Voluntourism improves lives

Winnipeg Free Press columnist Jen Zoratti examibnes the impact voluntourism has on communities, lives.

‘Voluntourism’ opens eyes, improves lives

Volunteer tourism — or the more buzzy “voluntourism” — has been at the centre of much debate over the past couple of years.

Voluntourism improves livesOnce a niche in the travel industry, volunteer tourism is an area that has seen real growth as more and more Canadians are eschewing luxury resort vacations or European backpacking trips to build schools or teach English in developing countries. The profile of a voluntourist is usually young, middle- to upper-class and educated. Many of them are “gap year” students, taking a year off to go learn about the world.

On the face of it, it seems like a righteous act. What could possibly be bad about wanting to learn something about your global community and maybe help someone in the process? But, as travel websites of varying degrees of sketchiness offering “luxury voluntourism” — or, ugh, ‘honeyteering’ — proliferate, many critics of voluntourism are left questioning who this is really for. Do altruistic acts of voluntourism really help people who need it? Or are privileged people just doing it to pad their CVs/make themselves feel good? And are those things mutually exclusive?

Those questions were circling around in my head when I connected with Sarah Cullihall via Skype. Sarah is a 21-year-old University of Winnipeg business student who just concluded a months-long internship with Maya Traditions Foundation in Panajachel, Guatemala, and got in touch with me about the very cool work she’s been doing there. She doesn’t quite fit the profile of a voluntourist — she was doing an internship and she was there for more than a two-week vacation — but she, too, has thought about the voluntourism debate.

“One of my friends is a huge activist and we would argue about it all the time — is it good, is it bad,” she tells me, amid a cacophony of birds. “But I think with everything, there’s positives and negatives. But with (Maya Traditions), it’s so much more about support. When we look at other volunteer roles, it’s not like that. You’re in the ‘saviour’ role; you’re the North American that knows how to do things — and I think that’s so backwards. I also think it depends on why you’re doing it.”

Cullihall’s motivation was pretty pure. She fell in love with Guatemala during a trip last July, but was alarmed to learn more than half its population lives below the poverty line. Interested in exploring the ways in which business can be used to foster social change, she wanted to link up with an organization that shared those goals.

Founded in 1980, Maya Traditions Foundation is a fair trade social enterprise that supports skilled indigenous female artisans by connecting them to the international market and providing them with health and education services. The foundation now works in partnership with more than 120 artisans, composing eight self-governed artisan co-operatives in six rural villages. These women practise a variety of traditional techniques that have been carried down through generations, including backstrap weaving — a method used to create all manner of textiles — basket weaving and natural dyeing. With the support of the foundation, they are able to earn an income. And an income means independence — no small thing in a country plagued by domestic violence.

The women Cullihall met left an impression — women such as Mara Mendoza who, in addition to raising four small children on her own, is the president of one of Maya Traditions’ partnering artisan co-ops. Her role as president is to make sure her fellow artisans have enough work, their families are doing well and they are being fairly compensated for their labour.

“She, to me, is a depiction of a strong Guatemalan woman,” Cullihall says. Mendoza, like too many other Guatemalan women, was a victim of domestic abuse. Maya Traditions empowered her to leave her husband and take back her life. And now she’s helping others do the same.

For her part, Cullihall is returning to the U of W to finish her degree, and her experience in Guatemala has left her changed. She now wants to work with women and children in Latin America as part of a social enterprise.

While the average voluntourist won’t necessarily translate their experience into a career path, they will have their eyes opened to the issues faced by people who share their planet — and hopefully, they will be more empathetic people for it. If it’s done right with the right organization, a young person won’t just come out of it with a line for the resumé. They will come out of it a better person.

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Winnipeg Free Press

World-Positive Leadership

Writing for Huffington Post, Mark Horoszowski, co-founder of MovingWorlds.org, a global platform connecting people who want to volunteer their skills with social impact organizations around the world, examines how volunteer travel and corporate volunteering can benefit companies.

World-Positive Leadership Development Programs

What is one thing that the Kenyan Red Cross and Microsoft have common? A lack of access to the expertise and skills needed to grow and make a bigger impact.

getting-out-of-schoolIn both cases, this “talent gap” is slowing progress. Research proves that major companies, like Microsoft, have a lack of quality, globally-minded leaders AND that they recognize this as one of their biggest challenges. In the case of the Kenyan Red Cross, and other social impact organizations working to address last mile challenges around the world, the impact is more severe: nothing happens. This is especially alarming as these local organizations have the greatest potential to make an impact and create jobs, up to 80% in some economies. In fact, organizations like the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs and the World Economic Forum share that this “talent gap” is one of the leading barriers to progress.

Social impact organizations suffer from a lack of access to skills. Here are just a few examples of common needs:

  • An accounting system before applying for investment capital or grants
  • An improved operations and supply chain plan to lower costs
  • A go-to-market launch plan for new products and startups
  • Photography, videography, design, and messaging to develop new business development collateral
  • An improved IT system to track healthcare data and trends of patients in remote areas
  • An information distribution system to provide relevant data to rural farmers

While the challenges facing Microsoft and Kenyan Red Cross seem almost impossible to link, there is actually a powerful connection that can greatly benefit both parties: When employees from multinational corporations volunteer their skills with social impact organizations, they develop skills and learn new insights that can benefit their company. In the process, they help tackle major challenges that help smaller organizations get ahead.

International Corporate Volunteering (ICV) programs that do this continue to demonstrate a positive impact for all parties. People grow as global leaders, corporations benefit by developing higher performing people, and field organizations grow faster. In a previous article on Huffington Post, Alice Korngold shared that these programs can actually deliver bottom-line benefits to multinational companies.

These types of “World-Positive Leadership Development Programs” are just gaining traction. We’re helping people engage on these on their own and through established corporate volunteering programs. To help people that want to pilot programs like this at their own company, we’ve released a free checklist to help guide you.

Surprisingly, it’s not that difficult to launch an international volunteer program. One program we support was started by two passionate individuals with just two years of work experience. Here are some simple steps you can follow to implement a program at your company:

1. Research Your Business Priorities

Look for bright spots within your organization that might benefit from international volunteering. Business units like leadership development, recruiting, marketing, employee engagement, product and innovation teams are a great place to start as they are looking to create outcomes that programs like this can support.

2. Network and Find Support

Look for a partner and/or team to join you in launching a program. Search within volunteer and travel-based networks at your company. Schedule regular meeting to discuss how you can best design a program within the walls of your company.

3. Create a Business Plan

For a program like this to grow at your company, it has to make an impact for the world and for the company. Clearly document how it will help the company achieve its goals, while also improving conditions around the globe. Tools like this free “business case in a box” can help.

4. Find a Senior Champion

Use your network and business plan to find an internal champion who can provide budget and/or share your plan to senior leaders. The right person at the right level can help get the idea in front of other decision makers to help influence adoption.

5. Sell, sell, sell

Even with a compelling business case it still takes time. Don’t give up, and keep selling until your company has adopted a program. This can be done by continuing to grow grassroots support from your peers, while also continuing to pitch to senior leaders.

6. Start small

If you can’t convince your company to start a big pilot, that’s OK. You can still independently by asking your boss for time off to volunteer, and then use that to start building the case for a more formal program.

With all the buzz around the benefits of volunteering and the well-documented needs of organizations that need skilled volunteers, the time is ripe to launch a program at your company that builds better leaders, while building a better world.

 

The Huffington Post

Be Part of the Solution

kimberly-hockadayGlobe Aware founder Kimberly Haley-Coleman was offered the opportunity to explain the attraction of volunteer vacations with Globe Aware to Perrault magazine readers. Kimberly uses her not-for-profit company’s Thailand destination to illustrate her points.

READ THE ARTICLE – CLICK HERE

Perreault Magazine

Making a Difference

David Conrads, correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, recently wrote an inspiring profile on Caroline Boudreaux who works with India’s orphans and started The Miracle Foundation.

Caroline Boudreaux is a passionate, effective advocate for India’s orphans

The Miracle Foundation dramatically improves standards in a growing network of orphanages.

By David Conrads, Correspondent

Austin, Texas ' Caroline Boudreaux was not looking for her life' s work back in 1999 when she set out with a friend on a yearlong trip around the world. But she found it in a remote village of thatch-roofed mud huts in the Indian state of Odisha.

Invited to dine at the home of a local family, Ms. Boudreaux was completely unprepared for what she encountered: more than 100 filthy, emaciated orphans, wide-eyed with longing, and so starved for affection that they clamored simply to touch the two American visitors. While the adults ate chicken, the children were given rice and sugar.

boudreauxThe children slept in crowded dormitories on beds made of wooden planks " no mattresses, pillows, or blankets. When Boudreaux put one little girl to bed, who had fallen asleep in her lap, she could hear the child' s bones hit the boards.

"It was like putting her down on a picnic table," she says. "The whole experience was overwhelming. They were the sweetest, saddest children I had ever seen in my life. I knew I had to do something."

For several years prior, Boudreaux had been actively seeking a new direction in her life. Though not yet 30 years old, she seemed to have it all. The sixth of seven children from a middle-class family in Lake Charles, La., she was selling advertising for a network television station in Austin, Texas, and making more money than she ever imagined possible.

She drove a nice car, lived in a beautiful condominium in one of the city' s best neighborhoods, and led an active social life. By any measure of material success, Boudreaux had made it.

Except for one nagging problem: She found her job unfulfilling and its material benefits less and less satisfying.

"I felt empty inside," she recalls. "I felt like I was being wasted. I knew in my heart that I had a higher purpose that I wasn' t fulfilling."

Her yearlong sabbatical was not intended as a way to find that higher purpose, but find it she did. She knew when she returned to Austin in the fall of 2000 that she would devote her time and energy to relieving the plight of orphans.

Boudreaux started The Miracle Foundation that year as a typical international adoption agency, matching available children in India with Americans desiring to adopt. She changed her approach when she discovered that the process of international adoptions in India can be highly corrupt, involving a never-ending string of fees and bribes. She also realized that she could only facilitate about 20 adoptions a year. At that time, there were some 25 million orphans in India, with about 1 million new ones being added each year.

She also realized that it was the orphans who were not being offered for international adoption, who had no realistic alternative to growing up in an orphanage, who needed help the most.

Boudreaux entered into a partnership with an organization in India and began building orphanages from the ground up, training house mothers and setting high standards for nutrition, hygiene, emotional and physical care, and education.

The Miracle Foundation was very successful at building high-quality orphanages. Boudreaux knew she was onto something good, but didn' t know how to make it grow.

In 2009 she hired Elizabeth Davis, a veteran entrepreneur in Austin' s bustling high-tech world, to be the organization' s chief operating officer. In bringing her business savvy to bear on The Miracle Foundation, Ms. Davis immediately questioned why it was building new orphanages when there were already thousands operating in India.

So Boudreaux changed her approach again. She and Davis built a system for finding existing orphanages that were willing to partner with The Miracle Foundation.

Inspired by the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, they created the Miracle Foundation' s Rights of the Child, which includes the right to basics such as health care, nutrition, clean water, a stable environment, and a good education.

With these codified rights as benchmarks, they set up measurable standards and assessment tools, both to gauge an orphanage' s progress and to demonstrate the success of the foundation to prospective donors.

Orphanages that partner with The Miracle Foundation are provided with various kinds of assistance to help them bring their operations up to a high standard " from trained house mothers to a computer loaded with accounting software. While the foundation supplies support, employees of the orphanages are all Indian, as are the social workers who make periodic checks, and the country head, who oversees the operation.

Most important, during the first phase of partnership, the orphanage is given the resources to bring the ratio of children to house mothers to 20:1. (The norm in Indian orphanages is about 80:1.) When the orphanage becomes a full partner with The Miracle Foundation, the ratio is reduced even further, to 10 children for every house mother.

The homes also group both boys and girls of different ages together with one house mother, like a family, rather than grouping children of the same age together, like a school.

Several of the orphanages have shown dramatic improvement, scoring just 30 percent in their first assessment of meeting the standards, to scoring in the high 90s on the same assessment 15 months later.

"It' s remarkable," Boudreaux says. "The directors and the house mothers are doing the work. The heavy lifting is on them."

The Miracle Foundation now works with 11 orphanages, home to more than 800 children. Thanks to Boudreaux' s efforts, these children grow up in a happy, healthy, loving environment and can look forward to a future that includes vocational training or even a college education.

"The results of all her work are really apparent, the way the orphanages have turned into homes," says Nivedita DasGupta, the Miracle Foundation' s India country head, in an interview via Skype from her office in New Delhi. "The children now have loving mothers to take care of them, which they did not have before. They thrive with proper meals, education, and depth of care."

Before joining The Miracle Foundation in 2011, Ms. DasGupta worked for several nonprofit organizations in India, primarily with children. She has nothing but praise for Boudreaux. "I have never come across anybody as passionate and as competent as she is," DasGupta says.

"Caroline is one of the smartest nonprofit leaders in the US today," says Alan Graham, founder and president of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, an Austin-based organization that delivers meals to the homeless in several cities. Boudreaux once served as a volunteer for Mr. Graham and considers him a mentor. He advised her when she badly needed encouragement and direction.

"She' s got everything going for her. She' s got great communication skills. The work she does is compelling and meaningful," he says.

Chief operating officer Davis concurs. She particularly praises Boudreaux' s ability to adapt and grow as her vision for The Miracle Foundation broadens. Davis also notes Boudreaux' s ability to attract people to her cause, both in the United States and India, as employees, board members, and donors. "She does what she does for all the right reasons, and that' s what resonates," Davis says. "She has a magnetic quality about her."

Boudreaux' s immediate goal is to partner with more orphanages and serve more children. She is also hoping to expand beyond India. Her larger goal is to bring the plight of orphans to the world' s attention.

To that end, she is hoping to have the care of orphans included in the UN' s next set of sustainable development goals. Thus far, the plight of the world' s 153 million orphans is not on the UN goals list " or much on the radar of global concern, she says.

"These are the world' s children, and they belong to nobody," Boudreaux says. "What if they belonged to everybody? How cool would that be?"

• For more information, visit www.miraclefoundation.org.

How to take action

Universal Giving helps people give to and volunteer for top-performing charitable organizations around the world. All the projects are vetted by Universal Giving; 100 percent of each donation goes directly to the listed cause. Below are links to three organizations helping children in India:

    • Greenheart Travel is a nonprofit international exchange organization that provides cultural immersion programs to change lives, advance careers, and create leaders. Take action: Volunteer to teach children in India.
    • Embrace advances maternal and child health by delivering innovative solutions to the world' s most vulnerable populations. Take action: Provide infant warmers for newborn babies in India.
    • Globe Aware promotes cultural awareness and sustainability. Take action: Volunteer to fight poverty in India by working with children in slums.

The Christian Science Monitor

Family Volunteer Travel

Writing for Chase magazine, freelancer Michelle Seitzer looked at the myriad opportunities and ways to turn a regular vacation into a meaningful vacation through volunteer travel. Globe Aware founder Kimberly Haley-Coleman offered some great insight on what to look for and how to pick volunteer vacations that provide the best return for destination communities and countries.

Family Travel That Gives Back: A Meaningful Vacation

Going Away for a Good Cause
By Michelle Seitzer

Americans sometimes choose work over play — a 2014 study found that more than 150 million vacation days go unused every year — but a new kind of family adventure may be just the thing to give today’s modern family a high-quality break.

A volunteer vacation, or service trip, offers an opportunity to do good while working together as a family. A growing number of organizations now make it possible to do it without spending weeks or months away.

founderkimberlyKimberly Haley-Coleman founded Globe Aware to weave her passion for cultures, languages, and out-of-the-box travel with the strong demand for short-term volunteer trips. Her non-profit fosters "a mutual learning experience" benefiting travelers and individuals in needy communities worldwide.

"We' re not putting people on ladders or going into war zones," says Haley-Coleman. The liability is too high for her small company, and it' s not their mission " which may come as a relief to those worried about the challenges of global volunteer work.

Globe Aware specializes in community-driven projects that can be completed in a week, from Saturday to Saturday, without need for language or technical skills. And there are no age restrictions. Participants have ranged from 2 to 95 years old.

Most of the week is devoted to project work and organic interactions with local residents, but volunteers still visit landmark sites like Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat. "We go to tourist favorites but focus on the cultural awareness window to the world," she says.

"It' s tangible, visible giving, not just writing a check."

Kimberly Haley-Coleman, Globe Aware

On one of their Cambodia trips, volunteers assembled wheelchairs for land mine victims. In Guatemala, they installed concrete floors and outdoor garden spaces in the homes of impoverished single mothers.

"It' s tangible, visible giving, not just writing a check," says Haley-Coleman.

First-World Problems, Illuminated

Waiting to complete an international adoption inspired Mary Voorhies and Philip Southwick to take a working vacation to Nicaragua, where they helped to deliver clean water and establish modern bathrooms in rural communities.

For Voorhies, the most valuable takeaway was this realization: "Road bumps in my every day life are all now first-world problems."
An Unexpected Gift … and Guilt

Krista McKay accompanied her nurse-practitioner mother on a medical mission trip to Honduras that she described as "an operation in improvisation." The small but mighty team of doctors, surgeons, and nurses from a suburban Philadelphia hospital has visited the same villages for more than five years now. Though she is not a healthcare professional, McKay was invited to join the group on a recent visit after lending her marketing and fundraising expertise because the volunteers have to cover all costs themselves, including medical supplies.

In the heart of the village, the group sets up mobile clinics where locals line up to be seen for anything from common cold symptoms to gaping wounds to complications from diabetes. They also perform surgeries in the local hospital, where the team scrubs with a wash basin because there' s no running water. Patients wait with outdated x-ray printouts while wild dogs run in and out of the building.

The strengthened relationship McKay and her mother gained from working side-by-side in hard healthcare situations " treating seizures on the spot, in one instance " made the trip worthwhile. Still, McKay returned with mixed feelings. "I didn' t feel like what I did was enough. You feel good for doing something good, but you also have guilt for having more than you need."
Planning a Giving Vacation

Motivated to make a difference in someone else' s life " yours included " on a service adventure abroad? There are risks and rewards associated with giving this way, which is why you should do adequate research when choosing an organization to handle your trip, says Haley-Coleman.

Unsure about bringing younger family members? Evaluate what exposure they' ve already had, and consider a closer-to-home Latin American country vs. crossing an ocean for their first experience.

Choosing to do good on your next family vacation instead of simply consuming goods (or staying behind the desk and letting your employer have your unused vacation days) is a wise investment that can pay off in many ways.

 

Self

Volunteer Abroad

Writing for The Huffington Post’s Blog, University of Southern California student Rachel Scott examines the benefits of traveling abroad, immersing herself in foreign communities and cultures and discovers the secret to the most fulfilling travel adventure is to volunteer abroad.

Don’t Just Go Abroad — Volunteer Abroad

Ask anyone about their study abroad experience, and they will tell you it was nothing short of amazing. But there is a secret to making it even better — volunteering.

I took my first trip abroad to Thailand this past December and found myself bringing in the New Year in a new country with new friends and an interesting new perspective on life. I spent nearly three weeks stepping out of my comfort zone, exploring the land, riding elephants, feeding monks, shopping in night markets, learning a new language and appreciating new foods and culture. While the spices of Thailand tickled my tongue and the temples sparked an interest for learning, I can’t begin to tell you about my trip without telling you about the lives I tried to touch and how they touched me.

I traveled to Thailand with 17 other amazing American students who decided to give up their entire winter break, including Christmas and New Years to help those in need. We partnered with an organization called Travel to Teach, and together we headed to two different schools in Chiang Mai. We had the opportunity to work with primary school children from poor backgrounds, who didn’t have much. It was at one school where I came across a teenage boy who gave himself that nickname, Laos. He fled from Burma with his family, hoping to get a better life in Thailand. I would soon learn that he was among dozens of other children in the same position. At his school, more than 90 percent of the children were Burma refugees or children of Burma refugees. For nearly all of them, we were the first Westerners they had ever seen.

Laos was taken back by our differences and was stunned to learn that we had traveled across the world to teach. Although he was a teenager, he was in classes with children who were two to three years younger than him. He knew the most English out of everyone in the group, often translating for the rest of the students. Laos took such pride in school, he was happy to be there and looked forward to learning as much as he could. For the next week I would work with him and dozens of other students, teaching English and helping with tasks around the school. While many of the students impressed me as students in the classroom, I was more impressed by the conditions in which they lived in and how they got to school.

At the end of the first school day, I walked with Laos and several students down to the driveway, where I assumed they would be picked up by their parents and taken home. Laos waited for his little sister, who was several years younger and also attended the school. As he waited, he told me that the two bike nearly an hour just to get to school. He told me his sister rode on the back of his bike, while he pedaled all the way home. I began to wonder how the other children arrived to school and how they got back home. I turned around and saw dozens of children piling into a van and dozens of others climbing into the back of a pick up truck. I sat there and counted, watching as 16 kids got into one van. I looked inside and noticed how they were all packed in together, none wearing seat belts. Yet, they didn’t seem to mind. These young girls and boys weren’t complaining about the time it took to get to school, their family conditions or even the fact that they had to go to school. Rather, they were eager to get an education and delighted that a group of “Westerners,” as they called us, had traveled thousands of miles just to be with them.

We were just as delighted to meet them and excited to help in whatever way we could. We taught them English, an important skill to have in order to move up in Thai culture. Learning English not only gives a way for Thais a way to compete in tourism, one of the country’s main industries but it can also give access for students to attend international schools and gain other educational opportunities. We helped rebuild their school — building a water fountain, painting classrooms, building a wall to block out the noise from the street and donated money to help sustain the institution.

Despite the language barrier, it was amazing how much we could communicate without saying much at all. Many of us came to Thailand to help those in need but in the end we were the ones that perhaps received the most. We each developed our own relationships with the children and they left lasting impressions.

“One of the students that I got attached to was little Fai,” Juan Ramirez, a student-volunteer on the trip said. “Fai was around the age of 10 and was one of the shyer kids,” he continued. For several days, Juan worked with Fai teaching her English and working on her vocabulary. “I remember the last day of school was so sad, especially when I had to say goodbye to Fai. I saw her eyes tearing up,” he said. The experience changed Juan’s perspective on his own education. “There have been times where I complained about our public schools,” he said. “There were times when a child’s textbook was falling apart or their pen would barely write. Even though they had so little, they still seem so grateful. It just brings into perspective that material possessions don’t bring happiness,” he said.

Perspective was perhaps one the greatest gifts I received from the children in Thailand. I can go on and on about things they didn’t have but what was even more remarkable, is what they did have. They had happiness, joy and were full of life. They were respectful of each other, their elders and protected those who were younger than them. The children of Thailand were fearless, caring little about material objects and more about human interaction. As we left, I couldn’t help but feel so incredibly thankful for how they helped me and how much they pushed me to be a better individual. Just when I thought I couldn’t be more surprised by their strength, kindness and endurance, I was wrong.

On the last day at the school, two students who nicknamed themselves Nooey and June ran up to me with gifts. Before giving me a tight hug, they handed me a flower and a bear. They both began to cry. Yet again, I was amazed. The two little girls, who had almost nothing still found something to give. They didn’t have money to buy anything so instead they gave me their own personal belongings to show their gratitude. It was about the gift that meant so much to me but the gesture that made all the difference.

So I urge you not to just go abroad but to volunteer abroad. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and away from the typical tourist experience. It will be challenging, in many cases a culture shock — but it will reward you a thousand times over. As student volunteer Sahil Dhailwal said, “It’s sometimes so easy to forget that other nations and millions of other people with other languages, customs and traditions exist. This experience definitely opened up my interest in wanting to travel more and continue doing service.”

So take the road less traveled — explore, volunteer and open up your mind. You’ll learn that service is a two-way street and you may be surprised with who receives the most at the end.

The Huffington Post

Corporate volunteering benefits

Mark Horoszowski, writing for Devex Impact, a global initiative by Devex and USAID in partnership with top international organizations and private industry leaders, examines how an international corporate volunteering program can help a business grow into new, growing markets and assist in staff recruitment and retention.

Why your company needs an international corporate volunteering program

By Mark Horoszowski

06 February 2015

The current state of the global economy shows that businesses have immense opportunity ' not only by expanding into booming markets, but also by helping develop the economic potential of underdeveloped markets.

It was evident at the 2015 World Economic Forum, where "the stars of the show were from the private sector … people and business are stepping in where government is failing," according to Richard Edelman, the president and CEO of Edelman.

One of the ways that companies are stepping up is by bringing the skills of their employees to bear through corporate volunteering programs.

A great example of this is Microsoft' s presence in 17 countries across Africa with its 4Afrika initiative. By helping develop skills, increasing access to technology and supporting innovation, the tech giant is working towards its goal to empower every African to turn their ideas into a reality, which in turn can help their community, their country or even the continent at large.

Originally, 4Afrika focused on hosting educational events for students and entrepreneurs, funding startups, and providing technology grants. But as the program grew, Microsoft realized it had more to offer than cash and products. In 2014 the company started to contribute its most valued asset ' its people ' to volunteer their skills with nonprofits, startups, schools, and small and medium-sized enterprises.

India---122512---Meg-Hauge-6In doing so, the 4Afrika program has demonstrated that an effective skills-based volunteering engagement ' we call it experteering ' can accelerate the progress of local organizations, can help increase the economic opportunity within a country, and can provide an invaluable learning experience to the volunteer. Microsoft is not alone in this realization.

There are three well-documented forces that highlight why corporations should embrace international corporate volunteering programs, and help explain why the programs are growing at a rate of 150 percent:

1. How corporations benefit from international corporate volunteering.

The stated benefits of international corporate volunteering programs can be traced all the way to the bottom line. While early benefits of these ICV programs tout recruiting and retention benefits, new research shows that is only the tip of the iceberg.

Recruiting and Retention

Indeed, the recruiting and retention benefits are massive. Considering the cost of replacing an employee can be equal to 150 percent of their salary, more should definitely be done to retain top employees. Research by Points of Light showed that 90 percent of its companies saw a drop in turnover after implementing skills-based volunteer programs. Benefit Group reported that its turnover dropped from 22 percent to 7 percent after implementing its ICV program.

Leadership Development

According to recent research by The Conference Board of CEOs, a lack of globally-minded leaders is a leading concern for CEOs. Corporations have responded by increasing their investment in leadership development by as much as 15 percent year-over-year. Increasingly, leadership development programs are looking to experiential programs that provide true growth opportunities.

A great research summary by McKinsey explains why experience is so important: "Even after very basic training sessions, adults typically retain just 10 percent of what they hear in classroom lectures, versus nearly two-thirds when they learn by doing."

More than any other benefit, leadership development is recognized as a primary outcome of every report we' ve seen on ICV programs.

Performance and Engagement

In a program that we supported for Microsoft, both the participants and their managers shared that the program noticeably improved leadership-related skills, and 100 percent of the managers would permit other team members to participate. A little time away from the job doing relevant and meaningful work appeared to result in employees returning more engaged and higher-performing.

Additional research from George Washington University found that beyond "stimulating new insights," international corporate volunteer "programs are a better investment than businesses school leadership programs, both in terms of cost and diversity of learning."

Indeed, companies should give their employees time to travel and volunteer, and pay them to do it.

Innovation

While slightly more challenging to measure, program managers of ICV programs state innovation as one of the leading reasons to justify its expense. Not only does volunteering in geographic areas of strategic interest provide unique insights that can' t be taught in a textbook, it also provides unique customer insight, which can lead to new product and marketing developments. In addition it fosters engagement, which is proven to improve on-the-job performance.

According to RealizedWorth: "For companies where employees were more engaged than not, their profitability jumped by 16 percent, general productivity was 18 percent higher than other companies, customer loyalty was 12 percent higher, and quality increased by 60 percent."

2. Why employees demand international volunteering opportunities.

Beyond the obvious desire to see the world, international exposure is a right of passage for up and coming business leaders. Harvard Business Review consistently writes about the value of international experiences for business leaders. In fact, of employees aged 25-34, more than 5 percent plan to relocate overseas to gain international exposure. In a recent article on the Society of Human Resource Management titled "Developing 21st Century Global Leaders in 2015," the SHRM foundation was quoted saying, "to be effective, the leaders of tomorrow must be able to collaborate while navigating cultural, regional and political differences."

Beyond global experience, skilled-volunteering also acts as a tool to recruit top talent. According to research published by Net Impact, an average of 75 to 80 percent of respondents prefer to work for a company known for its social responsibility, 53 percent of working professionals state that the ability to make an impact is essential to on-the-job happiness.

Perhaps more telling was that 35 percent of students would take a pay cut to work at a company committed to CSR and 78 percent said money "was less important to them than personal fulfillment."

3. How skills-based volunteering is building a better world.

According to the World Economic Forum, one of the leading barriers to progress is a "lack of access to quality talent". This "skills gap" is becoming so large, that in some places like Brazil and India, it is being considered the leading barrier to progress.

In a recent campaign we participated in with Devex, Peace Corps and other leading global development organizations called #DoingMore, participants shared stories about how skills-based volunteering was:

    1. Essential to building skills of change-makers, like the MySkills4Afrika program which used volunteers to teach program management best-practices to startups and social enterprises working out of iHUB.
    2. Solving complex technical, creative, and/or business problems facing organizations, like the Microsoft Leaders in Action program which consulted with Kenya Red Cross to optimize its use of existing technology as a way to improve operations and measure impact.
    3. Addressing systemic issues by connecting skilled-volunteers not only to small, resource-strapped organizations, but also to international NGOs and even governmental institutions.
    4. Accelerating projects that lack human capital by bringing in skilled volunteers for very specific tasks.
    5. Empowering job creators by connecting skilled-volunteers to the most under-resourced organizations that also have the most potential to create jobs and end poverty.

Perhaps more than any business activity other than core operations, international corporate volunteering programs have massive potential to create positive business outcomes, positive personnel outcomes, and positive global development outcomes.

Devex Impact

Battling Thailand’s illegal dog meat trade

Every year tens of thousands of dogs are inhumanely transported from Thailand to neighboring countries where they are butchered for their meat. The Soi Dog Foundation and the Thai government are actively working to end this brutal and cruel practice. This story by by correspondent Tibor Krausz in The Christian Science Monitor relates the work of a retired British couple to put an end to the practice. The author also acknowledges the work done by Globe Aware volunteers to help Thai elephants.

John and Gill Dalley battle Thailand’s illegal dog meat trade

The British couple moved to Thailand to retire. But when they learned of the illegal capture and torture of dogs, their plans changed.

Buriram Province, Thailand ' You hear them before you see them. From inside seven well-equipped enclosures at an animal sanctuary within a remote forest in rural Buriram Province comes a canine cacophony of barks, woofs, and yelps. The spacious runs are home to some 1,500 dogs " young and old; big and small; white, tan, brown, spotted, blotched, dappled, and black. They loll in the shade, bicker over chew toys, or leap about, tails wagging, as visitors approach.

volunteer vacation ThailandUntil recently a terrible fate awaited all these dogs: They were destined for dinner tables. In Thailand' s clandestine dog meat trade countless dogs " pets and strays alike " have been seized from streets and outside homes by criminal gangs that cater to vendors and restaurants selling canine meat from Thailand to Vietnam.

John Dalley will have none of that. The retired chemical engineer from Leeds, England, and his wife, Gill, a former bank employee, set up the Soi Dog Foundation in 2003 on the tropical island of Phuket in southern Thailand, where the couple had just relocated for their retirement.   
Recommended: Difference Maker 6 organizations that protect animal rights

"We had a dog back home, but I wasn' t particularly involved with animal rights," recalls Mr. Dalley, a lanky, cordial man. "But you see these dogs [in Thailand] suffer, and you want to do something to help them."
Difference Maker 6 organizations that protect animal rights
Photos of the Day Photos of the Day 02/05

So they do. The animals here owe their lives to the Dalleys. Their charity has built a canine shelter with treatment and adoption areas. It pays for its operating costs through donations from Soi Dog' s global network of supporters.

The nonprofit has helped rescue thousands of dogs from being slaughtered. In the northeastern province of Sakon Nakhon, a hot spot for the underground dog meat trade, Soi Dog pays rewards to locals for tips on dog thieves and works with local police in arresting them.

The charity also has its own task force, which has intercepted dozens of trucks with cargoes of stolen dogs bound for Vietnam' s booming canine meat markets. The unit has also uncovered illegal butchers, tanneries, and holding centers, shutting them down and freeing scores of dogs.

According to the Thai Veterinary Medical Association, half a million Thai dogs were smuggled to Vietnam and China in 2011. Today the number is no more than one-third of that.

"The numbers are down. We' re winning," Dalley says. "But we have a long way to go yet."

To evade capture, the criminal gangs have changed their tactics. They used to transport dogs on torturous journeys across borders in cramped poultry cages without food or water, or hidden in sacks under their trucks' false floors. Not anymore.

"With the last two trucks we' ve caught, all the dogs had already been butchered with their meat placed in iceboxes," laments Varaporn Jittanonta, a nurse who works as Soi Dog' s relief coordinator. She' s standing beside kennels of young rescuees earmarked for adoption. Recently, four dogs from Buriram " easygoing Malt, bouncy Midnight, mischievous Sam, and affectionate Paige " were taken for adoption in the United States by the Virginia-based A Forever Home Rescue Foundation.

Yet successes in some areas come with setbacks in others. The drive spearheaded by Soi Dog to curb the cross-border dog meat trade has driven up demand for live dogs in Vietnam where thieves, often armed, scour villages and towns for unguarded pets.

"Dog thieves like to target pets because, unlike strays, they' re friendly and approachable," Dalley notes. "Pets also command better prices [at meat markets] because they' re healthy and well fed."  

In areas where dog meat is considered a delicacy, such as Thailand' s Sakon Nakhon Province and Hanoi, Vietnam, curbside food stalls sell roasted dogs and entire eateries specialize in dog meat dishes. The animals' skins often end up being used in leather goods, including golf gloves exported to the West.

"There are a lot of weird beliefs about dog meat," Dalley observes. "In Vietnam people like to eat it in winter because they consider it a warming dish. In [South] Korea they eat it in summer because they see it as a cooling dish. In Cambodia some men believe they gain virility from eating black dogs."

In Sakon Nakhon, a kilo (2.2 pounds) of dog meat jerky costs about 300 baht ($9) " the daily wages of a laborer. "It' s a luxury food," the Englishman notes.

"I abhor this trade because of the shocking cruelty involved in it," he says. No effort is made to ensure humane treatment of dogs before slaughter. In fact, the killing methods used can be intentionally brutal " still-conscious animals are often beaten or burned. Some in the trade believe the release of adrenalin in a frightened animal enhances the flavor of dog meat.

Recently, comedian Ricky Gervais, actress Judi Dench, and other British celebrities joined Soi Dog' s petition against Thailand' s "dark secret," endorsing the animal charity' s campaign in an online viral video. The move helped to put pressure on Thai lawmakers, whom Dalley has long been lobbying for more stringent animal welfare laws " or rather, for any meaningful legislation at all. Until recently, people who abused or maltreated animals faced only a small fine (the equivalent of $30).   

Then last December, after consultation with him and other animal rights advocates, Thailand' s parliament finally passed the country' s first Animal Welfare Bill, which has increased penalties to a maximum of two years in prison and 40,000 baht (around $1,200) in fines.

Yet for Dalley the new law has been a Pyrrhic victory: Despite his advice, Thai lawmakers failed to ban the slaughter of non-livestock animals for their meat and skin. "The only way to measure a law' s effectiveness is to see how it affects the level of crime it' s meant to stop," he says diplomatically. "We' ll see."

But it isn' t just dogs threatened by meat traders that need the Dalleys' help; many others do, too. Soi Dog provides emergency and veterinary care for abandoned pets and feeds hundreds of strays on the streets and at Buddhist temples.

The Dalleys also run a shelter and adoption center for some 400 dogs on their tourist island. Most arrive malnourished and diseased. Thanks to round-the-clock care from several veterinarians, dozens of other paid staff, and volunteers, hundreds of neglected and discarded dogs have made remarkable recoveries.

The couple also has had to overcome pain and sorrow. In October 2004, a stray dog, groggy from being tranquilized for a neutering procedure, fled into a boggy water buffalo field. To save him from drowning, Ms. Dalley waded in after him. Within days, however, she developed a serious bacterial infection. Eventually both her legs were amputated below the knee.

Then on Dec. 26 that same year a devastating Indian Ocean tsunami ravaged much of Phuket, claiming the life, among thousands of others, of a close friend of Gill' s who had been helping her save dogs.

"I went into shock for 24 hours," she recalls. A day later, though, using a wheelchair, she was out and about in the island' s worst-affected area helping counsel relatives of victims and tending to displaced dogs languishing without food and shelter.

She now uses prostheses to get around.

"As I was learning to walk again, I thought of the dogs that still needed my help," Gill says. "Pure joy for me is changing an animal' s life."

Her husband isn' t slowing down, either.

"I was going to spend my retirement in Thailand playing golf and diving," John says. "Instead, in all my time here I' ve gone diving once and never swung a club. But one thing I want to do before I die is to end the dog meat trade."

How to take action

Universal Giving helps people give to and volunteer for top-performing charitable organizations around the world. All the projects are vetted by Universal Giving; 100 percent of each donation goes directly to the listed cause. Below are links to the Soi Dog Foundation and Globe Aware, two organizations that protect animals in Thailand:

  • The mission of the Soi Dog Foundation is to improve the welfare of dogs and cats in Thailand, resulting in better lives for both the animal and human communities. Take action: Here are three Soi Dog Foundation programs seeking help. Support efforts to rescue dogs from the dog meat trade. Volunteer to help street dogs and cats. Donate $30 to give a stray animal medical treatment.
  • Globe Aware promotes sustainability, helping communities prosper without relying on outside aid. Take action: Volunteer to help elephants in Thailand.

The Christian Science Monitor

Voluntourism and solo travel

GoGirlfriend.com is a niche blog that focuses exclusively on travel for women, products and tips. Highbrow or budget, hot spots or off the beaten path, eco-friendly, sustainable and smart travel choices. GoGirlfriend.com profiled Amy Angelilli, a socially responsible lifetime adventurer who' s visited at least 24 countries " and she continues adding a new one to that list every year. Amy shared her solo travel experiences and the big-draw of volunteer travel. Enjoy!

Travel… It’s Good for You!

Still scouring the Internet for an ideal adventure that' s right for you this year? Don' t be overwhelmed reading about other people' s adventures. What' s right for someone else isn' t necessarily right for you. What matters is that you have an authentic experience, get just a little bit out of your comfort zone and do, see or feel something you' ve never experienced before. It could be half way around the world, or, it could be just a short drive away. Make it yours and completely immerse yourself in it.

As a follow-up to my original piece about simple ways to add adventure to your travel, here are five more suggestions to get you packing. Hopefully one resonates with you, and, fits your lifestyle.

Stay local

It' s easy to stay at a chain hotel when traveling because it gives us comfort, as we know what to expect. Don' t do it. If you stay local, you not only put your dollars into the local economy, you' re able to cross the line between tourist and traveler " and that' s where the real adventure begins. To access these local opportunities, you might rent a place through Airbnb.com, which offers unique stays from local hosts in more than 190 countries. I' ve stayed in a guesthouse on an organic farm in Tortola, in a guest room on the western hills of Portland, Oregon and in an Adobe house on ten acres in Southwest Colorado via Airbnb.

If you like pets, TrustedHousesitters.com is a great resource as it connects home and pet owners who need a sitter. You' ll have the opportunity to stay at someone' s home (for free!) in exchange for taking care of the home and pets.

Go solo

Have you ever traveled with someone who just wasn' t on the same page " or schedule — as you? It' s a drag as you find yourself compromising on what to see and what to do every day. And, let' s face it " the trip is only so long, so to miss out on opportunities can be heartbreaking. The solution? Go alone and spend each day however you' d like. I traveled to an eco-camp on St. John over Thanksgiving a few years ago. This is an example of how not to travel alone. It was a remote location on an American holiday, so the facility was filled with couples and families. I made only one friend " a single woman traveling with her daughter — who had a rental jeep. For a few days, I had a friend " and a ride. However, the experience taught me a lesson. As a solo traveler, avoid holidays and seek out places to stay that attract other solo travelers. For more solo travel tips, visit AdventurouSkate.com " a solo female travel blog and the "She Travels Solo" page of JourneyWoman.com.

Go to camp

If you' ve longed to return to camp ever since you reached an age where you became too old to return to camp, now' s your chance. Summer camps for adults are exploding. And, some even cater to the solo traveler. At the Mac & Cheese Productions Life of Yes! Sleepaway Camp, you' re whisked away to an undisclosed location within a two-hour drive of Chicago " but that' s all your told. Everything is taken care of for you " lodging, meals and itineraries " so there' s nothing to worry about. And, the best part is that everyone comes solo, so you wouldn' t even be eligible to attend if you wanted to bring a friend.

If big is more your thing " big trees, big crowds and big productions " then get your backpack ready and head to Camp Grounded " summer camp for adults. A digital detox experience in the Redwoods where adults get to be kids again, Camp Grounded offers playshops, wellness activities, sustainable meals, and most importantly, live real-time conversations with real people " no digital devices needed. Summer of 2014 was my summer of camps " it impacted me so much that I just completed an old school style scrapbook of my experiences.

Participate in a volunteer program

Voluntourism is at an all-time high, as more people want to give back via their travel experiences. VolunTourism.org is a great resource to explore volunteer vacations. As you dig deeper about this kind of travel experience, you' ll discover a global debate raging regarding the value of volunteer travel. If you' re on the fence about where you stand, or, if you just don' t want to get your hands dirty, you can have your volunteer vacation be about nothing more than talking. Seriously! At VaughTown, native English speaking volunteers spend several days in a small Spanish town conversing with Spanish business people hoping to get better command of English. I participated in this program in 2003 and I' m still in touch with some of the friends I made there

Travel off-season

There are so many advantages to traveling off-season " the biggest being the cost. There are always bargains to be had, as there are fewer visitors coming through. Plus, if it' s a popular tourist destination, the locals tend to be more relaxed and open to conversation as they aren' t up to their eyeballs with tourists. I took this concept to the extreme about 15 years ago when I traveled to the island of Ibiza in February. It was a ghost town. But, there was one pub open and the British folks minding it gave us the royal treatment, making for an unforgettable evening. If off-season seems too much of a stretch, try shoulder season " bargains are still available, crowds are still thin and authentic connections are still easier to find.

May you find " and embrace " your own adventure in 2015. And remember, even if everything doesn' t turn out perfectly, an imperfect adventure is better than no adventure at all.

What tips would you like to add on why traveling is good for you? We’d love to hear. Drop a comment below or connect with your GoGirlfriends on Facebook or Twitter!

About Amy Angelili

Amy Angelilli is a socially responsible lifetime adventurer who' s visited at least 24 countries " and she continues adding a new one to that list every year. Between trips, she moved from Philadelphia to Denver in an RV filled with rescue pets, and opened a low cost spay/neuter clinic for stray cats so she wouldn' t have to adopt any more. Now, as Chief Adventure Officer of The Adventure Project, she uses improvisational theater techniques to play with others so that they may discover and create their own adventures " at home or abroad.

gogirlfriend.com

Volunteer Vacations’ Growing Popularity

vOLUNTEER VACATIONS POPULAR" Volunteer vacations' a popular trend for many

By Jackie Runion

Marietta Times

Anyone vowing to travel or to make a difference in the new year can do both at the same time in the form of a “volunteer vacation.”

A number of companies, organizations and programs exist to offer people of all ages a chance to volunteer and help others while on vacation, whether it be either a car ride or a long plane trip away.

A popular trend that comes in the form of mission trips, alternative spring breaks and state and nationally-organized charity projects, the concept of volunteer tourism can give people a chance to get out of their backyards and also make an impact in their state, country or in a community overseas.

FACT BOX

Volunteer vacation opportunities

Volunteer Match

  • Features: Database directory of service opportunities for 99,000 nonprofits across U.S. that provide search-by-location and service-type engines.
  • Requirements: Vary by project.
  • Ages: Accepts all ages.

Globe Aware

  • Features: Worldwide, week-long volunteer projects.
  • Requirements: Cost and application required, trips are tax-deductible.
  • Ages: All ages accepted, children 15 and under must travel with a parent or guardian.

Projects Abroad

  • Features: Variety of service projects in East Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America.
  • Requirements: Application required.
  • Ages: Teens and older.

American Hiking Society

  • Features: Week-long trail and park maintenance projects across the U.S.
  • Requirements: Varying fees and registration required.
  • Ages: All ages accepted, volunteers under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

Ohio Department of Natural Resources:

  • Features: Various volunteer activities for groups and individuals of all ages across Ohio’s 74 state parks.
  • Requirements: None.
  • Ages: All ages accepted.

In the area, common traveling service projects are found most frequently through colleges and churches.

Marietta resident Terry Schmelzenbach is one of many people who found a passion in overseas mission work through his church.

Through the Marietta Church of the Nazarene, Pastor Schmelzenbach has taken multiple trips to Swaziland, Africa, not only to experience the beautiful scenery and wildlife, but to help others.

“We’ve had a presence there since 1908,” Schmelzenbach said. “The Church of the Nazarene has a large base there, and we educate about 32 percent of the people in that country.”

Schmelzenbach said the groups, which typically consist of just fewer than 20 people and with all ages involved, help work on the country’s two colleges and help with various building projects and food needs in the area.

“It’s things as simple as laying and cutting tile for floors and stuff like that for buildings over there,” he said. “When you’re worrying about where your next meal is coming from, you don’t worry about stuff like that.”

The group often takes clothing and food to help out the locals in addition to delivering sermons.

“We turn it into a 50/50 deal,” Schmelzenbach said. “The rest of the time we spend in Kruger (National) Park, where all the safari animals are, and we stay the night there in a fenced-in area.”

Schmelzenbach said he and his wife save up to go on the trips every few years, including one coming up in June.

“The average lifespan is like 32 years of age, and $10 a day is considered a good job, so they know you’re there for them,” he said. “We go over there and feed them, but we also work with them.”

Through organizations like Projects Abroad and Global Aware, people of all ages can pay for tax-deductible vacations connected to national and international service projects.

Through Projects Abroad, which sends some 10,000 volunteers around the world each year, applicants can travel across the world to build schools, teach, conserve wildlife and provide childcare.

Many Projects Abroad trips allow anyone 16 and older to join, while short-term programs like Alternative Break Trips and High School Specials offer similar experiences for college students and teens.

“Alternative Spring Break trips are designed with short-term volunteering in mind and give college students the chance to break away from the usual spring break experience and give the gift of service to those in need,” said Tom Pastorius, the head of recruitment for Projects Abroad.

And Global Aware also offers its own volunteer vacations that provide teaching, clean-up, building and other types of activities within the U.S. and abroad.

Other companies and their respective websites, like volunteermatch.org and voluntourism.org, provide similar matching opportunities to either allow groups and individuals to directly apply for a service project or to provide resources about projects across the nation and how they can get involved.

Marietta resident Kevin Ritter is the owner and founder of Coast to Coast Athletics, a Marietta company established in 2002 that not only provides scholarships to local students, but provides teaching opportunities to children and teenagers around the world.

“On the service side we are involved in baseball clinics, and we’ve done these in Europe, Puerto Rico, Australia and in Florida,” Ritter said.

The program offers $1,000 scholarships to area Washington County students that staff deem college-ready, both to give them a head-start in paying for tuition while also providing an opportunity to teach the sport to their peers and to younger children across the world.

Domestically, a popular volunteer opportunity for outdoor fanatics is through the American Hiking Society.

Self