Diaspora Volunteering

Diaspora volunteering connects Diaspora communities with their countries of origin through strategic volunteer placements.

Many people in Diaspora communities have a passion for helping their communities back home, and Diaspora volunteering is one of many ways they can help. Sometimes Diaspora volunteering can also counter the effects of out-migration of skilled workers and bring entrepreneurial energy to isolated communities.

The Volunteer Service Organisation (VSO, the U.K. counterpart to Peace Corps) is one international volunteer-sending group that offers Diaspora placements for long-term, stipended assignments. For example, VSO Canada—which accepts U.S. citizens—works with partners to match the skills of Canada’s Diaspora communities with the needs of “under-resourced social development sectors in their countries of heritage. VSO Canada (now called CUSO-VSO) works with people of the Guyanese, Filipino, and Ethiopian Diasporas.

African Foundation for Development (AFFORD) partners with VSO in the United Kingdom to harness the knowledge and skills of the African Diaspora to nurture small and medium-sized businesses in Africa through its Supporting Entrepreneurs and Enterprise Development in Africa (SEEDA) Initiative. (Other ways for members of the African Diaspora to contribute to the development of African countries: Project Diaspora, supporting members of the African Diaspora to support African nations through remittances. Mukuru.com specializes in remittances to Zimbabwe.)

Indicorps is a fellowship program that recruits young professionals of the global Indian Diaspora to Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, to serve for one or two years with a grassroots organization. The program aims to nurture social conscious leaders “to transform India and the world.”

People of the Jewish Diaspora have many opportunities through which to volunteer with communities in Israel. Some places to start are the Jewish Coalition for Service, and also the National Council for Volunteering in Israel which lists volunteer opportunities for residents and non-residents of Israel.

Do you know of other international volunteer-sending organizations that focus on Diaspora volunteering? We’d love to hear!

Today, the first 2009 Idealist.org Global Volunteering Fair takes place in Washington, DC, at Google. Check out other fairs this week in New York and Boston. In honor of the fairs, The New Service blog will feature international service programs all week!

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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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Teach For India, Teach For All – Wendy Kopp’s Vision Gone Global

Modeled after the success of Teach For America, Teach For India aims to stamp out inequities in India’s schools by recruiting top college grads to teach in its poorest schools for two years.

Initiated in 2007, about 100 TFI Fellows will serve starting next fall in Mumbai and Pune and conduct classes in English. TFI Fellows will earn a competitive starting teachers salary, and receive compensation for housing banner_apply and transportation.

Struggling students will have access to some of the country’s brightest young leaders. While TFI Fellows will be trained and challenged. They will carry with them the experiences in the classroom far into their careers, whatever path they take.

As in the United States, India’s educational system has some stark statistics:

  • According to India’s 2001 Census, only 61% of the country’s population is literate. For women, the literacy rate is even lower than the national average, at 48%.
  • There are currently 7,500,000 children out of school in India.
  • Out of every 100 children in India, 15 will never attend school. Of those who attend school, 50% will drop out before Class V.

Reading through the web site of Teach For India (TFI) reminds me of reading the Teach For America (TFA) web site — similar vision, similar model, similar theory of change. To solve the problems of under-qualified teachers and outdated teaching methodology, India looked to Teach For America as a successful model. But India wasn’t the only country asking TFA for advice; apparently many other countries were. From the TFI web site:

In 2007, a new organization called Teach For All was created to support entrepreneurs in other countries who were pursuing the development of the Teach For America model locally. Teach For All was launched at the Clinton Global Initiative in September of 2007. Although a significant resource for Teach For India, Teach For All is a separately incorporated, funded, and staffed organization that is being incubated within Teach For America.

A “global network of independent social enterprises,” Teach For All-affiliated programs are operating or developing in ten nations, including the Latvia, Australia, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

map_4Note that like TFA, these other programs seem to be recruiting their own best and brightest (i.e. they are not overseas service opportunities for U.S. citizens—see Peace Corps, Jesuit Volunteers International, VSO Canada, and Atlas Service Corps —just a sampling of opportunities if you are from the United States and are eager to serve abroad).