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volunteer overseas

Monday 28 April, 2008

Continuing on the living/working abroad theme, I read this article by Barbara Rose of the Chicago Tribune, Firms find value in volunteering The thrust of the article is that there is value for the firm as well as the employee to send employees to developing countries for volunteer assignments. I wholeheartedly endorse most opportunities for Americans to pursue the chance to live & work abroad, paid or not. I think what’s interesting is that most of the gains for the employees are in soft skills, yet still substantial. There are ways to further this. Now it’s just big global firms that put together these programs, but big firms are taking increasingly less of the workforce, so smaller firms need to get on board as well. I don’t know how these firms prepared their employees for these experiences-I hope they just didn’t throw them out there, but wouldn’t be surprised if they did. These are great, but in some ways are still quite superficial. They only last for a few months, so you really can’t dig in, learn a language & a culture, & be able to make a long-term difference in either your country or theirs. Maybe they are able to keep in touch afterwards, but it’s still not the same as working there side-by-side. I’m sure it improves employees management skills wherever they go, but it would be better if they were able to apply what they’ve learned about these far-flung businesses & help them grow over a longer period rather than just parachuting in, & then out a couple of months later. The most interesting part about living & working abroad is getting into the heads of the people in the country you visit, learn their values & decision-making, & how they really are different from here. Only then can you really bridge the gap to understanding both sides. These programs also send relatively few people outside the U.S., so they should be expanded so that more companies can be helped & more employees can experience working with businesses in other cultures.

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