How volunteering in urban slums led me to set up a social venture | Big Society Capital

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How volunteering in urban slums led me to set up a social venture

The start of the year is a good time to consider how to make use of your time with some volunteering, but with so many options out there, how can you make sure you are making a meaningful contribution and using your skills (whilst hopefully meeting some great people and having a good time)? 

Firstly, think about your skills and experience and map them against the opportunities out there

Reach volunteering, which connects professionals with charities and non-profits that benefit from their skills, can be a good place to start.

Just because you don't know everything about a topic doesn't mean you can't be useful to someone with less experience. I spent a few months mentoring a lady who was starting up a cleaning business and was determined to come out of the benefits system. This required quite a hands-on approach, helping her prepare and practice her “pitch” to potential customers and even being her first test customer. My flat was sparkling during those few months! I was matched up with this lady through an organisation called HERA, which provides entrepreneurship training, professional mentoring and grants to women survivors of human trafficking, violence and exploitation. Their programmes actively engage the business community, enabling vulnerable women to achieve economic independence. The experience taught me a lot about how people who have lived through the toughest circumstances can do better through their own entrepreneurial drive.

Secondly, volunteering can be a way to explore something completely new and different and a way to travel and live in far-flung communities. Volunteering for a year in the urban slums in Peru led me to set up a social venture creating work opportunities for local women. Accounting for international development (AfID) is a good option for this sort of volunteering, offering every type of accountant the opportunity to use their skills to support a broad range of non-profit organisations globally. My experience in Peru completely changed my way of thinking and got me hooked on the idea of using social enterprise to tackle problems long-term. The Peruvian venture was taken over by a local entrepreneur and is still running 16 years later!  

Thirdly, think about how you can help contribute towards the long-term sustainability of organisations, not just their core business. In a survey from 2015, 28% of charities say that they are not sufficiently resourced to meet rising demand for their services, up from 16% in 2014 and volunteers can play a role in finding the best ways for the sector to grow and thrive. For instance, food banks often need people to make links and negotiate with supermarkets, as well as volunteers to help distribute food parcels. I’m always surprised to see how valuable fundraising advice can be, especially to smaller charities who don’t always have dedicated staff for it.

What I’ve realised is that whatever your skills there is a volunteering opportunity that will make use of that expertise and it can make a real difference to someone’s life. Just get out there and try it!

Last updated | 
31 January 2017