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Volunteer Work Abroad

Executive Volunteers

Become an Unpaid Management Consultant Abroad

By James G. Coon

The International Executive Service Corps (IESC), which provides technical assistance to businesses, local governments, and nonprofit associations in developing countries, offers work to short-term volunteers in businesses and business-support organizations in countries such as Armenia, Ukraine, Egypt, Bulgaria, and Zambia. Most volunteers are retired, though this is certainly not a requirement.

Volunteer executives on short-term assignment generally work from a few weeks to three months in positions that require industry experience and expertise in specific functions. These are management consulting assignments in every respect, except that the volunteers are not paid. Projects originate in the overseas offices with a written project agreement and scope of work signed by the client and IESC’s local country director. A recruiter in the Stamford, Connecticut headquarters selects a qualified volunteer from a database of registered volunteers.

If you want to do anything with IESC, your first step is to register your details in the skills bank by going to the IESC web site, www.iesc.org. Recruiters will find you only through an electronic search.

Clients are typically small and medium-sized businesses or support organizations in developing economies that do not often have elaborate company brochures or financial statements. If you want first-hand information, your best bet is to speak with another volunteer who has already been to that location. Being able to speak the local language is a plus, but it is not necessary since the client is required to provide an interpreter for the project. Your skills and experience will be the deciding factor.

Your project is not officially confirmed until the client agrees to your selection. Expect your living quarters to be clean and comfortable but not luxurious. Someone from the local IESC office will meet you at the airport, provide a brief in-country orientation, help you get settled into your housing, and deliver you to the client. The local office is also responsible for a mid-term review and end-of-project evaluation of the work done. The volunteer is expected to prepare his own report on the project, emphasizing results achieved, such as jobs created, sales generated, or costs reduced.

Spousal travel is often permitted if the project is more than a few weeks. Accompanying spouses are expected to participate in local volunteer activities to the extent possible.

Statistically, your chances of being selected are relatively small, as there are many more volunteers registered in the skills bank than there are projects in a given year. So, how can you improve the odds?

Start by being very thorough when registering in the skills bank, emphasizing any coaching, training, teaching, or consulting experience you have had, as well as any previous experiences living and working overseas. Small business owners and managers often make excellent volunteers, even if they have no overseas experience.

If you know someone else who has already been on an IESC project, it would help to use that person as a reference.

Finally, the personal touch, if used with discretion, can help. If you live near Stamford, or are passing through, you can make an appointment to speak with one of the recruiters. All else being equal, your chances of selection are much greater if you are a known quantity.

Contact: IESC, P.O. Box 10005, Stamford, CT 06904-2005; (203) 967-6000; iesc@iesc.org; www.iesc.org.