FIGT member, Daniela Draugelis, explains how a strategic volunteering can make a difference in someone else's life, while also giving your own career a boost in the right direction.
By Daniela Draugelis
Michelle Obama said, “Success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.” Making a difference through volunteering is a great way to merge purposeful work while at the same time adding value to your career.
Many expat spouses find themselves unable to work when they arrive in a new country due to the lack of a work visa or work permit, which can lead to disappointment and frustration, and a sense of loss. However, strategic volunteering offers an opportunity to maintain or even develop new skills while making a difference by giving back to an organization or community.
Strategic volunteering is essentially volunteering with a goal in mind. Not only are you giving back to an organization and its constituents by donating your time and energy, but you are also gaining new experience, skills, and connections. This targeted volunteering approach can in turn help propel your career in the right direction when you move to your next destination or repatriate back home.
To ensure strategic volunteering benefits your career goals, consider the following:
Decide what skills you would like to enhance or develop
Think about your past experiences, research the skills you might need in the future if you were to start your own business or shift careers. It is during volunteer pursuits that you can develop the leadership, public speaking or presentation skills you always longed for. Sometimes expat assignments are great opportunities to pause, explore and try something new. Take advantage of the opportunity that being in a new country gives you to learn a new language!
Pick causes that interest you
If your ultimate goal is to work with a specific constituent (i.e. children, the elderly, etc.) or issue (i.e. mental health, animal rescue, etc.), try to find organizations in your host country that serve those groups. Try to find publications, talk to people at the international schools, embassies, churches, who may be able to help you find these organizations. Some International schools also offer great opportunities for parents to volunteer through their Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) to get involved in activities like fundraising, event planning, hosting events for arriving families, managing the gift shop, etc. Leverage your network to find the opportunities that fit you best.
Find an opportunity and organization that fits your goals
When selecting a volunteer opportunity, take the time to consider other factors like: how much time are you willing to commit? Do you prefer larger or smaller organizations? How much travel is required? Are you willing to take on a leadership role, or do you prefer to be a member of a team where others lead? Whichever option you choose, know that the organization will be grateful for the time and effort you put into it.
Start your own volunteer venture
Maybe you identify an opportunity to serve a segment of the community that is currently not being addressed, or you have a brilliant idea to start your own volunteer organization! You may propose your own passion
project or a new volunteer role to an existing nonprofit organization. One of the great benefits of the constant change in the expatriate community is the endless flow of new ideas that help these organizations grow.
Ideally, in order to make the most of these strategic volunteer opportunities, you will want to make sure that you are producing measurable outputs that can be translated into accomplishment statements on your resume, so you can add these new skills to your resume and LinkedIn profile.
In the end, you will find that employers highly value recently gained professional skills and experiences, whether they are acquired from a paid job or in a volunteering role. But the most important thing is that your volunteer experience will allow you to walk away knowing that you made a difference in other people’s lives.