Do you want to make a difference to other people’s lives and become more employable?

Volunteering can be seen by some young people as the poor relation of other work experience opportunities (such as paid internships and part-time work). Yet, the benefits can be bigger, better and broader in terms of developing your employability and entrepreneurship.

There is an extra dimension when you volunteer abroad. You get a close up view of other cultures in unfamiliar and challenging environments, as well as having the time of your life, making lifelong friends and accelerating your learning. A makeover for the head and heart!

SpiderAre you prepared to travel half-way across the world to Thailand, Nicaragua or Tanzania, to stay in a rural village cut off from many of the home comforts and common facilities you are used to in Europe, and to share a bed with new friends and the local hairy wildlife (we’re talking scary spiders here)?

Do you want to help people with their start-up business or social enterprise in some of the poorest and most densely populated urban areas of the world?

It’s not a holiday!

‘Voluntourism’ is a common criticism of international volunteering (think ‘gap yah’). Some argue the contributions are token and unsustainable, the benefits are weighted towards the volunteer’s needs, it’s just a holiday and it patronises the local people. The cost can also be prohibitive for many leading to accusations of inhibiting social mobility.

The UK’s largest international volunteering scheme, International Citizen Service, challenges the charges head on. It is funded by the Department for International Development and has seen 14,000 young people working and learning across the globe since its creation in 2010. ICS operates as a joint venture between eight agencies providing varied opportunities in different parts of the world. The Government is seeking to increase the number of volunteers by 2020.

The scheme is heavily subsidised by DfID making it accessible to all young people aged 18 to 25. Volunteers must fundraise a minimum of £800 towards their chosen project (10-12 weeks duration). They are supported before, during and after their trip abroad.

Research shows that ICS volunteers make a real impact on education, health, livelihoods, civic participation and the environment. For example:

  • 60% reduction in infant diarrhoea as a result of a safe sanitation project in Tanzania
  • Increased literacy levels at 5 schools for disabled children in Kenya
  • Supporting women entrepreneurs in Burkino Faso to create sustainable businesses.

Why it pays to SAVE

Here are 4 reasons why volunteering abroad through a scheme like ICS can contribute to your job skills, career direction and help to shape you as a person:

Savvy – You know and can do lots of stuff (more than you think) and you will bring that capability and extra capacity to poorer communities in a way that makes a difference to their lives. A truly rewarding experience for you and them!

Advantage – Employers value volunteering experience. According to a Time Bank/Reed Employment survey of 700 leading UK businesses:

  • 73 per cent of employers would employ a candidate with volunteer experience over one without
  • 94 per cent believe that volunteering adds to skills
  • 58 per cent say that voluntary work experience can often be more valuable than experience gained in paid employment

ValueTanzanias – The experience of different people and cultures will bring your personal values into sharp focus, may make you value things differently (projects often have an ethical goal) and feel valued, help shape your view of the world and make you a more rounded person. And that’s what employers want to see!

Explore – Volunteering abroad broadens your horizons, taking you to parts of the world that very few of your peers are likely to go independently. Having a global perspective is something to shout about and make you stand out at job interviews!

Making the most of your experiences

How do you make the most of volunteering so you gain experience of the common skills, attitudes and behaviours wanted by all employers? Think of it as a 3-step process:

Before

Raising money to fund your trip and contribute to the cause or initiative that the volunteering supports helps to show you are a self-starter with a ‘can-do’ attitude and can involve team working, financial management and business and customer awareness.

During

You will solve practical problems and improve self-awareness (understanding your talents, strengths, preferences, motivations, values and beliefs), self-management (organisation, resilience, dealing with challenging situations), communicating (relationships, empathy, presenting, blogging), multi-cultural team working and collaboration (with local people, commitment to something bigger than your own needs), numeracy (estimating, stock control, calculations), commercial awareness (budgeting, business planning) and global awareness (cultural sensitivity).

After

You can reflect on your learning, write articles and present back to fellow and future volunteers, continue being an active citizen in your local community, and demonstrate to an employer how your experiences reflect your attitude to working. When allied to the transferrable skills gained, you make it a no-brainer for them to choose you for the job.

The future of work lies in a more globally connected, socially collaborative and emotionally intelligent world. Go the extra miles by volunteering abroad to do good. Show the right stuff and SAVE to invest in yourself!