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 Continue reading

The Signing of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act

SAA signingToday President Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act into law. It will take affect October 1 of this year. Read more about the Act.

During one of the most exciting National Volunteer Weeks in recent memory, President Obama and national service supporters gathered today at the SEED School in Washington, D.C., an academic and boarding charter school.

At the signing, Obama said, our “government cannot do everything alone,” but needs the help of citizens in local communities everywhere. And national service isn’t just for recent college graduates (watch news footage from AARP.) Sounding Whitman-esque, he called people every where to “Put your shoulder to the wheel” of service — and if you do, you can look back on the “moment when your own story and the American story converged.”

Michelle Obama and Bill ClintonHe also recognized Bill Clinton for launching AmeriCorps during his administration, and the First Lady Michelle Obama who was the founding executive director of Public Allies Chicago, a national service program.

Obama went on to talk about the long legacy of service contributed by the Kennedy family including Ted Kennedy, for whom the legislation is now named.

He also introduced Maria Eitel his nominee for the new chief executive post at the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and Acting C.E.O. Nicola Goren.

The bill re-authorizes CNCS and its programs through 2014, and authorizes sweeping expansion of national service (with a nod Continue reading

Answering the Call from Citizens Who Want to Serve

AmeriCorps muscleThese days the fate of national service seems tied more than ever to the greater economic struggles our nation is facing. Citizens want to serve in their communities, and this week the Senate is debating legislation that would make it possible for more people to serve than ever before.

September 11th and 12th of last year, the Service Nation Summit convened hundreds of leaders, service corps alumni, and celebrities to talk about the need for expanded national service opportunities, to meet the growing demand among people of all ages to serve full-time in their communities.

While Summit participants were still returning home in the glow of that inspiring event, Lehman Brothers—just blocks from where the Summit took place in mid-town Manhattan—crumbled, and the bottom began to fall out of the economy.

This week, the U.S. Senate will take a hard look at the Serve America Act, a piece of legislation announced at the Service Nation Summit by Senator Orrin Hatch (while his partner Sen. Edward Kennedy, convalescing at home, joined him in spirit).

Little known in September was just how desperately needed this legislation would become by the time it saw the floor of the Continue reading

Why It’s Wrong to Assume that All Service Participants are Young

How branding national service as an opportunity only for young people does more harm to the movement than good.

Christian Witkin for TIME Magazine

Christian Witkin for TIME Magazine

While many service corps do have upper age limits — City Year, AmeriCorps*NCCC, Public Allies, and many other team-based programs — most programs do not have an upper age limit.

In fact, several programs specifically recruit professionalsExperience Corps, Atlas Corps, CUSO-VSO (the Canadian VSO), Volunteers for Prosperity, and United Nations Volunteers just to name a few. Others like Peace Corps and AmeriCorps*VISTA recruit almost entirely college graduates because of the skill required in carrying out service.

And yet when people speak of service they almost always describe it as an opportunity for young people to give back, receive scholarship money, develop leadership skills, and go an an adventure before settling down with a real job.

What difference does it make if most people think of national or international service as a pursuit for the young?

Here are some reasons:

Recruitment:

If we assume only young people will enlist in a citizen service corps, we won’t recruit new corps members as creatively Continue reading

The Service Gap Year at Mid-Career

The New York Times highlights stories of people who take a year to do something outside the norm for their careers.

Traditionally, the gap year is a break from academia for recent high school grads, to get a year of work or service experience before going onto college. Sometimes kids go overseas for the year. Countless structured opportunities exist; or they can cobble together something on their own.

But what about gap years for older adults? As the NYT article suggests, taking an unpaid leave from a job at mid-career can have some unexpected benefits; it also outlines some of the financial considerations.

Here are some service opportunities that include professionals as corps members or fellows:

AmeriCorps*VISTA recruits college grads, including people at mid-career, to work in community-based organizations, agencies, and schools to end poverty. VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) participants build the capacity of their organizations. Read more on this blog post. Many other domestic service programs are open to people of all ages; check out the list of Corps and Coalitions on the right-hand sidebar.

Atlas Corps — also known as a two-way Peace Corps — brings rising professionals from NGOs in the Global South to the United States to serve for a year; U.S. professionals find opportunities to serve at NGOs in Colombia, India, and soon, elsewhere. Fellows must have 3-8 years of experience in the citizen sector of their home country — to check your own eligibility, check out this list of questions.

Peace Corps has a reputation for taking idealistic 21 year olds abroad to serve in mud huts, but consider the facts: the average age of Volunteers is 27, and five percent of Volunteers are over age 50! Many projects require experience, and the mud hut life is not universal. For mid-career professionals with children, note that you can’t take them with you, so best wait till they have flown the coop. Also Peace Corps assignments are two years long.

U.N. Volunteers mobilizes volunteers and integrates them into development projects in their home countries and abroad. The minimum age of a U.N. Volunteer is 26, while the average age is 37 with five to seven years of work experience. (I’ve linked to the Wikipedia article because the official site won’t open for me.)

Volunteers for Prosperity is a U.S. agency that invites “highly-skilled American professionals such as doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, economists, computer specialists, financial sector professionals, business executives and others with specialized technical expertise and significant practical experience” to volunteer with a long list of VfP partner agencies.

VSO Canada is an international development agency that sends skilled Canadian and U.S. professionals abroad for long-term volunteer assignments that last between seven months and two years. Highly experienced professionals can enlist in shorter-term stints (3-6 months). VSO Canada is now known as CUSO-VSO.

Mid-career professionals must take into account mortgage and car payments, children, and other considerations that young adults on a gap year simply don’t have. If you can afford a year off, the rewards can reverberate throughout the rest of your career through a refreshed perspective, more objective decision-making, and new networks.

Do you know of other service programs that recruit professionals? I’d love to hear about them!

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Emerging: Financial Services Corps

Recognizing the broad need for financial education among low and middle income earners, the New America Foundation proposes a Financial Services Corps.

Proposed in March, the New America Foundation‘s Melissa Koide published a policy paper describing the need for a new domestic corps of financial advisors and educators to help regular families sort through the morass of complex issues involved in personal financial management.

According to Koide’s proposal:

The creation of a Financial Services Corps (FSC) would help these households address their personal finances and plan for their future by:

  • enlisting financial experts and advisors to deliver personalized financial counseling and planning to low to middle income households;
  • providing the tools, resources, support to local, regional, and workplace based initiatives to ensure these families are effectively reached;
  • collecting and analyze data to understand the short-, medium-, and long-term financial education, counseling, and planning needs of these households; and
  • exploring new strategies and approaches to financial education and advice through an innovations fund.

The Corps could be modeled after the Legal Services Corporation — the Congressionally-mandated entity that oversees legal aid organizations. In that model, “the FSC would provide the infrastructure, resources, and support to engage and connect financial experts with low and middle income households and communities.”

In a New York Times piece today, M.P. Dunleavy reports that the Corps was inspired by Peace Corps.

If the concept interests you, or someone you know, also check out the separate Financial Services Volunteer Corps (established in 1990). The program sends skilled volunteers overseas for one or two weeks to educate people in “emerging market countries” about financial systems. The program is a partner of Volunteers for Prosperity.

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Brookings calls for More Peace Corps

Coalition on international volunteering calls for support of the More Peace Corps petition.

bbc

The Building Bridges Coalition — a project of the Brookings Initiative on International Volunteering and Service —asks today that all U.S. citizens “who believe that Peace Corps is an important part of our outreach to the world” sign the petition urging President-Elect Barack Obama to double the number of Volunteers serving through Peace Corps, as well as to support Peace Corps in specific ways.

The petition will be presented to Obama in a little over a week. Sign it here.

According to National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) President Kevin Quigley:

More Peace Corps means having the resources to respond to the more than 20 countries  that have requested programs for which Peace Corps has insufficient funds. It also means having the resources to give the many highly qualified Americans who would like to serve overseas the chance to do so.

More Peace Corps does not mean a simple expansion of the numbers of Peace Corps volunteers, although that is part of it.

More Peace Corps may mean revising the Peace Corps model in ways to take better advantage of the significant technological and demographic changes that have occurred in the 46 years since Peace Corps was launched.

More Peace Corps will consider how to make Peace Corps so much more
effective at addressing the problems of poverty. This will probably require
significant innovation and some risk.

The Building Bridges Coalition works to double the number of volunteers serving internationally by 2010 and includes groups such as Idealist.org and the NPCA (the independent group of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers).

One of the Coalition’s policy recommendations is to double the number of Peace Corps Volunteers, something President-Elect Obama also included in his pre-election stance on service. (Their other policy recommendations include the Global Service Fellowship and permanent authorization of Volunteers for Prosperity.)

To learn more, check out the More Peace Corps website, and read Ten Times the Peace Corps, a paper by Quigley and Brooking’s Lex Rieffel.

To sign the petition, go here!

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