A guest post by Alice Korngold
The world faces social, environmental, and economic challenges that are projected to increase exponentially over the coming decades. Environmental degradation, climate change, access to healthcare, poverty and wealth inequality, and human rights, are among the world’s most vital problems. People who have business expertise and experience have much to offer in helping to find solutions.
One opportunity for business people to contribute is through volunteer engagements with social enterprises in emerging markets. Importantly, international pro bono service benefits volunteers—who develop personally and professionally; the volunteers’ companies—whose employees return with new and valuable skills and experience; and the world—with returning volunteers who are more deeply energized, inspired, and better prepared to help solve vital challenges.
The Win-Win-Win of Experteering
Reports from returning volunteers and their employers show the benefits of Experteering, also referred to as “international corporate volunteering”or “global pro bono.”
Consider this in the context of emerging markets, where there is great deprivation—poverty and the lack of access to education and healthcare—alongside abundant opportunity and promise for the future. In the emerging world, three billion people will enter the middle class in the next two decades. In Africa alone, consumer-facing industries will grow by $400 billion. Women also represent an important emerging market for companies, as they will control close to 75 percent of discretionary spending worldwide in the next five years.
Through Experteering, volunteers are not only helping social entrepreneurs to be successful in meeting vital needs—including in providing water, sanitation, agriculture and energy services, for example—they are also developing themselves personally and professionally, and preparing themselves to add value at their companies in understanding new markets. Here are benefits that returning volunteers and their employers describe.
1. Leadership Development
Since volunteers work in unfamiliar settings, without their usual support systems, they have to build relationships with people in a new culture in order to problem-solve. This requires adaptability, resourcefulness, sensitivity and listening skills, and the ability to deal with change and uncertainty. Volunteers report that they return home with newly developed capabilities in working with people from diverse backgrounds and problem-solving.
2. Market Research
Volunteers return with valuable knowledge of interests, needs, and cultures in the communities where they’ve worked. This is useful for volunteers and their employers in developing desirable products and services for emerging markets
Volunteers sharpen their skills in innovation by working alongside social entrepreneurs and gaining a better understanding of challenges facing people in emerging markets.
4. Capacity and Capability Building
Experteers help to develop capacities and capabilities in emerging markets—thereby advancing the rise of people out of poverty and into the middle class. This is good for the world. It’s also good for volunteers’employers (here is why).
A Vision of Experteers Leading the Way
It is in our power to create a better world where all people have food, shelter, healthcare, an education, and the opportunity to work. There are two routes that must be pursued concurrently.
First, the economies of regions where there has been extreme poverty must be transformed.
Second, girls and women, as well as boys and men, must be empowered and provided access to education, healthcare, and the opportunity to earn a living.
What is required is the regional infrastructure to promote and support education, healthcare, financial services, business development, regional capacity-building, open markets and free trade, and equal opportunity. Businesses are a powerful force in economic development and individual empowerment in some of the poorest regions of the world. Experteers can bring their experiences back to their companies, showing the benefits and opportunities of engaging in global pro bono.
By building stronger and more vibrant communities in previously impoverished regions, businesses in partnership with NGOs and governments benefit by advancing the vision of all people sharing in global prosperity.
Alice Korngold is the author of A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Solving Global Problems…Where Governments Cannot (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) and Leveraging Good Will: Strengthening Nonprofits by Engaging Businesses (Jossey Bass, A Wiley Imprint, 2005). She has consulted to businesses and NGOs/nonprofits for over 20 years on sustainability and board governance. She also founded and led two financially self-sustaining social enterprises.