About a year ago, I signed on with Venture with Impact (VWI) because I found the concept to be intriguing: Take on people who can work remotely for their companies or, if they’re freelancers, for their clients. Then find an opportunity for them to do part-time volunteer work. That way, they can continue with their own work, also on a part-time basis, and keep on earning money while they’re overseas.
It gets better, though. VWI will find a volunteer opportunity for you in your field! No building houses or pretending to know what you’re doing in an orphanage for a week or two. Instead, you will be placed with an organization where you can do some genuine good, as you’ll be offering the benefits of your actual skills and experience.
This shows that Venture with Impact is really serious about having you accomplish something. If you need any further confirmation, consider the fact that your engagement has to be at least a month long. You really have to wonder about those companies that only offer one- or two-week options. During the first week, you’re still getting oriented, so there’s little you can do. By the second week, maybe you can do something, but not very much. To my mind, when you’re in and out of a country that fast, it’s just a form of disguised tourism.
So, what is my field?
I am a freelance editor working for magazines, organizations, and websites. I’ve covered many topics, but for almost a decade I have been working mainly in the field of economic development with a focus on Asia. I’ve edited articles, reports, brochures, and books on such themes as public health in Central Asia, transport infrastructure in China, and trade facilitation in Southeast Asia.
What I ended up doing through VWI
So, I signed up with VWI, choosing to spend the month of August in Lisbon. LISBON? With my background? Well, the reasons were purely selfish. Lisbon was on my bucket list of cities that I had always wanted to visit, and I figured that I could mix business with pleasure.
And that’s just what I did. I loved the time I spent in that beautiful city, as well as my visits to other places around Portugal. As for the volunteer work, VWI matched me with a great organization called “SPEAK.” It’s a “language and culture exchange” where participants get to teach and/or learn foreign languages and go to social events attended by people from all over the world. SPEAK focuses on migrants and refugees, but also on students, ex-pats, or any other foreigners who might otherwise feel lost and disoriented in a strange country. Aside from its base in Lisbon, this wonderful organization has branches elsewhere in Portugal, as well as in Turin, Berlin, Madrid, and Brussels.
I ended up writing some articles for SPEAK’s English-language blog. The articles describe SPEAK’s mission and the ways in which the organization uniquely benefits its participants. I met some very nice Portuguese professionals attached to the organization, but the exposure I got went well beyond that.
For most of these articles, I corresponded with people who had taught or studied with SPEAK (or did both) in most of the cities where it operates. And, as part of my preparation, I also attended some SPEAK Portuguese and English language classes in Lisbon. The classes were lively, with amusing repartee between the instructors and the learners, the former Portuguese or Brazilian, the latter including people from Portugal (in the English classes), and, so far as I could tell, from Venezuela, the Netherlands, Switzerland, France, China, Japan, Britain, Romania, and Italy.
Through my correspondence with SPEAK participants in Lisbon and other locations, I got to know even more people from different backgrounds. And I began to understand how this organization functioned as a language exchange. The participants were usually learning and teaching languages at the same time. For instance, there was a Russian graduate student who was studying English and teaching Russian and Portuguese in Turin; a Chilean engineer who was studying German and English and teaching Spanish in Berlin; an Australian teacher who studied Portuguese and German and taught English in Leiria, Portugal; and a Canadian working for her country’s embassy in Berlin, who taught German and studied Arabic at SPEAK there.
All in all, I sent questionnaires to over 20 people, and through their responses and subsequent correspondence, I gained a better understanding of their experiences living in a foreign country and being exposed to many other cultures through SPEAK. I then took their stories and observations and distilled them into a half dozen articles, with the goal of showing not only how SPEAK works, but also the diversity of perspectives among these participants, and what they had in common. It was quite an eye-opening experience!
Did my venture have an impact?
The answer is yes. SPEAK was happy to get articles written in good English for their blog, which is there to explain the organization’s mission and to highlight the experiences of their participants. So, I didn’t build a house or a well or teach in a nursery school ― all functions that I’m spectacularly ill-equipped to do. But I did help a worthy organization get its message out. And that’s no small thing.