks about how he was raised to volunteer, his tears whilst helping out at the Haiti earthquake and why everyone should ‘Conspire to Inspire’!


1) How passionate are you about volunteering?

Andrew: I was raised to volunteer and be of service—my mother was always working with social service organizations or political rallies as I was growing up, often taking me along, so it has been what I’ve known.  I had a bit of a personal renaissance with volunteering a couple of years ago and rededicated myself to doing big projects, on an international scale when possible, and it truly is what gets me out of bed in the morning. I think being lit up like that is available to everyone, they just don’t necessarily know it yet—but finding that one way (or many ways) to contribute, to make a difference, that also inspires your personal passion, is the alchemy. For one person it may be picking up trash on trails, for another working at a HIV/AIDS orphanage, for another saving endangered animals, for another licking envelopes for a candidate fundraiser… and one is no better than the next, except in how it inspires you.

2) As Digital Documenters, we hope to encourage more young people to volunteer and we believe that the 2012 Olympics is a good way to engage them. What are you views on young people volunteering?

Andrew: To me, having a way of thinking that is about something larger than your own skin is one of the most important things to do to be fully human (and there are plenty who never get there). To begin to think about service is to begin to see ourselves as part of a global family, to see past differences, and to take a stand about what is important to us…and while it is never too late to start, it is never too early either. Making a commitment to volunteering is making a commitment to yourself while simultaneously committing to the world (quite literally a commitment to the world with the Olympic Games), and THAT is a guaranteed predictor of success and leadership.

“It was so close to the bone every day—tears were at the brim of my eyes all the time.”

3) How do you think we can involve more people on a macro scale to volunteer?

Andrew: I believe it IS macro every time an individual volunteers. When you decide to work for a change, you shift the future. The trick is to create the bridge. The bridge I speak of is educating everyone to know that volunteering and making a difference is available to you in whatever size you feel like taking on. You can do a world of work in a single afternoon.

“In the face of so much difficulty, there was such an amazing community connection, music, dance, painting, just boundless creativity coming from tragedy.” 

4) We love your blog, ‘Change by Doing’ and we think it’s very inspirational. What were your main motives behind it?

Andrew: Thank you so much—to be inspirational somehow is the world to me. I have started using a catchphrase I like very much, as an invitation, asking people to “Conspire to Inspire.” My goal with the blog is to turn somebody, anybody, everybody on to being of service to something larger than themselves. One day might be completely useless and uninteresting to an individual, but I hope the next day or the next will be something that lights you up. My ultimate motive with ‘Change by Doing’ is that a reader will click a link to go to an organization’s website, or pick up the phone, or show up to a meeting, and jump in and be active.

“Volunteering truly is what gets me out of bed in the morning.”

5) You have volunteered at some pretty amazing places and all for extremely good causes. Can you tell us about one particular experience that really stands out for you?

Andrew: This past summer I spent a couple of weeks in Haiti, doing post-earthquake rebuilding at an orphanage. The experience was so raw, even seven months after the actual disaster. If someone had told me the earthquake had happened mere days before I arrived I would have believed them. There was still so much devastation, in structures as well as in lives and souls. I never saw a straight line while I was there—everything was broken and jagged. Every kid at that orphanage had a story about the quake, and the kids living in the tent cities as well—including ones who became orphans on that day. In the face of so much difficulty, there was such an amazing community connection, music, dance, painting, just boundless creativity coming from tragedy. It was so close to the bone every day—tears were at the brim of my eyes all the time, even as we laughed and played and sang and drummed together with the young people as well as with the local construction crew we were helping build walls. It was one of the most difficult periods of time I’ve ever experienced, and I would go back in a heartbeat.

6) As well as encouraging young people to volunteer, we also aim to pass on skills that we have learnt through training like filmmaking, blogging, interviewing techniques etc. Aside from volunteering, you are also an author, travel writer and Editor in Chief of Passport Magazine, how did you start out in journalism?

Andrew: I came to journalism later in my career. I had been pursuing work in theatre and had an unexpected invitation to write a guest article for a magazine. It was one of those instances where it would have been very easy to decide I was too busy to take on another project, or since it wasn’t my main focus feel like it would be a distraction but it turned out that saying yes is everything. I believe in going down any and every road until there is a reason not to. Exploration is always exciting—trying something new just for the fun of it. I had no idea such a seismic shift in my career was right around the corner, and honestly wouldn’t have believed it could have happened. From that first, very casual opportunity, I met professionals in the industry—other travel writers and editors—and have been busy ever since.

7) Volunteering is so diverse and that really shows through some of the places that you have been. Can you sum up and argue in one sentence why everyone should volunteer?

Andrew: If you live your entire life with the focus never on others, you can’t really say you’ve lived, can you?

“There is a project waiting for you, desperately needing your energy, and their waiting is exhausting. Give them a break and jump in—it’s what you were meant to be doing.”

Read Andrew’s blog here:

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