Having lived in Australia and New Zealand for nearly two years, in addition to short stints in Ethiopia and Cambodia for work, Dutch finance specialist Ivo Van Hoeve is no stranger to travel or new cultures. The past three years found Ivo as a freelancer, focusing his professional time temping at a private equity firm in Holland, and a financial imagery center for four years before that. After taking a course on social return on investment, however, he became increasingly interested in bringing about a stronger global, social, and environmental impact with the work he did. After reaching out to MovingWorlds, Ivo was connected to a Spanish language school in Medellin, Colombia, called Colombia Immersion, which provides innovative approaches to learning Spanish while maintaining strong community ties. Following two months in Medellin, Ivo took the time to share some of his highlights:
What was your project with Colombia Immersion?
I was connected to Colombia Immersion, and its office based in Medellin. As it turned out, I very much enjoyed the city, and so I worked with Colombia Immersion to extend my few weeks to two and a half months. With regards to the actual project, I first worked with them to create a social return on investment “forecast” for the school — something I’d learned about through classes I had taken. This “SROI” essentially helps to predict what their social impact will be. I then set up an accounting ledger, designed a solid reporting system, and then ultimately trained the local staffer there on how to effectively manage the school’s finances with the new system in place. There were still some loose ends on the social return on investment forecast that I wasn’t able to tie up before leaving, but I’m continuing to work on it with them from home. Just for clarity, this forecast is a framework that is often used for conducting analysis on an organization or its programs by looking at all inputs from stakeholders and then comparing outcomes to evaluate change. One then identifies financial proxies on these outcomes (monetary equivalents to qualitative indicators). In this way, I helped the school to put a financial figure on what their return was. For example, identifying a monetary equivalent to time and effort of conducting an English language course. I find this type of analysis very interesting, and I hope to pursue more of it in my career.
Had you traveled or lived overseas before your MovingWorlds experience?
I had traveled to New Zealand and Australia for a year and several months, respectively. I’d also spent a month in Ethiopia and a month in Cambodia for work, so I did know a bit of what to expect when living in a different culture.
What was the highlight of your trip?
Through my work with Colombia Immersion I was able to connect to some other local volunteering projects in Medellin, including helping a local team that was working in the favelas to build houses, which I really enjoyed. Activities like this help me connect more with the city itself, as well as the people.
More specifically, with Colombia Immersion, and specifically with my interaction with its accountant that I worked closely with to help train, I had a really positive feeling that I’d made a difference. I saw that the training better equipped him to handle the processes I helped put into place.
What was one thing you wish you knew before you went?
Actually, I felt fairly well prepared all the way around! I also really enjoyed the pre-departure training course offered by MovingWorlds. It was quite useful in making me a bit more aware of how different of a world you’re preparing to enter can be, and that in turn helped me stay conscious of how my actions may be perceived by others.
Enjoying weekly Saturday morning football with the local community members
What advice do you have to people thinking about doing this program?
I highly recommend Colombia :) Personally, I found my assignment to be less on the immersive side, given that my supervisor was also Dutch like me, which may or may not be attractive to others. This being said, even though the cultural differences may not be so big, in the end it can often come down to personality differences, too, which can be found anywhere. In essence, you may experience the same benefits and challenges in the hosting environment that you would expect to find in a company back home. So, don’t come on too strong, and definitely be in a place to receive feedback!
On a logistical front, writing out the assignment together with the host was an extremely helpful process. It’s highly necessary to make all the expectations clear from the start! One last recommendation is to really think about the timing. I’d done previous volunteer stints that had been only about a month long, and so I personally feel that extra time gave me a bigger, better impact.
Do you still keep in contact with your host?
Yes, I’m currently working on finishing up the project remotely. I also have follow-up calls with the local accountant planned. I will be staying available to be contacted if problems arise or future collaboration opportunities pop-up, too.
Why do you see something like this as important and do you feel like you made an impact?
This was something important to me, as I’ve always been a traveler and interested in other cultures, but I wanted to do something to give back, as well. As for my impact, the strong focus of Colombia Immersion on integrating the local community with the school made the organization a perfect fit for the Social Return on Investment methodology that I brought to the table. The organization can really benefit from this going forward as a management and as a marketing tool, in addition to now having a documented procedure for ledgers and reporting, as well as being trained on QuickBooks. Previously, they had just been using Excel sheets, and now they have a more streamlined system to yield better reports. Putting in place this system also helps provide checks and balances on expenses for management.
On a personal level, working with a start-up helped me realize the importance of the basic registration and accounting measures that are usually already in place anywhere I’d worked previously. It really made me appreciate the importance of having that solid foundation to build upon. I also saw that different environments might have different needs, and there may not be one solution for all people (i.e. keeping in place a paper reporting system for tracking purposes, and then graduating to electronic at the right time).
I plan to continue to bring the Social Return on Investment methodology to my work with my company, IVH Finance, as well.
Would you do this again?
Yes! I would like to try a trip like this again every year, depending on logistical feasibility. I will definitely continue to use MovingWorlds to do so!