Loyola University Maryland
August 2010

Beyond Borders

1990 alumnus tries to change the world, one volunteer experience at a time

By Kim Hall  |  Portrait of Dave Santulli by Bob Stockfield / Other photography courtesy of United Planet

After less than two years in the accounting field, David Santulli, ’90, decided he wanted to explore the world. So, with only a backpack and a dream, he left his job, bought a ticket, and set off for a trip around the world.

Santulli’s adventure marked the beginning of a completely new path for him—one that eventually led him to found United Planet, an international non-profit organization that coordinates worldwide volunteer opportunities, educational programs, and ambassador clubs.

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“I felt so enriched by my experiences abroad and wanted to share that with other people,” said Santulli, who had been particularly moved by a six-month homestay in Japan.

During his time in Tokyo, he began to learn the Japanese language and fell in love with the country and the culture—so much so that he passed up a law school acceptance to remain in Tokyo and start his own company marketing youth apparel. He remained with the company as president and CEO for nearly nine years, before marrying his wife, Shelley, and moving to her hometown of Boston where he founded United Planet.

“United Planet was, in a way, an opportunity for me to pass it on,” said Santulli, who has two children, Troy, 9, and Tristan, 7. “If I’ve learned anything, it’s that each and every person can make a contribution in this world.”

Through United Planet, volunteers can pay to travel to one of more than 40 countries for anywhere from one week to a year, focusing on issues as varying as health care, education, child care, and women’s empowerment. Volunteers can also join or create a local ambassador club that organizes activities and encourages multicultural dialogue. Recent college graduates, families, companies, and even working adults looking for a change of pace all participate in United Planet volunteer opportunities.

“Having the experience is one thing; passing it along is another,” said Santulli, who often hears from volunteers how their experiences have changed their perspective on life. “They are much more dedicated to their local community when they return.”

Today, United Planet has approximately 45 employees and countless more volunteers.Despite its growth, the organization remains grounded in its founding tenet of “relational diplomacy,” a concept created by Santulli, who earned a master’s degree in international affairs from Tufts University in 2003. Relational diplomacy maintains that the basic building block for uniting the world relies on fostering strong relationships and mutual respect among people of diverse backgrounds.

How to Get Involved

Loyola’s alumni association has coordinated two United Planet service trips for fall 2010—one to Peru in September and one to Costa Rica in October. To learn more, visit the Online Community at loyola.edu/alumni.

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