Anybody can tour through Southeast Asia. But if you really want to experience the beautiful scenery, best food, and get to know the locals in a meaningful way, you’ll have to invest more than money.
Southeast Asia is a hotbed of innovation and its social impact organizations are actively looking for people to volunteer their real skills to help them create a bigger impact, faster.
As a traveler, you can trade your skills in exchange for a unique and immersive experience that also helps build a better world. This type of trade is commonly referred to as skills-based volunteering or Experteering.
But before jumping at the first volunteering project you see, below are some tips to make sure you have the experience of a lifetime.
Finding the Right Volunteer Project in Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia has a lot to offer. By 2025 it is estimated that 50% of the world’s ‘consuming class’ will be within five flying hours of Burma. This region has a lot of potential. But, lack of access to expertise is a huge barrier for international progress. This can be addressed through skills-based volunteering. When searching for a volunteering project it is important to make sure that the opportunity is safe, legitimate, and creates a real impact. To assure that a volunteering opportunity is legitimate, ask yourself
- Does this opportunity use my real skills?
- Is this something that a local could be doing? Is it possible that I’m taking a local job?
- Will the tasks I will be completing leave a lasting impact on the organization and the surrounding community?
- Are the goals and objectives I am being asked to complete locally driven?
- Is the host organization reputable?
One way to find reputable opportunities overseas is to use a service that does the vetting for you. In addition to searching on your own, you can use a matching service like VSOInternational.org (Voluntary Service Overseas) and MovingWorlds.org which specialize in finding skills-based projects for any length of time.
Examples of Volunteering Projects in Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia has massive growth potential, and as such, there are lots of opportunities for skills volunteers to make an impact. It can help organizations expand internationally, increase environmental stewardship, and develop skills to be more effective at launching and scaling. A few samples include:
- Using operational skills in Laos to improve management of a local coffee roaster and implement clean water wells.
- Using fundraising, grant-writing, and/or development skills to support a foundation and/or a Social Entrepreneur.
- Support startups with web design and/or web development skills in the Philippines.
Best Practices While Volunteering in Southeast Asia
When you get to your destination, there is a right (and wrong) way to volunteer in a way that truly makes an impact. First, you should outline clearly defined goals that are created in partnership with your hosting organization. Following these rules will help create positive outcomes for all parties:
- Support locally initiated projects, to make sure that the work will continue after you leave
- Train local staff to take over your work so that the transition after you leave will be seamless.
- Spend more time teaching than doing.
- Do what’s best for the host organization, not what’s most interesting to you.
- Embrace cultural differences and discuss with your host the differences you might have, and how you can use those to your advantage
- Check in with your team consistently to make sure everyone is on the same page about tasks and timelines for projects.
> Take this free training for international volunteering best practices through Udemy, and review this complete guide to volunteering your skills overseas.
Cultural and Communication Tips to be an Effective Volunteer in Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia has vast cultural differences and it is important to understand these do you can work and communicative effectively with your partners..
As an example, people in Southeast Asia are high-content, indirect, and collectivistic, whereas people from America and Europe tend to be low-content, direct, and individualistic. A very common pitfall for volunteers when working with people from Southeast Asia is that they will get a verbal confirmation about next steps, only to realize that the next steps are not completed as expected. This is largely because, in high-context societies, people value the context of a situation more so than the words.
> Use Kwintessential and country-specific travel guides to learn about customs and social norms.
Finishing Your Project and Recapping Your Story
When you return from your trip it is essential that you keep in communication with your host organization to ensure the project lives on. We always say that success is something that happens after you leave. In addition to making an impact, you should also reflect on your own experience in order to create the most personal growth.
Reflection is not only proven to enhance learning but also to improve happiness. Read this article about reflection strategies during and after your overseas experience. Also, when you get back be sure to share your experience with as many people as you can – inspire others to follow in your footsteps and do good!
> Share your story with the #Experteering hashtag
Additional Tips While Volunteering in Southeast Asia
If you do decide to travel and volunteer in Southeast Asia, here are some additional resources to help you plan, fund, and prepare for your trip:
- How to fund your trip
- Gear, resources, and tools for your volunteering adventure
- Books to read while volunteering in Southeast Asia
Volunteering your skills in Southeast Asia has the potential to create a huge impact for the host organization, the surrounding communities, and you! To be successful, we hope you’ll use this guide to find the right projects, communicate effectively within the cultural bounds of your host organization, and ensure that the work you are doing is sustainable.
Since you can volunteer overseas from anywhere from 1 week to several years, there is little excuse to not give it a try, especially considering that there are many opportunities to have your living expenses provided for you when you use the right matching service. So get out there and explore Southeast Asia by volunteering – you’ll find that immersive, life-changing experience you’ve been searching for!