Volunteer Africa – In Their Words – Balloon Ventures

'Volunteer Africa' - In Their Own Words

Earlier this year, Balloon Ventures collaborated with Citi on the second annual Volunteer Africa programme. Twenty-four team members from across Citi spent 6 weeks in Uganda, using their own skills coupled with Balloon’s proven methodology to help established businesses innovate and grow. Here, we caught up with some of the volunteers, to get a sense of their motivations for applying to the programme, and their impressions of working with informal sector entrepreneurs.

Charles, who joined Citi as an intern in 2013, and is now an Associate in the UK Corporate Broking team, told us: “I wanted to make an actual, tangible difference. Too often it’s hard to see what, if any, our work has and I wanted to do something where I could see the result.” This is a common theme among the volunteers, and it resonates with the way many young professionals feel about their professional life. Mark, an Analyst in the Australian Investment Banking team from Melbourne, was motivated by the desire “to be pushed out of [his] comfort zone, to travel and be immersed in a new and wonderful culture.” Sofia, a Senior Associate with CIB Mexico, added that “Millennials want to feel like we’re making an impact in the world, and we’re impatient for change. We grew up in a world that was constantly changing, so we want new adventures and new challenges outside the office environment.”

"I wanted to make an actual, tangible different. Too often it's hard to see what, if any, our work has and I wanted to do something where I could see the result."

It’s clear that our volunteers had strong motivations for joining the Volunteer Africa programme, but there are significant benefits for businesses, too. Mark puts it simply: “the main reason is reason enough – because it’s a good thing to do”, but is quick to add that “leading businesses are well-positioned to play an integral part in the process of supporting informal sector entrepreneurs by providing the arms and legs that can support their businesses.” As well as this, though, we know that employees who take part in corporate volunteering schemes such as VA are highly-engaged employees when they return to the office environment. Mark reinforced this: “it drives connection of employees globally and provides the volunteers with an opportunity to develop their skillset outside of their regular setting.” Charles, too, could see the benefits to businesses like Citi: “it makes them stand out from their competitors and will help in recruiting talent. It may even help them win new clients who are more socially-minded.”

Sofia was keen to get across how important it was for her to join a programme which has real impact. One of the factors that sets Volunteer Africa apart from other corporate volunteering schemes is the sense volunteers get of having a real, immediate impact. “Being able to teach our entrepreneurs practical skills that had immediate, tangible impact on their businesses was a powerful experience”, she said, “Like Gloria, who thought she was making money because she was getting paid at the end of the month. But, in reality, she wasn’t accounting for her expenses accurately, and was barely breaking even. This sort of insight, and designing a solution in the form of basic financial record keeping, led to Gloria breaking into real cash profit by the end of the programme.”

Even more important than this short-term impact, though, is the long-term impact achieved through a mentality shift. “The best thing for us was empowering Gloria with the confidence to test new things. After the programme, she understands the value of risking a little cash in order to try new things, whilst realising that it doesn’t always pay off.”

Even though the programme is now over, and Sofia, Mark, Charles and the other volunteers are back in their respective offices, the legacy of the impact they had lives on in the businesses of entrepreneurs in Jinja and Mbale. We’ll be checking back with the businesses in the coming months, and posting updates here on the blog.

If you represent a corporate business, and want to work with Balloon to help entrepreneurs grow businesses that change lives, then please get in touch with Josh, our CEO, by email josh@balloonventures.com.