Volunteering Abroad: A Pathway to Become Changemakers

By Barb Smeltzer | July 5, 2016 | Nonprofit, Volunteering

“Venture2Impact.org is not a voluntourism experience. This is for people who are looking for an actual life-transforming opportunity.”

-Travis King, Salesforce Account Executive, Toronto

Venture 2 ImpactVolunteering abroad is an exciting and unique way to give back to the global community, but true impact versus voluntourism can be lost in shades of grey. Truly making a difference in the lives of those volunteering and benefiting from the presence of volunteers is a significant challenge. One must understand the communities they seek to help and be dedicated to walking closely with all the volunteers. Venture 2 Impact, a Canadian born and bred nonprofit and Salesforce.org customer is doing exactly that.

Their model aims to break the cycle of poverty on a holistic scale with what they describe as the “three E’s” – Education, Empowerment and Economic Development. No trip is the same; Co-Founders Ron Abarbanel and Fadi Al Qassar set the tone to allow for ebb and flow based on what the communities themselves see as the most important need. Since 2006, their open learning and immersion style volunteer trips began in Uganda, with a focus on working with local villagers and orphans in micro-financing, education and access to technology. Since then, Venture 2 Impact has expanded their global reach in areas like Ecuador, Indonesia and soon India, coming this November. Al Qassar believes their volunteer model is successful for one main reason: “Our work focuses first and foremost on educating and equipping volunteers to dive deeply into complex issues on the ground.”

Groups of Salesforce employees have taken part in these life changing trips that create a pathway for them to become changemakers. This past February, Salesforce employee Travis King traveled to Ecuador with a couple of other colleagues from the Toronto Salesforce office where they lived off the grid in the vicinity of Esmeralda. “You really are thrown out of your comfort zone,” King says, giving examples of how they bathed in the river, worked alongside farmers in the jungle, taught English classes to kids and ate with local families. Vivek Viswanathan, a fellow colleague, was extremely moved by the generosity of the villagers. “I got a lot more than I gave in this experience. We made strong connections with the community members and other volunteers, friendships that still exist today.” Al Qassar echoes the community connections that are made, “We ensure the experience gives ample opportunity for volunteers to collaborate with local community members. This allows for them to go from being short-term contributors to life-long learners and changemakers.”

Venture 2 Impact volunteer

Patty Graham who participated in the Indonesian trip would agree. “It’s about the people you travel with…and the motivation to make good impact.” Even though the issues that were being addressed felt overwhelming at times, like how education is delivered in an island setting or how a fisherman brings their product to market, Venture 2 Impact’s approach empowers volunteers to see the whole picture. “Fadi said I don’t have to solve everything. Just being there for the experience, no matter if the contribution is small or large is what matters.” Annie Theibert who was on the trip echoes this philosophy. “I would absolutely go on any trip that Venture 2 Impact puts together. This is my second trip with them, the key is to go with an open mind.”

For more information on volunteering with the India trip this November or in general visit www.venture2impact.org.