In a previous post, I mentioned my plans to volunteer overseas with CUSO-VSO. Well, life is full of the unexpected. Unfortunately for CUSO-VSO, they lost the funding that supported placements for Americans. As such, my placement is effectively on hold for an undetermined time. Luckily, their primary funding is solid and enables them to place Canadians, the bulk of their volunteers, so they can continue their great work.
I’ve been revisiting other options and seeking insights from experienced folks, including TJ Ryan of ACDI/VOCA, ”a nonprofit that promotes broad-based economic growth and the development of civil society in emerging democracies and developing countries. Offering a comprehensive range of technical assistance services, ACDI/VOCA addresses the most pressing and intractable development problems. Driven by the goal of adding value to local enterprise, which underlies prosperity and stability, ACDI/VOCA works in five main areas: Agribusiness, Enterprise Development, Financial Services, Community Development and Food Security.” (from their website)
I met TJ on a visit to cacao farms in Ecuador with the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), an association of over 70 chocolate companies and allied organizations working to advance social, environmental and economic sustainability in the cocoa sector. At the time, I was Manager of Corporate Social Responsibility for the Hershey Company, a founding member and key supporter of WCF.
ACDI/VOCA is implementing the SUCCESS Alliance program in Ecuador, funded by WCF, member companies, USAID and others. It focuses on improving farming, business and labor practices on small-scale cocoa farms using the Farmer Field Schools methodology, and has returned measurable social and economic benefits for farming communities.
Seeing how effusive TJ was as he engaged with producers and discussed the program and its positive results, I had one of those “I’ll have what he’s having” moments…seeing development work as a potential career path for myself.
TJ suggested I connect with ACDI/VOCA’s Senior Director of Volunteer programs, Diana Roach, to learn about their opportunities. I was certainly interested, since it’s the first program I considered when I decided to volunteer overseas.
They place volunteers for 2-4 weeks, which wasn’t what I was looking for initially but works perfectly now. Prospective volunteers apply for specific positions, which are fairly technical and high-level. They cover all associated costs, including travel, housing, etc., arrange logistics, and provide pre-departure briefings and an interpreter as needed.
I had a terrific phone call with Diana, who was generous with her time and information. I hadn’t come across a position I qualified for prior, but she was confident there were ways my experience could be utilized. I came across one such fit after our call, and, after careful consideration, applied and was accepted. I will be volunteering in Amman, Jordan for 3 weeks, working with a non-profit produce export trade association on their website/e-marketing.
So, though things have not yet turned out as envisioned with CUSO-VSO, another great opportunity has become possible and the online training I did for CUSO-VSO will be put to use (an excellent, interactive, comprehensive “101″ on development history, principles & issues, cross-cultural communication and collaboration, skillbuilding and related topics). Take home point: it’s important to identify multiple paths to any goal, keep your mind open and maintain your momentum when the road takes an unforeseen turn.
I highly encourage others to consider ACDI/VOCA’s volunteer program. It’s an excellent way to use professional capacities to make a tangible positive impact in a short amount of time (such as your vacation, perhaps). ACDI/VOCA has extensive experience implementing effective, community-driven, sustainable development programs and placing volunteers, and the staff are wonderful to work with (thank you Patrick Tracy!). They also accept donations for those who want to support their work but are unable to volunteer. See their FAQ for details.