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.