Volunteering Your Business Management Skills

teaching computersIf you are a business management or marketing student or are a professional working in a business or marketing field, you might consider offering your skills as a volunteer in areas desperately in need of your expertise and support.

The best platform to help bring about societal change is, quite simply, business. Why is this? One not-so-little word: money. Capital is necessary in virtually every project and at every level of society, and businesses are the way to grow it. For this reason, joining overseas projects trying to make a difference as a business volunteer is a great way to make a quick but lasting impact. And it can be lots of fun too.

Volunteers with expertise in business or marketing, or those with creative skills or corporate social responsibility experience can help people starting or running small businesses / micro enterprises. You can help people build businesses in high-poverty areas, or who want to enter the work force but lack information. You can help mission-based organisations increase their efficiency levels. You can to help build sustainable businesses that create jobs and increase productivity, market opportunities and incomes for people who are economically disadvantaged because of their lack of education, their environment, or the instability of their region. Volunteers with business management expertise can help build success, in areas where this is a rarity!

There are many development organisations and grassroots charities that have set up volunteering programmes to fight poverty by mentoring existing and potential business owners. It’s important for volunteers to consider only socially responsible projects that empower local communities, and avoid the pitfalls of becoming the “Western saviours” who offer assistance and then leave without having made a sustainable impact. Work in solidarity, not superiority - developing cross-cultural relationships is one of the most effective things that can come of a volunteer programme, on both sides. Aim to work side-by-side with locals, learn from them and support them while maintaining respect for their culture and knowledge.

Khaya Volunteer Projects (headed up by Martijn van der Put) have developed a program for the Economic Graduates Committee at the Vrije University of Amsterdam. 15 masters student volunteers are currently in Zanzibar for 3 weeks, holding marketing and business skills workshops for local entrepreneurs. The students visit selected companies in fields such as retail, tourism, or import and export, and work out a tutoring plan based on each company’s individual needs. (read more about their experience, here)

Let’s have a look at some of the opportunities that exist in various projects for keen business experts.

Marketing

You can assist in developing marketing skills packages which may include creating marketing plans, pricing strategy, product line development, website design and support, and the expansion of social networking outlets. You can help to foster the idea that “Marketing is more than just selling” in communities who have hitherto relied purely on production and simple sales to generate minimal turnover. They may not not had the opportunity for further growth and expansion, due to a lack of knowledge or resources. You can also help identify gaps in the market to expand opportunities.

Business Development

You can assist in the operational development of various small and start-up companies. This may include logistics and production support; designing and implementing new systems and business practices; improving human resources through staff development and relationship management; and assisting in the development of sound financial practices. You can help to implant and reinforce the idea that well-organised groups have better bargaining power than individuals, for example in marketing a product or services to a large hotel or tourist company.

Creative Product Design and Innovation

This option may grab your fancy if your skill set includes an artistic flair. Help local artists and craftsmen to improve and their artistic product line through (for example) painting, sewing, or photography of people and products. Volunteers with creative skills would be well suited for this option at companies looking for new creative ideas and products to support the local community.

Students take note: consider carefully when and where to volunteer. The time you spend volunteering is time spent away from studying and university life, which is ultimately what you have spent your money on, and planned your time around. Make sure you have the time and resources to do everything. You need to ensure your studies will not suffer, and you also need to allocate time for yourself to relax and rest!

I’m a business owner. How can I get involved?

If you’re a business leader with aspirations of applying your business mission to impacting the world at large, take the first step by encouraging your employees to volunteer their skills during their vacations or sabbaticals. Volunteering projects allow your employees to practice various skills, and managers can use the opportunity to broaden team and leadership capabilities. Volunteering can be used to address learning and development initiatives as volunteers strengthen leadership, communication, time management, and planning skills; and become aware of and sympathetic to cultural diversity. Encouraging your employees to volunteer their skills is also a great way to foster morale and loyalty at your company. You may even consider an incentive system for volunteers for offering their time, or incorporate volunteering as part of your social responsibility programme. The feedback they bring after a volunteer trip will help you to formulate a clear plan on how best to use your resources as a company, going forward. Remind them it’s a fantastic way to use their annual leave! 

Am I suitable for this kind of volunteering?

The short answer is yes, you probably are! The ideal candidate is anyone with enthusiasm, flexibility and an open mind, a passion to support the cause of creating business opportunities, the ability to respect a sustainable approach to development in developing countries, and those simply up for a challenge.

Volunteers in this area should plan to spend enough time with the organisation to assist with the roll-out of the ideas that they help to create and foster. A week or two might simply not be enough to make a lasting impact.

As a volunteer with heart and skills who truly wants to make a difference you might not know how to properly align their concern with the greatest need. To maximise your impact and your own experience, contact volunteer organisations who are affiliated to programmes which take into consideration your individual skills, interests, personality and experience; and offer a dynamic and rewarding experience. 

 

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