Business Professionals Forced to Wait Longer for Peace Corps Assignments

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the very tight funnel through which Peace Corps sends all applicants, for increasingly fewer Volunteer spots around the world. (It’s complicated — you might want to read that post.)

I wrote about the plight of generalists —the well-educated applicants who can learn to do different assignments well, but aren’t specialists in any fields currently requested by Peace Corps host countries — whose application numbers far exceed the number of open generalist Volunteer positions due to recent budget woes.

This past Monday, when next year’s Volunteer positions opened up for nomination, the problem wasn’t for the generalists. Most generalist openings have been delayed a couple more weeks.

The people who got shut out of Peace Corps this time around were the business professionals, in some cases people with 30 years of business experience. Peace Corps’s two assignments that require a background in business include:

  • Business Advising — requiring either a Bachelors in a business-related discipline, or a high school diploma and four years of business management experience. These Volunteers help people in their communities plan and manage businesses and co-ops, write funding proposals, and assist people in accessing credit for their businesses.
  • Business Development — requiring either an Masters in Business Administration or a Masters in Public Administration; or a Bachelors in a business field and two years of business experience; or a Bachelors in any discipline and five years of business experience. These Volunteers teach business, develop business curricula, strengthen the participation of women and minorities in the economic system, and advise governments in economic development.

In theory, a professional with a degree and over five years of management experience should have no problem landing a Peace Corps assignment in terms of qualifications.

But the positions simply aren’t there — and the applicants are, in droves. Perhaps due to the economic climate, or en masse soul-searching in the business sector, Peace Corps has become a very popular way to attempt to contribute to the world.

A year ago or so, the wait was 9-12 months for a Peace Corps assignment. Now the wait for many people is 18 months — or longer. Rising college juniors, if you are thinking about serving in Peace Corps after you graduate, you might want to start working on your application. And take advantage of language and other classes in college that will prepare you for more specialized assignments — while volunteering on the weekends to help out in your community while illustrating your commitment to service.

According to some people, like returned Volunteer and former Peace Corps country director Robert Strauss, Peace Corps’s strength comes from its more seasoned Volunteers, who enter the field with the knowledge and skills to succeed with only some training to adapt their skills to new settings. While I also see the tremendous value of generalists to the program, it’s not good news that even specialists are shut out. Especially at a time when small business development is gaining such crucial importance throughout the world, when business knowledge is a valuable commodity we can export to help our global neighbors strengthen themselves from the ground up.

In Obama’s 2010 budget, released this morning, he seeks only a ten percent increase in funding for the agency, which may help restore some Volunteer positions cut from the agency’s programs worldwide as a result of budget tightening from the falling value of the dollar and the increase in expenses. It’s a blow, however, for people who were hoping for the doubling of the Peace Corps in time for the agency’s 2011 50th anniversary.

Are you a business professional who’s been told you have to wait longer for a Peace Corps assignment? I invite you to share your story here.

Also note that programs such as Atlas Corps, Volunteers for Prosperity, Financial Services Volunteer Corps, and CUSO-VSO (the Canadian VSO) all actively recruit U.S. professionals to serve abroad. Experience Corps, AmeriCorps VISTA and other programs recruit professionals to serve domestically. For more service ideas, see the list of Corps and Coalitions on the right-hand sidebar of this blog.

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7 thoughts on “Business Professionals Forced to Wait Longer for Peace Corps Assignments

  1. There are other groups for specialists and professionals. They should be listed also.

  2. Great! Let me know what they are I am always looking for national and international service programs to add to the list.

  3. I applied to the Peace Corps in late January ’09 for a Business Advising program. I had to wait for the May round of nominations but I didn’t get accepted. Now I’m waiting until August to find out if I get nominated.
    I have a business degree and I’m a current AmeriCorps volunteer.
    I was told that a record number of people applied for a very limited number of spots. Also, things don’t seem to be getting any better for the next round.

  4. It is really unrealistic to think that the Peace Corps could suddenly put 16,000 Volunteers in the field within the next 18 months without severely diminishing the quality of the Volunteers and the work they do. It sure sounds good to do so for the 50th, but people need to think a little deeper and realize the sound bite is not quite right.

  5. Thanks for sharing this — and thank you for your AmeriCorps service. I wish you the best of luck in the nomination process. Hopefully the slight budget increase, if passed, will help make the already long process go faster for you. I hate to think of someone like you who is obviously committed to service would lose hope.

  6. I think that is at least in part why people were hoping for a greater increase in funding, to gear up more gradually for that goal. Or maybe that’s what you’re saying?

  7. Thanks for writing about this, and for writing the earlier post on generalists. I started my application back in October, and think I got in just in time, before applications shot up. I’m a little frustrated reading about the trouble that people are having getting through the application process; although I do think it would be a mistake to ramp up funding & volunteers simply to get numbers up, there seem to be a lot of qualified applicants left waiting because of the funding problems.

    Have to admit, I’m happy I didn’t know so much about things like the nomination system & growing popularity of PC when I was applying…I’m sure I would have been anxious knowing how much of the process depends on luck & timing.

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