Staff Spotlight: Devin Gonier

Shambala Fellowship Program Manager


Devin Gonier graduated from Austin College with a B.A. in Religion and Philosophy. Mr. Gonier is currently working for Shambala Foundation, an NGO based in China that primarily helps impoverished orphans out of poverty. He is the manager of the Shambala Fellowship Program and assisting in the development of social enterprise programs in Dali, Yunnan. He enjoys playing and music and spending time with friends.

What are the core principles that Shambala Foundation tries to achieve?

Shambala Foundation’s mission is to alleviate poverty in Asia by investing in people. Our main program, called Orphanage Without Walls (OWW), focuses on removing obstacles that prevent children from going to school by providing material and financial support to foster families. Furthermore, social workers that work for Shambala Foundation and partner NGOs work closely with each child throughout the program, encouraging them to do well in school. In addition, we inspire the children and parents to see the value of education by: (a) sending the OWW children to a student empowerment camp that makes them believe in the power of education, and (b) working with each caregiver, who usually has little or no education, to help them understand the value that educating their children can have for their family. Finally, we complete the circle by making sure the child has the resources they need to go to vocational school or university and find their first paid job.

What will participants gain by participating in the Shambala Foundation fellowship program?

Beyond the basics of what is offered like a living stipend, accommodations, flight travel to Asia, insurance and initial training, Fellows will receive extensive experience in the development field. Fellows will have major responsibilities in helping Shambala Foundation overcome the challenges of delivering quality support to the children in our program while at the same time expanding our capacity to reach more children in need (currently there are over 650 children in the program). To meet these challenges, fellows will be involved in activities like grant-writing, social enterprise development, curriculum development for our English programs, and program quality development.

Through the process of fundraising before arrival in Asia, our staff will coach Fellows in planning events and developing online based fundraising strategies that connect us to a wider network of private donors and philanthropic clubs. Fellows will walk away from this program with the experience and connections that will help them advance their career in development or other related fields. Furthermore, as it expands, Shambala Foundation will need to hire new full-time employees, and Fellows who show promise throughout their time in the program will be in a good position to apply for such positions.

How does Shambala Foundation ensure this program is beneficial and sustainable for local communities?

Sustainability can be measured both in terms of input (the resources needed to implement the program) and output (the benefits to the community, and other ongoing effects). In order to ensure the sustainability of the financial inputs we have diversified our fundraising strategies by focusing on grant-writing, social enterprise, and direct, on the ground fundraising activities here in China and abroad via Fellows.

We believe that the most sustainable and beneficial output for communities is the education of its poorest members. We support each child until they get their first paid job ensuring that they are able to contribute to their communities rather than become social clients of their communities. Building a well or a bridge will have a positive impact for many years to come, but will eventually become outdated or broken. Educating a child not only impacts that child for their entire life, but also creates a ripple effect that lasts for generations

Education has been statistically shown to positively effect income and growth, health, gender equality, and many other factors that benefit a community. Furthermore, throughout the implementation of this program we work with local NGOs and institutions ensuring that local communities are involved in the whole project cycle (from design, to implementation, to evaluation). These local social workers and NGOs help us better understand what families and communities need to help their children succeed in school.

What is one piece of advice you would offer someone considering this program?

Fellows should think carefully about what they want from and what they could give to our program. We are looking for applicants who know how to sell the skills they have. Think carefully about what unique skills and personal experiences you have that can really help our organization become stronger. To do this successfully you will need to spend time getting to know our programs, which means reading about them online and asking questions. It is also equally crucial for you to consider how you can benefit from this program. We want Fellows to be personally invested in being successful, which means Fellows should see this program as a valuable step forward in their life.

Anything else you would like to share?

The Shambala Fellowship Program is a very young program. Especially in this initial phase of its development it is important that applicants keep an open mind and are flexible. If you are looking for a well-established program with a large, famous NGO, then this program is probably not for you. However, if you are looking for an adventure and opportunities for growth, which require having an open mind and a spirit for embracing new challenges as they arise, then you might just be the perfect candidate for this program.