How has it been since you returned from South Africa?
It has been a slightly strange transition, from working full-on, every day in South Africa, to suddenly returning to a normal pace of life. But I guess this is the experience I was looking for, real work-experience.
I felt that the few weeks I was there wasn’t long enough, and in hindsight, wish I had gone for double the time. But it’s hard to know this before you go, and there is lots to consider too, like costs and what the day-to-day demands will be like. I would have been able to get more stuff done if I had gone for longer, but have continued to support the project since my return.
It would be a completely different experience if you go for 4 weeks instead of 2. I still have lots of plans and ideas in my head, so it’s great to be able to continue to work on these remotely back in the UK.
Vocational Impact really helped set up my placement and tailored the topics to my specific degree requirements. No other volunteer organisation provides this level of support.
But it isn’t just the 2 weeks I went, I wanted to continue to work with the project even after I had left and offer them continued support of the amazing work that they do. I didn’t want to just leave a project in the middle, once I had started it so being able to continue supporting from the UK is a really great part of this placement and means I can continue to gain valuable work-experience in a real-life environment. There was some elements that I didn’t want to rush, just to fit them in, so I have offered to continue my placement from the UK.
You can see the time spent in South Africa as your in-country placement and when you return you can continue the work, but remotely.
So when you arrived, it sounded like you had to hit-the-ground-running?
The first few days were good. I was introduced to everyone, and then rested after the long days of travel. I understand what was meant by feeling a bit isolated in the first few days, as it’s all so new, and overwhelming. Vocational Impact checked in on me every day, and helped me settle in as well as the in-country management team.
It can feel quite strange, as you don’t really know anyone, and nobody really knows you. I was prepared for this, as Vocational Impact really helped prepare me, we had a pre-departure call, and they sent lots and lots of information.
Then it was the total opposite when a big corporate event happened at the project with over 100 volunteers there to work with the 50+ children. It was madness but really enjoyable to see everyone in action and the Haven so alive.
Meeting the corporate partners was really interesting, and understanding how they help the project. It was a very humbling part of the process.
The corporate partners are a lifeline for NGOs. They not only provide essential donations, they also bring expertise and security. Understanding this relationship was really eye-opening. The history of the relationship, how it came about, the length of time they had been involved and how they supported. They bought 30-40 cases of donations, toys, clothes, and books.
Corporate donors always get heavily criticised for the mistakes they make, and never get enough recognition for the good work they do, so it was really nice to see the direct impact of the corporate relationship.
CSR is often seen as a box ticking/PR exercise, but seeing the corporate relationship in action encouraged me to make others aware that they DO do good, and they ARE making a difference to charities. A very BIG difference. And they DO actually care.
So I thought, how do you encourage another relationship like this? If there were 2 or 3 more corporate partners, then the project would be in a much more secure financial position. So I made this part of my placement, how do you make that connection with corporates and start accessing CSR budgets?
Is it a case of reaching out to certain people? Or is it who you know? Getting compliant ready. Reaching out to South African based corporates to access donations
Vocational Impact really helped me understand this better, as they have years of experience working with corporates and international development. It was great to learn about how to create these relationships and how the volunteer fee’s they create, form a big part of the donations received by their partner projects.
One of the main challenges of starting new corporate relationships, where there is a high emphasis on compliance, is international charities are really struggling to keep up with compliance demands.
This is where Vocational Impact volunteers have been stepping in and making a real impact. Volunteers have been helping the project with policy, compliance, accounts, budgets, website content, marketing and policies. This is where the real need is, and this is where students are able to apply their university education and support.
I was working on monitoring and evaluating for the project, as suggested by the Chairman of the charity. It was a big list, of policies, compliance, which is a wonderful idea, but how do you put that into place at somewhere like this, when they literally don’t have any time? I felt like I was in the thick of it, based in the central office, where the phone is constantly ringing, there are children in and out, staff in and out, trying to keep all these people happy.
This is why it’s so amazing what Vocational Impact are doing, supporting the running, the business and marketing needs through the volunteers they send. They prepare all the volunteers individually, set them up with a tailored project that is mutually beneficial to both the project in Johannesburg and the student volunteer applying their degree subject in a real life situation. Both parties are benefitting from the relationship. Plus, they provide essential funding to the project, which will grow as the volunteer numbers grow.
Educated young people absolutely can step in and fulfil this need. They can physically and mentally support an international charity that is fighting every day for the rights of children with HIV/AIDS.
The Vocational Impact Johannesburg project have fallen into the dangerous trap where international volunteers were costing them money, rather than receiving anything for hosting. There are many volunteer organisations out there that do not send a single £ or $ to the hosting organisation. They have since stopped working with all other volunteer organisations, and recognise the Vocational Impact programmes as the most beneficial, with funding and providing educated students. It takes the strain away from the project, with their business demands ever increasing and volunteers being able to provide support. Vocational Impact are helping to increase volunteer numbers for the project as well as increasing direct donations.
Another one of the challenges is that there is so much information, all over the world, from people that have helped over the years, and it hasn’t all been drawn together. They would really benefit from a centralised data system and storage so information can be drawn easily. Because of the resource struggles, the communication between the project and the outside world is compromised. There is so much media published around the project and the whole history of Nkosi Johnson. It was making world headlines. So many positive stories.
They need a social media strategy, and consistent content uploaded onto their social media channels, this is the perfect project for a business and/or marketing student to work on. One of the kids could be taught how to handle this, which also provides skills to the residents of the project. They have lots of work to do on their compliance, and policies, and this is a project that a law student, or international development student could work on.
It was amazing the pre-departure information Vocational Impact sent me, it was so accurate to what I ended up doing on my placement, and helped me understand the type of projects they were focusing on and where I could jump in and help with straight away.
I was given free-reign and was told ‘if you see a gap, go right ahead and explore’. I’ve done business for 4 years, and it’s all about how to present yourself, pitch ideas, but going to South Africa was the real deal, there was freedom to make an instant impact.
I started working on a marketing strategy, and then moved onto a strategy document that bought in all the elements and highlighted areas of growth and how to overcome challenges. One of the great things is handing over these to the next volunteer, who can then put their mark on it. By the end of the summer, the project will have received constant help, from business students.
By the time I finished my placement, I had completed an online marketing strategy, and a strategy report as well as templates that Gail could use for writing policies and updating compliance.
How would you say, overall, the experience was? Did you feel you made an impact? Did you learn? Did the experience match your expectations?
It’s hard to form expectations about volunteering abroad. I’d never been to South Africa, I didn’t have much context. But this meant I was kept on my toes the entire time. When you learn about business in the classroom, you aren’t always sure if you would be able to put it into practice, but this experience showed me that I was capable, and able to make decisions. There were ups and downs, but I’m so pleased I did it. Especially as it it feeds into my masters degree in International Management and Leadership, where we had to find an international project with a business problem and solve it, it was also about project management and self-reflection. This placement certainly ticked all those boxes. I had to present my plans to volunteer with Vocational Impact to my lecturer to get it approved, which it was.
I found the business placement a very humbling and worthwhile experience. It was the first chance I’ve had to put all my education and learning into real-life.
Working with a charity, I think, is one of the best ways to focus your business skills, as at the start of your career, you want to know about each part of a working organisation. And charities you need to be able to help with all sorts of things, and be prepared to try anything. You can then start to focus more, when you know what specific area of business you want to pursue.
How did you fund your placement?
I fundraised. I actually found that one of the most challenging parts but a really rewarding experience. It is hard to get money off of people, which then gave me the understanding of how hard it is for charities to raise essential donations. There is a big parallel between personal fundraising and organisational fundraising. It’s really challenging, but this possibly is where I learned the most about business and gave me so much experience about how money works and how people think about money. It’s something Vocational Impact really help with and they knew how to support me.
Fundraising is a really good skill to add to your CV, that you are able to fundraise as it shows your communication skills, planning and persistence. Any employer would snap you up. It’s a huge personal achievement.
So what’s next?
I wrap up my masters degree, and I’ve been offered a job in London. but I don’t think I’ll take that one. I think I’m going to accept a year place on a programme in New York, that starts in August.
Would you like to Volunteer with us or know more?
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