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Employee-led volunteer missions are an integral part of our corporate giving program at Softchoice.
They’re an incredible way to develop leadership skills, and they provide a life-changing experience that individuals can share with the company, and their friends and family upon their return. I’ve personally been on two such missions, most recently to Maai Mahiu, Kenya this past September.
Over the years, Softchoice Cares members have learned some valuable lessons for planning and executing overseas charity work. Based on our experience, here’s a must-have list for any corporation planning an international charitable mission.
#1: Stick to What You Know
The most important part of planning an international mission is to establish a purpose that aligns with your strengths and values as a company. At Softchoice, the purpose of our international aid missions is to help bridge the digital divide by donating and setting up computer labs in communities that simply don’t have the means to do it themselves. We started out helping to build homes, but quickly realized that our true value is the knowledge transfer we can provide in our area of expertise – technology solutions.
#2: Communicate to the Company
When the Softchoice Cares board chose Bali, Indonesia as our 2012 destination, some in the company questioned why we would invest in a place widely known as an exotic holiday destination. In reality, out of all the responses we solicited from charitable organizations, we found Bali was the place where we could do the most good. Communicating “the why” is essential in gaining the support of the company for your mission and your fundraising efforts.
#3: Be a Team Player
Team dynamics can make the difference between a successful mission and a stressful and potentially unproductive time abroad. It’s crucial to have a strong leader (or leaders) to take charge in situations that demand it, and also to keep the group focused on why they’re there. The group should represent a good cross section of employees, with different strengths and areas of expertise that complement one another. And, everyone should be there for the right reason. Employees on our missions are elected to the Softchoice Cares board, which is a year-in, year out commitment that involves much more work than planning and going on a two-week trip abroad. That kind of commitment deters people who are just looking for an adventure.
#4: Find the Right Partner
We were very lucky to partner with Developing World Connections for most of our Softchoice Cares trips. In recent years, we partnered with the Widhya Asih Foundation in Bali and Comfort the Children in Kenya, which were also critical to the success of our missions. These organizations understand what we are trying to accomplish and are instrumental in spearheading logistics on the ground. Not all are created equal, so do your research and check references.
#5: Check the Temperature
Once you decide on a location, be sure to plan around the rainy season or the hottest, driest months of the year. Checking the social climate is essential, too. Do extensive research on socio-economic conditions, potentially destabilizing events (such as an election), and avoid any volatility. Having been in Nairobi, Kenya just days before the attack at Westgate Mall, it’s clear you can’t plan for everything, but you should understand the risk involved in these missions as well as the rewards.
#6: Learn from Your Experience
Once you’re on the ground, do your best to understand what everyday life is like for the people you are there to support. Walk the streets, talk with locals and the people you work with, and use local accommodation and eat at local restaurants (provided they are safe). You can learn a lot in a five-minute walk down the streets of Maii Mahiu, and you never know if or when you’ll get the chance again. Upon re-entering your daily life, be sure to reflect on the experience and the lessons learned–and make a real effort to integrate them into your work relationships, and personal and team goals.
Taking these considerations into account while planning your next international charitable mission will help ensure both you and the people you help will get the most out of your time there.