Martin with his son on a beach in Suffolk, UK.
I am an international development and child protection specialist, a human rights activist and a husband and father. I work with international organisations, governments, NGOs and companies, as well as with grassroots organisations and social enterprises. Building honest and trusting relationships with my clients is important to me so we can work together in finding real solutions to benefit the communities we serve.
Over the last two decades I have worked in child protection, child welfare and anti-trafficking, and at the interface between children, responsible tourism and volunteering. I have lived and worked in the UK, India and Nepal, where I have designed and implemented innovative programmes and advocacy campaigns, and more recently I have been working with UNICEF in Kenya (albeit remotely from the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic). I have also delivered training and technical advice in many more countries across the world.
I previously headed the Global Training and Advisory Services department at JK Rowling’s Lumos Foundation. My team supported organisations and governments from over 70 countries to safely transition from children’s institutional care to family and community-based care. We designed and facilitated the FutureLearn online training course, A Short Introduction to Transforming Care, and assisted volunteering organisations to transition away from orphanage volunteering.
At Next Generation Nepal I led programmes to rescue, rehabilitate and reunify orphanage trafficked children; to support young people who had grown up in institutions to adapt to independent living; and to keep 46,000 vulnerable families together after the devastating 2015 Nepal Earthquake. During this time I pioneered Nepal’s orphanage voluntourism campaign to expose the links between institutionalisation, trafficking and volunteering – a vital part of this initiative involved working collaboratively with the travel sector to promote responsible tourism and volunteering.
I have worked for the largest grassroots social movement in Nepal, BASE, which advocates for the marginalised indigenous Tharu community. I have also worked for the largest child rights social movement in India, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, where I worked alongside Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Kailash Satyarthi, to help eradicate child slavery from supply chains.
In the UK I have co-authored one of the most popular not-for-profit organisational development tools, Trusted Charity (previously known as PQASSO), which has sold over 17,000 copies globally and won the UK Charity Finance Award. I also built a forum of 150 not-for-profit children's organisations in London's East End, empowering them to play a vital role in the planning and delivery of local services.
I have an academic background in the Anthropology of Development from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London - MA Distinction. This enables me to deconstruct the complexities of community dynamics and ensure that all voices and perspectives can be heard, understood and incorporated into development planning.
WHAT OTHER PEOPLE SAY
I knew of Martin long before I met him. His work at Next Generation Nepal was widely recognised and admired, cutting edge and important. I have followed his work at Lumos and he helped me raise the issue of orphanage tourism at World Travel Market which caused many operators to withdraw from providing trips to orphanages or placing volunteers in them. I was delighted when he agreed to moderate a panel on “Child Protection – what is better than orphanages?” at the WTM London travel trade show in 2019.
Emeritus Professor Dr Harold Goodwin, Responsible Tourism Partnership, WTM Responsible Tourism Advisor
Martin was an outstanding Country Director for Next Generation Nepal. He is not only passionate and driven when it comes to protecting child rights, he is a fantastic big-picture visionary who could spot trends and challenges before they manifested and develop strategies to cope with an incredibly complex economic and political landscape in Nepal. He is an excellent manager of people from different backgrounds, highly tuned to the needs of the team, regardless of their position in the organization, and is a natural listener. It allowed us to retain staff in what could otherwise be a high turnover organization. Most importantly, Martin is a man of unmatched integrity. We could trust his every action even from the other side of the world. We could not have hoped for a better natural leader than Martin Punaks.
Conor Grennan, Founder and President at Next Generation Nepal and Author of Little Princes: One Man's Journey to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal
Martin served as Lumos’ Head of Global Training and Advisory Service, from 2016 to 2019, and contributed significantly to the expansion of Lumos, and to strengthening the team. Whilst at Lumos he led the design and delivery of a pilot online course in transforming care which reached over 400 learners from over 60 countries. Martin’s ability at working effectively in different cultures and contexts helped provide high quality support to a range of different stakeholders, from government officials to grassroots civil society. Martin is conscientious, sincere and cares deeply about ensuring his work results in the best outcomes for vulnerable children and young people.
Alex Christopoulos, Deputy CEO at Lumos
I have had the opportunity to work with Martin together in the field of responsible volunteering in Nepal. Martin pretty much took the leadership role in bringing together the different stakeholders involved into a constructive dialogue and set up a strategic working group against orphanage tourism. He also initiated a very action based talk series aimed at educating travelers and the industry on the harmful effects of orphanage tourism and also alternative responsible tourism options, showcasing initiatives from industry leaders and thought leaders. I personally found this approach very innovative and action oriented, and to pull this off on a very complicated topic is difficult, and hence highly commendable that he could do it. I follow what he does and he is indeed a leader in this field.
Raj Gyawali, Founding Director at socialtours
Martin has been a part of the NGN family for eight years now. He was our Country Director in Nepal from 2012-16. During this time he oversaw our highly successful family reintegration project; overhauled our leaving care project; and pioneered the campaign in Nepal to raise awareness of the links between institutionalization, trafficking and voluntourism. After the Nepal Earthquake in 2015 Martin oversaw the establishment of NGN’s family strengthening projects, including our unique anti-trafficking street drama which still runs today. He continues to support NGN in his consultancy role as our Strategic Adviser. Martin is sincere, exceptionally hard-working and deeply committed to supporting vulnerable children. He is a friend as well as a colleague, and any organisation he lends his support to is extremely fortunate.
Anna Howe, Executive Director at Next Generation Nepal and recipient of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Unsung Heroes of Compassion Award 2005
I had the pleasure of working with Martin while I was helping Lumos develop an e-learning pilot. Martin, is clearly a real expert in deinstitutionalisation, but started with a limited knowledge of using technology for learning. However, he threw himself in with passion, commitment and a thirst to learn how technology could help train thousands. Martin led the team with a steely calmness and persistence, which made sure the pilot was a huge success. Not only do I recommend Martin for his deep knowledge of children’s rights and care systems, but I also recommend his project management and leadership skills. The pilot was a massive success because of Martin.
Jonathan Simmons, Entrepreneur and Founder of Zone Digital
I have worked with Martin in several capacities over many years, in both Nepal and the UK. He has been a visionary leader in the fight against orphanage tourism and his contribution to the field cannot be underestimated. Martin's seminal research on this topic paved the way for orphanage trafficking to be internationally recognised as a form of modern slavery. He headed up a prevention strategy that involved awareness raising initiatives both in vulnerable communities to increase their resilience to trafficking, and amongst tourists and volunteers to stem the flow of donor support unwittingly channelled into exploitative initiatives. His extensive knowledge encompasses the areas of child protection, development, voluntourism and human rights. Martin works on projects with passion, diligence, vision and an unswerving sense of humour, and has the ability to pay attention to detail whilst never letting go of the big picture. I have personally been impacted by Martin immensely and he has had a great influence on my thinking. To this day he remains one of my biggest mentors.
Claire Bennett of Learning Service and co-author of Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad
people and places: responsible volunteering has worked closely with Martin over the last five years in our shared vision to make international volunteering safe, ethical and beneficial for communities and volunteers around the world. It was Martin’s work that brought the links between orphanage trafficking and voluntourism in Nepal to an international audience. But Martin didn’t stop there – he reached across the traditional boundaries of development and travel to work with organisations like ours, so together we could champion volunteering as the cause for good which we know it can be. Martin is sincere, kind and always a pleasure to work with. He is generous with his knowledge and listens - he brings a common sense approach to the challenges - he is an inspirational speaker and advocate - he is our No1 go to when we are reviewing and developing our child protection policies. He will be an asset to anyone working in the rocky terrain of child protection and tourism.
Sallie Grayson, Programme Director at people and places: responsible volunteering, winner of 2009 Responsible Tourism Awards Best Volunteering Organisation
Martin brings a wonderful blend of direct experience and critical thinking to any work that he undertakes. His knowledge of the links between tourism and child exploitation are excellent, as well as the complexities of ethical volunteering. Having worked in South Asia for nearly a decade he knows exactly how these challenges manifest and what solutions work to protect children. He is absolutely committed to the issues he works on; genuine and knowledgeable with a real sensitivity to the complexities of international development and volunteering. It is always a pleasure to work with Martin – I know I am in safe hands.
Chloe Setter, Senior Adviser: Anti-Trafficking at Lumos
Martin has worked with us for over a year in helping us design and deliver training and a facilitated workshop for organisations in Ireland that are party to Comhlámh's 'Code of Good Practice for Volunteer Sending Agencies’. This work enables organisations to understand how to responsibly and safely transition away from sending volunteers to orphanages, and in turn, how to support their local orphanage partners to deinstitutionalise. Martin's expertise in the area, his ability to create open spaces for organisations to reflect and engage in discussion on the complexity of the issues involved and to start thinking strategically as to how to transition away, has been instrumental in shifting policy and practice. Martin is a skilled facilitator and works to develop training that effectively meets the needs and learning objectives of each group. His professional approach and dedication is matched by his warm and courteous manner. All in all, Martin has proved to be an invaluable support in our work in the area.
Sandra Byrne, Volunteering Quality Project Officer at Comhlamh
In 2016 GoPhilanthropic was guiding a group of donors on a journey through Nepal. A part of our mission at our Foundation is to offer our community members a platform for learning about global issues. During our visit to Kathmandu, we had the pleasure of having Martin Punaks present to our group on a number of important issues that emerge when you bring together the needs of marginalized areas with well intentioned desires to “give back.” Martin offered a powerful and insightful overview of the unintended yet harmful consequences that arise when donors or travelers try to “make a difference” without being aware of the context. The breath of his knowledge in child protection and the need for deinstitutionalization is impressive.
Lydia Dean, Co-Founder of GoPhilanthropic and Author of Jumping the Picket Fence
Martin is a true leader who leads by example and with the highest measure of integrity. He is also an amazing manager who nurtures the potential of those he manages and fosters their confidence and self-esteem with great encouragement and positivity. The mentoring I received from Martin has made a real difference to my professional development and skills, as well as inspired me to strive to be a manager like him. Before Martin took on the management of our team, we did not have the processes or systems in place to align us with the strategic objectives of the organisation. When he started, he brought these in, as well as a refreshing vision and a clear direction, all of which consolidated the resources we had and made us a much stronger team. It is thanks to Martin, that we lived up to the word “global” in our name.
Tsvetelina Smale, Coordinator in the Global Training and Advisory Services Team at Lumos
I met Martin in 2017 when, as the head of the GTAS team at Lumos, he provided me with valuable advice and directed me to useful resources and contacts as I was starting the DI process of a large-scale institution in India. In the onsite and online training I have attended since, I found that Martin presents relevant information in a clear way. He shows heart for the subjects he covers, without any sentimentality, something I’ve come to see as rare and essential in this field of work. I hope that in his new endeavour he and I can continue to work together.
Florence Koenderink, Founder of Why Family-Based Solutions
I’ve worked with Martin in several ways over the past few years, ranging from campaigning to end orphanage volunteering to him being a key-note speaker at LSE sharing his future vision for the development sector with over 200 students. I’ve been lucky enough to learn from him and see how he makes real change. In all areas of his work he shows the utmost levels of professionalism, dedication to the cause and takes others with him. Martin is humble, always looking to learn and passionate about people creating change. I look forward to working with him in the future and I would highly recommend him as a consultant.