Q&A with Mark, co-founder of MovingWorlds
What inspired you to start MovingWorlds?
Seven years ago I was leading a small digital marketing group and worked with a really great team of people, but I knew that my work wasn’t going to help make the world a better place and it wouldn’t allow me to reach my own personal goals. So I decided to spend a year traveling and volunteering my skills around the world. My first stop was in Nepal supporting the Nepal Wireless Initiative, and I continued volunteering across Asia, Oceania and South America. I saw a tremendous need for skilled volunteers, but in many non-traditional areas, like with startups, innovative small businesses, social enterprises, and schools. Along the way I met many skilled travelers who were looking to volunteer…however that was no website to connect these two groups of people. And that is when Derk, my now co-founder, and I decided to start MovingWorlds.org.
What kind of projects does MovingWorlds connect people with and how long do they last?
We typically see people enter one of the following project categories:
Doer: Support a team with a specific task that has a clear deliverable, like designing a new website, developing a marketing plan, creating an engineering schematic, or another skills-based project. (2 – 8 weeks)
Consulting: Immerse yourself in a specific opportunity or challenge area. Give yourself enough time to learn community and cultural contexts, and then propose (and potentially implement) a plan to accelerate impact. (3 – 24 weeks)
Team member: Become a core team member for a specific length of time or a specific business area, like marketing, operations, engineering, etc. (6+ months)
Who can be an “Experteer”?
Anybody with proven skills–from college graduates to retired professionals, to solo travelers and couples alike.
One thing that continues to amaze me…the more work experience someone has, the less confident they are in their ability to Experteer. Maybe this is because people become more humble with age, but we literally get this question multiple times a week: “Can I really make an impact?” As long as you can demonstrate any soft, creative, or technical skill, the answer is YES!
From business to cooking to photography to zoology…the list goes on. We’ve had people still in college help nonprofits launch social media campaigns and new websites, and we’ve had retired accountants help implement accounting systems and improve business plans.
To help people think through this, we try to reframe the question. Instead of asking “Can I really make an impact,” we ask people to think about the work they’ve done in the past that they are most proud of, and the skills they are most comfortable with. We then find relevant projects and help connect the dots to show how their skills can solve roadblocks. We support the placement every step of the way.
How, exactly does MovingWorlds help people find the kind of volunteer work that most matters to them?
There is a great quote from Harvey S. Firestone: “You get the best out of others, when you give the best of yourself.” We want Experteering to be transformational for our members…one that makes an impact and simultaneously connects them to a meaningful and immersive experience. So we start by getting to know our Experteers: The skills they have, travel preferences, and even career ambitions. We then find skills-based projects that allow them to build on their strengths while learning new skills.
We find that a “cause” is very important, but it’s not the only factor. Other considerations like location, skills, and impact of project also play an important role in creating an engaging project. We connect all these different factors so that people are put in a position where they can truly give the best of themselves.
But, finding a match is just the beginning. Once our Experteers are introduced to an organization for an Experteering project, we provide free online training on Experteering best practices and then guide them through a planning process that helps the two parties create a strong partnership – we find this “Experteering Planning Process” to be the keystone of the entire engagement. It instills a higher level of commitment to working on a project that will truly benefit both parties. At the end of the day, Experteering projects are deeply personal and we recommend that people focus as much on the personal connections as the work they are accomplishing.
Do volunteers get matched with opportunities based on their current skills, or is this an opportunity to learn new skills?
We find that the best experiences come when there is a balance of both of these things. As an example, maybe an accounting professional who is great with Excel and setting up financial controls is partnered with an organization to phase in a new online accounting system. But, instead of just doing accounting, the volunteer is teaching someone in the organization the proper concepts and processes so in the future, they can grow without outside help. So the accountant is working in a familiar area, but is also working on new skills, like training and honing their web skills.
Most organizations charge people $100s, even $1,000s per week to volunteer, yet the organizations recommended by MovingWorlds don’t charge people anything to volunteer. Why is this important and how is this possible?
Why it’s important: If you are paying to volunteer, the organization is most likely after your money, not your skills. One exception to this rule is environmental non-profits who create a unique and immersive field experience in order to raise money to continue their research and species protection. However, other pay-to-volunteer projects, like paying to teach kids in an orphanage, paying to build a home or digging a well, is a pretty good sign that a project is being invented to procure your money, not to make a long-term impact or solve a root-cause issue.
How it’s possible: We work with growth-minded organizations in the field that are more interested in growing on their own than receiving charity. As such, they have a real need for skills and will provide you a unique local experience in exchange. MovingWorlds sources ethical projects that value your skills more than your money, and we give you the training and confidence to make a difference on the project. While MovingWorlds membership fee can be a small barrier to entry, it can actually save you thousands of dollars in the process, since you get connected to thousands of organizations where you can volunteer for free.
How can volunteering help someone build a stronger resume and possibly make a career change?
We recently got a mention in The Muse for this in an article called “The Secret Weapon Most Job Hunters Don’t Know About.” It’s because of three main reasons:
- 1. It helps you understand the things you love doing and excel
- 2. You get more valuable work experience that you can add to your resume and talk about in interviews
- 3. You develop really valuable skills like operating in ambiguity, cross-cultural communication, and innovation that are increasingly important for companies
What are your best tips for first-time volunteers?
- Be selfish in planning your volunteer experience. The only way you’ll really make an impact is if you’re motivated to do your best work. As such, you must believe in the organization’s mission, feel that you’re needed and respected, and know that the organization is co-invested in you.
- Be humble and open. Just because you have skills does not mean that you know the best way to lead a project, especially when there are cross cultural and contextual boundaries. We recommend everyone “listen and then listen again” before starting a project to ensure that the right solution is being delivered.
- Create a partnership. The best way to have an immersive experience is to become partners with your hosting organization. Our free training on Udemy does a great job of highlighting the importance of this, and how to go about it.
- Remember that success happens after you leave. In our planning process, we ask our Experteers and the hosting organization to work in partnership in defining a goal to be achieved one year after their engagement ends. This makes both parties think about working on sustainable projects that are locally led, and transferring skills to the right people to ensure that the organization can continue to prosper after the Experteer has left. My teammate, Nafessa Kassim, wrote a great article about this on Why Dev with more tips about finding ethical projects where you can make a sustainable impact.
Is there a story that sticks in your mind of someone who has done remarkable work for a project they discovered via MovingWorlds?
One of our Experteers, Sarah, did some amazing work in Tanzania. We connected her to Ubongo Kids, a social enterprise in Tanzania using videos to teach English and math skills. Their videos have been seen by hundreds of thousands of people on YouTube, and when combined with local TV and its website, they reach millions of people. Two years ago, Ubongo Kids was still in the startup phase, and looking to expand its English videos. Sarah started by helping the team develop more effective English translations for the education videos. But her work didn’t stop there. In the process, she also spent time mentoring and coaching the leadership of the organization.
Sarah just wrote to us last month after her second trip to Ubongo, one year after her first. She was thrilled to report that the Ubongo team has doubled in size, and the reach of its educational content has increased many times over.
One of the reasons Sarah’s experience is so exemplary is because of the humility and patience she exhibited. In our training, we talk about the need for humility and recommend a “human centered design approach,” but Sarah took it to a new level. Here is a person with an international award in consulting from the Institute of Consulting and the UK Chartered Management Institute, and yet she approached this project as a contributor, not as a leader. Instead of pressing her own ideas, she instead focused on transferring skills to help the leaders of Ubongo grow on their own.
How can someone get involved with MovingWorlds or learn more?
If you are considering experteering we would love to help you learn more about the plethora of volunteer opportunities available. Simply head over to MovingWorlds.org and look through our current offerings. If you don’t see the perfect placement or location, our team will work with you to find an opportunity that fits your time frame and skill set. We offer a 100% guarantee that we will find a placement for you, so there is absolutely no risk, only tremendous upside for your personal growth!
MovingWorlds is offering HoneyTrek fans 10% off a membership! Simply use any link on this page that points to MovingWorlds.org and sign up for the free account. Then when you find an opportunity you want to pursue you create a full account and the discount will be visible (no expiration date on the discount).
Champions Program MovingWorlds recently launched their Champions Program, to help spread the word about Experteering. If you or someone you know is passionate about giving back, ethical travel, or international volunteer opportunities, I would love to talk with them about MovingWorlds. Mike@MovingWorlds.org