A Conversation with the Author About the Book

What does Dig Where You Are mean?

Dig Where You Are is about the potential in each of us to make a difference in the world by simply taking what we already know how to do and using it to make a meaningful change for the good.  It is about seeing the opportunity in front of you to make something better and then doing something about it.  It is not about wishing you were someone you’re not, but about recognizing and using the talents you have and including those around you in an effort to bring about change. This book is a collection of stories of people who have done exactly this.  They started small and through persistence and grit they ended up creating something that had a big impact on the world.  Even so, what we realize in reading these accounts is that it’s not about the size of the initial effort that matters; it’s that we are engaged and looking out for one another on an ongoing basis – this is what really creates scale in the long term.  Furthermore, as we learn from these stories, there is no right way to start digging where you are and that is why it holds such promise.

What inspired you to write this book?

About twenty years ago I left a career in the corporate world and joined an organization called The International Forum.  Our mission was to help the top executives of global companies to learn deeply about the changes taking place in the world and reflect on their role as leaders.  Part of my job was to go out in the world and find leaders in all walks of life with whom our group could engage in a meaningful way.  In a decade’s time I uncovered many who were involved in the underbellies of our societies, who from the grass roots were making big things happen.  They were tackling issues we have face for a long time in health, education, housing and security.  Each had helped to solve issues that had stumped experts and experiences organizations for years.  I realized there was much we could learn from these people; not only about leadership but also about just getting things done. I wanted to share this learning with more people than just the business leaders who came to our programs.  My hope in writing this book is that the lessons in it will not only inform readers but also inspire them to believe they too can make a difference.  At the very least I hope it will generate a discussion around how we are addressing the challenges we face in the world today and the alternatives for solving them in the future.

Why is this book important now?

First of all, I think we need some good news.  And this book gives us that.  It gives us hope and a way forward in the world; and most importantly it reminds us of the power each of us has.  People around the world for all sorts of reasons, feel disempowered, and they no longer trust those in positions of authority to do the jobs they were intended to do.  They are right to feel this way.  The institutions we put in place over the past hundred years are no longer as effective as they once were.  But we are in part to blame for this– for a long time we abdicated our responsibility as human beings for looking out for one other to others.  We got out of practice. What I think happens when you read this book is that you realize the future is entirely dependent on the degree to which we step forward and engage with it, engage with each other and find ways within our reach to change things for the better.  It is a very powerful message and an important one at this point in our history.

“In her book Dig Where You Are, Nan Doyal shows us the quiet power of community-based efforts to make things better, while persuading us that we can accomplish more than we think we can. What is most profound is that each of the protagonists in this book has succeeded because their motivation is first and foremost to fix a problem. While this may seem unremarkable, when you look at the institutions and political figures around us today, many are not motivated to “fix a problem” at all, but rather to advance their own interests. It is the courage of those who have stepped forward and taken personal responsibility for helping others that is so inspiring, and makes the message of this book an important one for us to understand and embrace, especially now.”

—Danielle Brian, Executive Director, Project on Government Oversight (POGO), Washington, DC