Tag Archives: global

What effective short-term international volunteering looks like

I’m not kind when it comes to discussions of pay-to-serve international volunteering. Most programs out there are voluntourism, focused on an unskilled volunteer paying to have a feel-good experience abroad, doing an activity that would be oh-so-much more effective by local people being paid to do it themselves, and spending just a few weeks somewhere – not at all enough time to make a sustainable, positive impact on local people or the environment. Voluntourism is primarily about the volunteer, not the people in the developing country, who would prefer to be paid to build a school for their children themselves, care for the community’s orphans themselves, help take care of local wildlife themselves, protect their own environment, etc.

That said, not all pay-to-serve programs are purely voluntourism: there are some terrific programs that require volunteers to pay their own way, such as Bpeace traveling business mentors and Humanist Service Corps (more on pay-to-serve programs I think are worthwhile here). There are also examples like this: students from the College of Engineering at Oregon State University going to Kenya to help a small village create a series of water projects to give them sustainable, ongoing access to clean water; the local Kenyan people benefitted from the project because they defined what they wanted, and they worked alongside the students so that they could take on more and more responsibilities themselves.

In contrast to pay-to-serve programs, there is the Peace Corps Response program, which is part of the Peace Corps, and that places highly-skilled volunteers in short-term assignments abroad, from four to 12 months. Participants do NOT pay to participate. It’s open to US citizens, and it represents what effective short-term international volunteering can look like: volunteering that’s focused on building the capacity of local people rather than just doing things for them.

In doing some research on the program, I found this terrific blog by Brenna Mickey, who did a four-month assignment in the Peace Corps Response program in Port Vila, Vanuatu, and whose experience represents what a short-term, effective volunteering experience can look like. It’s also a great example of what a tech-related volunteering gig can look like anywhere, at home or abroad. Her specific job title was web design and development consultant for the Ministry of Youth and Sports. Among other things, she worked

  • “as the project manager or product owner, creating a scope of work and requirements documents after meeting with stakeholders of the website, managing expectations and deliverables.”
  • “as an UX strategist, working with the department in the Ministry through card sorting, developing a site map together, sketching out wireframes and talking through user flows on our website.”
  • “not only as the designer of the site, but the developer as well. I taught myself a new content management system and dove in headfirst to writing responsive CSS and HTML5 instead of handing over my designs and CSS to the developers.”
  • “But most importantly, I worked as a teacher, making sure knowledge was transferred to my coworkers in Vanuatu during the web design process, including how to update the CMS after I left.”

Also, “I happened to be in town during another Peace Corps Volunteer’s project, which had been under development for more than two years. The SMART Sistas ICT Camp for Girls was a week-long camp where girls were brought to the capital and taught the fundamentals of informational technology. I was asked to teach an Intro to Web Design course during this camp.”

Please note that Peace Corps Response initiative, and the entire Peace Corps program, and all United States Agency for International Development (USAID), are under threat of severe budget cuts by the current Presidential administration in the USA, as well as by current Congressional leadership. I encourage you to write your US Congressional Representative, your US Senators, national media and your local media, and let them know what you think of these proposed cuts.

Also see:

secular-based short-term humanitarian volunteer initiative working in Ghana

There is secular-based short-term humanitarian volunteer initiative called the Humanist Service Corps (HSC) that launched fairly recently, and they’ve already had a big success with one of their first projects: HSC has been running a medical records/medical screening to provide free health screenings for the rural community of Kukuo in Ghana’s Northern Region. In the process, HSC volunteers have trained local people to create a bilingual medical records system that simplifies and increases healthcare access for an entire community. As the HSC fundraising page for this project notes, “For the first time in their lives, the 1,250 residents of Kukuo will have access to their health information in a language they understand.”

The project is more than you might think: “Results as of April 6th, 2016: 681 patients screened, 67 cases of malaria, 27 cases of hypertension, 116 malnourished residents, 19 children missing vaccinations, two cases of Type II diabetes. Additionally, our medical outreach has helped uncover two child brides and five teenage girls kept out of school to help their families.”

The project involved training local people themselves to collect and organize paperwork, input the information into computers, double-check work and organize data. Since their training by HSC volunteers ended at the end of April, the local Kukuo Health Screening Volunteers have been running every aspect of the project themselves, with an HSC volunteer available to supervise, troubleshoot, and support. According to this blog about working with the Ghanaian volunteers, “They check each other’s screens for errors, sort and file all the screens during processing, maintain lists for future follow-up, and are working to create the digital and paper copies of the much-anticipated Kukuo Census.” Each of the local volunteers was also helped by the HSC volunteer to create his or her own an email address, write a resume, understand and discuss their letter of recommendation from HSC and be able to talk about what they did for the project and the skills that they have mastered… All of the volunteers did very well with this additional training, especially considering that many were touching a computer for the first time.”

But the work is not done. “We need to fully fund the project by June or we will not be able to screen the entire Kukuo community.” You can donate to this HSC project here. Or, you can become a monthly donor to HSC.

Shortly after the HSC volunteers first arrived in Ghana, they sat down with the HAGtivist Podcast to share their motivations and expectations for the year of service. Great idea to do a podcast with volunteers!

2013 stats – UN’s online volunteering service

The United Nations’ Online Volunteering service, which is managed by the UN Volunteers program out of Bonn, Germany, part of UNDP, has released some 2013 statistics about its service. In its March newsletter, UNV reports:

In 2013, the number of organizations that joined the service continued to grow (by 18% compared to 2012). 63% of the new organizations that benefited from online volunteers’ support were NGOs and other civil society organizations.

The number of online volunteers remained stable. Of the 11,328 online volunteers mobilized in 2013, 58% were female and 60% below 30 years old. 60% of the volunteers were from developing countries and 2% indicated they were people with disabilities.

By “remained stable”, I guess UNV means the number of online volunteers didn’t increase over 2012 numbers. What I wonder is what UNV is really counting – are these 11,328 people that expressed interest in online volunteering assignments, or people that actually participated in those assignments? Sad to say that most volunteers that sign up for assignments never actually participate in such, usually because the requesting organization never replies to the expression of interest.

What I love is that 60% of the volunteers were from developing countries – that’s something that has been true since I was directing the service from 2001-2005. It’s a number that shocks some people, but not me; when I talk with people in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Northern Africa and East Asia about virtual volunteering, the excitement is palpable.

The majority of the 17,370 online volunteering assignments posted benefitted education (18%) or youth (14%). 8% were gender-related. The majority of assignments benefitted projects in Sub-Saharan Africa (38%) and projects with a global reach (33%).

But I’d love to see the numbers regarding types of virtual volunteering tasks – how many were web design-related, how many were related to consulting or advising in the area of a volunteer’s expertise, etc. And which proved most popular with people signing up for assignments?

On the Virtual Volunteering wiki, you can find a page listing more virtual volunteering research and statistics from a variety of researchers and other sources.

Motorcycle (scooter) ride for Cambodia!

My personal motto is transire benefaciendo, or, “to travel along while doing good.” A lot of people want to combine a trip abroad with volunteering or some kind philanthropy. Here’s my advice on how to do good while abroad (including by motorcycle). And here’s what that kind of DIY volunteer-and-do-good trip can look like:

A good friend of mine, Dave Guezuraga, who has traveled most of the world by motorcycle (and stayed at our house and been subjected to many games of corn hole), is taking a break from his travels-for-fun to put together a group ride in Cambonia to raise money through United World Schools (UWS) for its efforts to provide schools in inaccessible, underprivileged and post conflict regions, including in Cambodia:

It’s a motorcycle trip across Cambodia that anyone can participate in, regardless of experience, with the aim of having a bit of fun and helping a local charity supporting Cambodian Children. For 2012 the ride is a scouting run to check out roads and routes, therefore numbers are limited… In 2013 it will be open to absolutely anyone who can get there – so start saving!

In a nutshell… Take 2 weeks off work, and approximately $2000-$3000 (including flights to/from Europe, Australia or America)

Get yourself to the kick off town in Cambodia by the morning of Monday the 30th of January 2012.

Make friends with the other riders you find in the town.

Buy a little motorbike at a good price ($300-$500), and try to get your new friends to help you prepare it for a 1500km trip by the end of that day.

then repeat this…

Get together for dinner, sample the local Angkor beer and agree on a destination for the next day.

Next morning, ride to to the destination while having maximum fun… Until Thursday the 9th of February 2012… On Friday the 10th, donate the bike, your medical kit, and whatever other money you have raised for charity.

Say goodbye to your new friends, and make your way back to wherever you came from.

And then do it again (or not) in 2013. Participants on either/both trips must buy a Honda Dream 125cc Motorcycle (4 Speed, Automatic Clutch) in-country, and then auction the bike off at the end of the ride (the auctions of the bikes are to raise money for charity). And, of course, participants will be encouraged to blog about their experience, tell friends, etc., and encourage donations to UWS.

Full details at the Ride for Cambodia web site. And feel free to write Dave directly through the web site if you have questions – and tell him Jayne sent ya!

Also see my advice on how to do good while abroad (including by motorcycle).

International Volunteer Day for Economic & Social Development – Dec. 5

It’s not too early to start planning for how your organization will leverage December 5, International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development. This isn’t a day to honor only international volunteers; the international in the title describes the day — meaning it’s a global event — not the volunteer.

It’s a shame to turn the day into just another day to celebrate any volunteer, rather than specifically those volunteers who contribute to economic and social development. Such volunteers deserve their own day. There are plenty of days and weeks to honor all volunteers and encourage more volunteering; why not keep December 5 specifically for volunteers who contribute to economic and social development? Why not keep it unique?

Even if you are in a “developed” country – the USA, Canada, Norway, France, whatever – you have volunteers that are engaged in economic and social development. Here in the USA, there are volunteers staffing financial literacy classes for low-income populations, training unemployed people to enter or re-enter the workforce, helping refugees and new immigrants access much-needed resources and services, training seniors to use computers and the Internet, using theater, dance and other performance as an education and awareness tool, and so much more. Those are all examples of volunteering for economic and social development!

And in addition to keeping this day special, let’s also be careful of how we talk about volunteers. For instance, back in 2009, I got this note in a mass email sent out from United Nations Volunteers:

This is the time to recognize the hard work and achievements of volunteers everywhere who work selflessly for the greater good.


Volunteers are not all selfless! Volunteers are not all donating unpaid service to be nice, to help the world, or to make a difference for a greater good. Volunteers also donate unpaid service:

  • to gain certain kinds of experience
  • for a sense of adventure
  • to gain skills and contacts for paid employment
  • for fun
  • to meet people in the hopes of making friends or even get dates
  • because they are angry and want to see first hand what’s going on at an organization or within a cause, or to contribute to a cause they feel passionate about
  • to feel important

None of those reasons to volunteer are selfless — and all of them are excellent reasons to volunteer, nonetheless (and excellent reasons for an organization to involve a volunteer). These not-so-selfless volunteers are not less committed, less trustworthy or less worth celebrating than the supposed “selfless” volunteers.


Please – no more warm, fuzzy language regarding volunteers! Let’s quit talking about volunteers with words like nice and selfless. Volunteers are neither saints nor teddy bears. Let’s start using more modern and appropriate language to talk about volunteers that recognizes their importance, like powerful and intrepid and audacious and determined. Let’s even call them mettlesome and confrontational and demanding. That’s what makes volunteers necessary, not just nice. Let’s increase the value of volunteers with the language we use!


In short, let’s give volunteers their due with the words we use to describe them.

And just to be clear: by volunteer, I mean someone who is not paid for his or her service, and his or her “stipend” that’s supposed to merely cover essential expenses so the volunteer can give up employment entirely during his or her stint as a volunteer isn’t in fact more than some mid and high-level government workers of a country are making. Yes, that’s a dig.

International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development was declared by the United Nations General Assembly per its resolution 40/212 in 1985.

Also see Learning From The “Not-So-Nice” Volunteers, which I wrote back in 2004.

Here’s how I volunteer (no stipends yet!)

Volunteer managers in USA: learn from other countries too!

Erin Barnhart put together a “Volunteerism and Volunteer Management” course for Portland State University, (PA592 CRN 82727) and I was thrilled to be asked to teach one of the modules, particularly since Erin took such a different approach to putting together this university-level course: she didn’t just focus on the basics of volunteer management, though that was certainly there. And she didn’t segregate everything regarding the Internet into a module at the end (Internet use was integrated into ALL aspects of the recruitment, support and involvement of volunteers – as it should be!). She also included discussions of all volunteers – board members, interns, pro bono consultants, executives on loan, etc. – not just the traditional volunteer model (you have a task or role onsite, you recruit a volunteer to commit to doing that task or role for the rest of his or her life, etc.).

This comprehensive course will cover topics ranging from core competencies and emerging trends and tools for building and sustaining a successful volunteer program, to understanding the broad-reaching impacts of volunteer service and effective volunteer management, to engaging individuals in innovative and accessible ways to serve in their local neighborhoods, via their computers and smartphones, and in communities across the globe.

I was thrilled to be able to do a brand new series of workshops I had never tacked before:

How the practices of volunteering in other countries, how international volunteering – long-term volunteers, short-term volunteers that pay for the experience, online volunteers that help organizations in countries different from their own, people that volunteer as they travel internationally – can teach us to be better managers/coordinators/leaders of volunteers here in the USA.

I believe that my experience working with volunteers abroad, and being immersed in international development for most of the last decade, has made me a much better manager/coordinator of volunteers, and it was a fascinating, intense experience to do research and put materials together that could help the students in PSU PA592 – all of whom are working professionals with volunteer management experience under their belt – to learn about other countries’ views of and practices regarding volunteering, particularly very poor countries.

I love teaching. I try to give my workshops a lively, audience-oriented feel. I use case studies to illustrate points, focus on both what’s happening now and what is trending, encourage a lot of student participation, and develop activities that get class participants designing strategies they can use immediately. My goal in any training is to give participants a base on which to further build and improve long after a class is over. My schedule fills up very quickly. Contact me and let me know what kind of training you might have in mind!

Tags: volunteering, volunteers, community, engagement, international, volunteerism, volunteering