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The Complete Guide to Volunteering in Africa

(we call it Experteering)

Anybody can visit Africa. But if you really want to experience the majestic landscape, best meals, and have a chance to get to know the locals in a meaningful way, you’ll have to invest more than money.

One thing is clear about this amazing continent and all its member countries: It is on the rise! It has many emerging markets and is full of social impact organizations. The consensus is clear that Africa’s destiny will be driven by Africans, but you can still do your part by sharing your skills and experience with African led organizations that request people with certain skills sets to give them the edge they need! This sort of volunteering is commonly called skills-based volunteering or Experteering.

But, before jumping at the first volunteering project you see, here are some tips to make sure you have the experience of a lifetime.


Finding the Right Volunteer Project in Africa

Africa has many promising emerging markets and many countries have sustained high growth within the past couple of years since the global financial crisis in 2008. Another interesting statistics is that 66% of the anticipated 2 billion people in Africa will be of working age by 2050. With this change in demographic, comes great opportunity.

For that opportunity to be realized, volunteer should focus not on doing, but on transfering skills to locally-led organizations and their people.. So when you search for a project in Africa, beyond ensuring that it is safe, and legitimate, make sure it can create a long-term impact, too. To ensure that a volunteering opportunity is legitimate, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Does this opportunity use my real skills?
  2. Is this something that a local could be doing? Is it possible that I’m taking a local job?
  3. Will the tasks I will be completing leave a lasting impact on the organization and the surrounding community?
  4. Are the goals and objectives I am being asked to complete locally driven?
  5. Is the host organization reputable?

There are many organizations that make sure the volunteering opportunities they post are through organizations that operate in an ethical and sustainable manner. Some include: VSO International (Voluntary Service Overseas), MovingWorlds, Cuso International, and Peace Corps.

Check out more tips for finding the right volunteering project abroad.


Examples of Volunteering Projects in Africa

Africa’s economy is already growing in strength and in size, but still has a lot to achieve before reaching its full potential. With that in mind, there are lots of opportunities for skilled volunteers to make an impact. It can help organizations increase manufacturing efficiency, increase agricultural efficiency, improve education systems, and/or access capital, just to name a few.

Here are some real samples of recent projects:

See sample volunteering projects in Africa

Support microfinance in Nairobi, Kenya by volunteering your business strategy skills!

Best Practices While Volunteering in Africa

When you get to your destination, there is a right (and wrong) way to volunteer in a way that truly makes an impact. First, you should outline clearly defined goals that are created in partnership with your hosting organization. Beyond that, following these rules will help create positive outcomes for all parties:

  1. Support locally initiated projects, to make sure that the work will continue after you leave.
  2. Train local staff to take over your work so that the transition after you leave will be seamless.
  3. Spend more time teaching than doing.
  4. Do what’s best for the host organization, not what’s most interesting to you.
  5. Embrace cultural differences and discuss with your host the differences you might have, and how you can use those to your advantage.
  6. Check in with your team consistently to make sure everyone is on the same page about tasks and timelines for projects.

Take this free training for international volunteering best practices through Udemy, and review this complete guide to volunteering your skills overseas.

Transfer your business development skills to African business leaders in Lusaka, Zambia.

Cultural and Communication Tips to be an Effective Volunteer in Africa

It is important to understand the cultural differences that African countries have from other parts of the world so that you can work and communicate effectively with your partners while you're abroad.

Cultural Difference between US and Africa
This chart shows the cultural differences between someone from the UK and Kenya, and where a typical Experteer might be.
Image from GlobeSmart® provided by Aperian Global.

As an example, people in Africa are high-context, indirect, and collectivistic, whereas people from America and Europe tend to be low-context, direct, and individualistic. When working with people from Africa, it is common that a volunteer will receive verbal confirmation about next steps, only to later find that the confirmation was false. This is largely because, in high-context societies, people value the context of a situation more so than the words. To combat this kind of miscommunication, the volunteer should be on the lookout for information left intentionally vague, as this may be a sign of a false confirmation.

Use Kwintessential and country-specific travel guides to learn about customs and social norms. 


Finishing Your Project and Recapping Your Story

When you return from your trip it is essential that you keep in touch with your host organization. This is because success should be measured by what happens after you leave. This way, if your host organization has any further questions about the projects and/or training that you performed while abroad, they can get those questions answered. By doing what you can to ensure your work lives on after you leave, you can increase the chance that the work you did made, and continues to make, a real impact.

You should also make sure to reflect on your experience during and after your overseas experience. There are several reflection strategies you can use to promote your own learning and improve happiness. You should also be sharing your stories with as many people as possible about your experience with the aim to inspire others to go volunteering abroad and do good, just like you!

Share your story with the #Experteering hashtag

Volunteer your marketing skills in Nairobi, Kenya to support the expansion of cloud infrastructure in Africa!

Additional Tips While Volunteering in Africa

Volunteer your journalism and advertising skills to support a successful local African food company.

Here are some additional resources to help you plan, fund, and prepare for your trip, if you do decide to travel and volunteer in Africa:

  1. Guide to funding your trip
  2. Gear, resources, and tools for your volunteering adventure
  3. Books to read while volunteering in Africa

In summary

Since you can volunteer anywhere from 1 week to several years there is no reason not to give volunteering abroad a chance. Especially because the majority of opportunites posted through Movingworlds.org offer free accommodation during your stay! We hope this guide will help you find the right projects, ensure the work you do is sustainable, and communicate effectively with your host organization.

So get out there and seize your next life adventure in Africa. We promise you’ll find that immersive life-changing experience you’ve been searching for!

Citations
http://geert-hofstede.com/
http://blog-imfdirect.imf.org/2010/03/09/africa-is-back/