4 World-Changing Reasons Why You Should Volunteer With Startups

Mark Horoszowski

Mark Horoszowski is the co-founder and CEO of MovingWorlds.org.

Volunteer at a startup in Indonesia

Volunteering with “for-profit” organizations might be counterintuitive at first, but if you’re serious about creating a positive impact, there is almost no better place to volunteer your skills. Organizations like startups, social enterprises, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) share something in common: they have the greatest ability to drive innovation and create jobs, and they also need skilled volunteers. As was previously published on NextBillion.net, they create up to 80% of the jobs in some economies, and, according to the United Nations:

Unemployment lies at the core of poverty… The creation of productive employment opportunities is essential for achieving poverty reduction and sustainable economic and social development.

As opposed to charity, jobs also have the ability to push people out of poverty and into a state of “Empowerment“.

When you do consider volunteering, while cuddling an orphan panda makes for a better Facebook photo, it’s not the best way to create an impact. If you really want to change the world, then you should use your professional skills to help empower organizations on the ground.

Here are 4 reasons why volunteering with for-profits might actually be better than volunteering at a charity:

1. Startups Have the Greatest Potential to Innovate Quickly and Create Change

Muhamud YunusJaqueline Novogratz, and Sachi Shenoy are thought-leaders in the fight against poverty, and all advocate on using free market solutions to end poverty. They all share a similar lesson: Organizations that are led locally have the greatest potential to identify market opportunities and deliver innovative solutions. Startups are already solving real challenges related to clean water, alternative energy, agriculture, healthcare and more… all while creating jobs for the poorest people in the process.

They also share that by helping build skills, improving access to capital, and connecting people to job opportunities we can help them solve the biggest challenges. In doing so, we can also help instill dignity and confidence, further empowering people to create their own future. Here is a great talk from Jaqueline Novogratz on the topic: Invest in Africa’s Own Solutions.

2. By Volunteering with Startups, You can Help Them Grow and Create Jobs

In the Denison University article Let’s Fight Poverty, Not the Poor, Fadhel Kaboub shared that “The best way to fight poverty is to focus on ending unemployment by giving a decent employment opportunity to anyone who is ready, willing and able to work at a socially established living wage“. However, the organization that is best positioned to grow and create jobs is most likely one you haven’t heard of.

In an interview we published on our stories page, Nicole shared how she Experteered with a startup in Brazil called Ebanx, a startup backed by Endeavor.org. In the year she spent there, it grew from 6 employees to over 60. Ebanx not only created jobs, but it also brought international finance and expertise into areas of Brazil that were able to benefit from increased access to capital and skills.

While Ebanx’s growth story isn’t uncommon, the more common story is that organizations with potential are severely hindered because they lack the skills needed to grow. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, one of the biggest barriers to growth for locally-led organizations is a lack of access to talent, which is why volunteering your skills abroad can make such a massive impact. Here are just a few of the common skills that can help catalyze growth:

  • Setting up an accounting system to help an organization prepare for investment
  • Creating a go-to-market launch plan for a startup
  • Drafting an HR policy to help a growing organization onboard talent
  • Teaching project management skills and technology to teams to be more efficient
  • Using operation skills to lower costs and improve distribution at healthcare institutions
  • Launching a business development plan for a scale-ready organization, and training staff on sales and marketing best practices
  • Mentoring mobile technology startups on software engineering best practices
The number of ways you can use your skills is almost endless, and organizations like LinkedIn For Good and MovingWorlds.org can help you find projects best suited for your profession.

3. Not all Non-Profits are Good for the World, and Not All For-Profits are Bad

There is an ongoing debate in Africa about the value of charities and aid. Some authors, like Dr. Dambisa Moyo, argue that aid is doing more harm than good. Her book, Dead Aid, outlines how new solutions are needed to fight poverty.

In addition to the ability to create jobs, many startups and SMEs often have powerful social missions. And because these organizations are often led locally and more nimble, they are able to best react to trends and market insights, resulting in increased innovation and impact. There are many global development partners that are helping identify these for-profit entities that make a positive impact on the world, like Sachi’s Upaya Social Ventures, Novogratz’s Acumen, Yunnus’s Grameen Bank, B Labs, Sistema B, Village Capital, and Unreasonable Institute. As examples, here is a short list of for-profit companies that are creating profitable solutions to the world’s biggest problems:

  1. 1298 Ambulance, backed by Acumen, is a for-profit ambulance company in India that has been able to increase access to care for tens of thousands of people.
  2. ElRhino, backed by Upaya Social Ventures, turns elephant dung into high-quality paper creating jobs while delivering environmentally friendly products.
  3. Ubongo, backed by Village Capital, created quality education solutions for children and employing locals.
  4. Kopo Kopo, backed by Unreasonable Institute, has provided mobile payment solutions in Kenya helping increase access to capital for thousands, and creating high-tech jobs in the process.
  5. A to Z Textiles, backed by Acumen, delivers bed nets to areas that needs it most and has created thousands of jobs while fighting malaria.
  6. Sidai, backed by Gates Foundation, provides farmer education and economical service to increase livestock yields in rural areas.

One only need look at Ashoka’s Changemakers platform to see other innovative solutions to the world’s biggest problems.

4. You’ll Develop New Skills and Learn about Sustainable Innovation

The best way to learn to be more innovative is to get experience being more innovative. One of our previous Experteers, Drew, shared that he learned an incredible amount about zero-impact architecture and sustainable design when he was forced to work in a resource constrained environment. We consistently hear feedback from almost every industry and expertise area.

By volunteering your skills with a social enterprise, not only can you help them grow in a specific area, but you can also learn a lot in the process. Undoubtedly, when you do return from your Experteering trip, you can put your new skills to use to perform better on your job. In an exciting report, Emerging World shows that when people volunteer overseas, they return more productive and engaged. Volunteering your skills will also inspire you to find other ways to make a positive impact in your career and in your day-to-day life.

In Summary

By volunteering your skills with social enterprises, you can make an immediate impact in the short-term, and also help transfer skills and know-how to help create an even bigger impact in the long-term. It’s truly a win-win for both parties, and for the world.

If you have any interesting stories about volunteer with startups, let us know in the comments below. If you’re interested in volunteering overseas then here are projects specifically withs startups and SMEs.