What I’ve Learned from Managing a Social Enterprise in South Africa’s Townships—And Other International Co-op Lessons

heart capitalOn Aug. 26, I boarded a plane destined for Cape Town, South Africa. Twenty five hours later I arrived at my new home for the next four months.

A week later, I started my co-op at Heart Capital, an impact investment firm on the outskirts of Cape Town that manages a portfolio of social enterprises in local townships. So what have I learned so far from this incredible opportunity to learn about social enterprise management in one of the regions of the world that needs it most? Read on.

1. Printer ink, Internet access, phone calls, and meetings are luxuries—not necessities.

 

In Cape Town, I’ve realized that you can still conduct business without a formal corporate infrastructure in place—it’s just a little more difficult. No technology on site? Better make sure you bring everything you need with you. Deliverymen didn’t drop off your compost in the right place? Time to revamp the work schedule so that you can account for manually hauling your supplies to a different location.

 

Being innovative and flexible are essential in the social space—you often won’t find well-oiled business machines in under-resourced townships.

2. Sometimes, the needs of the business don’t go hand in hand with the needs of beneficiaries. And that can be challenging.

 

The difficult thing about managing social enterprises is that they don’t operate as for-profit businesses, but they aren’t nonprofit either. In this space, we spend a lot of our time wrestling with wanting to help people directly while still trying to progress the business. These tough decisions make this space incredibly challenging. What’s important is that you figure out the best way to cope with the situation. For me, I’ve found that leaving work at the office and exploring the area allow me to clear my head and face the challenges ahead. Figure out what gives you inner peace and capitalize on that.

3. Creativity is key.

 

When there isn’t a clear procedure on how to do something, that presents an opportunity for innovative thinking. Past and current interns have developed new systems for inventory management, sourced free materials from willing companies, and launched crowdfunding campaigns to raise money for supplies. Success in this industry—and especially in an international environment—relies on drive, creativity, and innovation.

4. Working internationally is different than working at home.

Sometimes you might forget that cultural norms you took for granted aren’t the same in other countries. Email may not be effective, the laws and regulations for donations may be different, and common words and phrases may not be present in your new space.

 

Like any new job, it’s important to take each lesson in stride. Sometimes, working in a different country can be frustrating and confusing. It may make you want to tear your hair out, find the nearest McDonalds, and try to un-block Netflix. But by using each experience as a learning opportunity, and then reminding yourself about the lessons you’ll be able to take home with you, you’ll survive—and, even better—thrive.

 

Sarah Silverstein is currently managing Heart Capital’s ongoing Indiegogo campaign to raise $15,000 USD to purchase a bakkie, or small vehicle, which will drastically improve the organization’s operations on the ground. Check out the campaign page to learn more about the campaign.

Some countries just call to you…

image taken by John D Carnessiotis via Flickr

image taken by John D Carnessiotis via Flickr

This guest post was written by Ellen Zold Goldman, Associate Director of Career Development and lover of anything international.

Some countries just call to you. It’s hard to explain but if you’ve experienced that one dialogue that you couldn’t get out of your head, or a study abroad or international co-op and wished you could turn right back around and re-board the plane, then you know what I mean.

That’s what it was like for me going to Greece. It started as a tourist visit and then I landed a short-term professional gig. I went there month three of a three-month overseas adventure, having picked three countries I wanted to see ‘before I settled down, became boring, and couldn’t ever travel because I held a professional job’. I spent one month in Israel making a video on a program at the Jerusalem Cinamateque, and got a job offer I turned down. One month in Italy (well, that was just plain decadent travel with two friends), and then this life-changing month in Greece. I made so many Greek friends; it was the trip of a lifetime and I have no regrets. It rained in Greece the day I went home. They said Greece was crying for me.

My mission was to save enough to go back and do something professional. I networked like crazy with anyone in the Boston area who would talk to me about Greece. You owned a restaurant- great? You were a professor at a college I Didn’t Go To—awesome. I worked a list of American Companies in Greece. Networking paid off and I landed a gig with a professor from another college who was starting a new non-profit. My bags were practically packed. Trip Two, The Professional Overseas Adventure…

I boarded the plane – no looking back. I stayed with Greek friends, and by then I had a Greek boyfriend. Broke up with said boyfriend and learned about what I would miss in the U.S. (family, and definitely same day dry cleaning). I talked Greek politics (I love politics) and was blessed on New Year’s Day by a Greek Priest. I traveled with my Greek gal pals (woman power!) and worked every day. I learned about real Greek life.

My contract gig was ending with the non-profit. While I had hoped it would lead to a full-time position, it really was a short-term gig. My time was winding down.

I pounded the pavement—Got some offers to teach English and a soft offer to work in a travel agency, but in the end I decided to go back home. I came back full of priceless adventures and also saw that my friends were moving onto professional positions, grad school and I felt that if it were meant to be, I’d find a way to return to Greece. I did go back after I was working and it is still the place that makes my heart sing.

Was the whole thing worth it? YES. I’d do that again in a New York second.

What did I learn?  A LOT. Working at the non-profit and living in Greece with my friends gave me the best glimpse into authentic Greek Life (I was there in January-not during tourist time). I went out with friends Friday nights, sang Greek songs in the car and vacationed where they vacationed. I lived, ate, and breathed Greece. I was meant to be in Greece. I also had the worst case of reverse culture shock coming home. I cried all the way home—and I do mean for all 6 hours. I learned that I wanted to blend my love of culture with education professionally. As a result, I began working for International Co-op, specifically with Americans going overseas to Australia, and then worked for 9 ½ years with international students on preparing them to work in the U.S.

The small influences—well, I learned how to make Nescafe Frappe just the way I like it. The big influences—my passion for working with international students and first generation Americans has never left me. I’ve directed a Study Abroad program, and work in Career Services where I help create international student programming. My passion for this has stayed with me for the last 15 years. I never get tired of it. Even on a bad day.

While I decided not to live in Greece permanently, I hope to have a little apartment there one day and retire there- or at least go back and forth. Sorry to folks who want to retire in FL; it’s just not the same. Greece is, after all, my favorite place on earth.

Everyone deserves their own grand adventure. I hope you create an amazing adventure for yourself, even if it does take two trips. 

Ellen Zold Goldman is Associate Director at Career Development. She’s worked on a short-term gig at a non-profit in Greece, has coordinated an international co-op exchange program in Australia, directed study abroad at another university, loves international students, and as you can probably tell, she has a passion for anything international.

What about the Peace Corps or International Development Jobs?

"The Peace Corps works in countries from Asia to Central America, and from Europe to Africa. In each of these countries, Volunteers work with governments, schools, and entrepreneurs to address changing and complex needs in education, health and HIV/AIDS, business, information technology, agriculture, and the environment." Image: www.peacecorps.gov

“The Peace Corps works in countries from Asia to Central America, and from Europe to Africa. In each of these countries, Volunteers work with governments, schools, and entrepreneurs to address changing and complex needs in education, health and HIV/AIDS, business, information technology, agriculture, and the environment.”
Image/Info from: www.peacecorps.gov

This guest post was written by Katrina Deutsch, a Peace Corps recruiter for the Metro-Boston area and a frequent Employer in Residence at Northeastern University. 

When I started my job search my senior year of college, I knew I wanted to work internationally after graduation. Quick searches through my university’s job board left me discouraged, as I was under qualified for most of the jobs I was interested in. I started looking into international volunteer organizations, specifically in health and teaching, as those were the areas in which my past travels fell. I was again discouraged, mostly because so many international volunteer organizations required a fee to participate, and money was something I didn’t have.

But there was always one organization I kept coming back to – the Peace Corps. I knew what it was; as I had met Peace Corps Volunteers traveling in Swaziland my first summer abroad. I also knew my mother would object. After more research, I decided to apply to the Peace Corps and thought it would be best to not tell my parents about my application. After all, I wasn’t sure I would receive an invitation, so why get them worried for no reason?

PEACE CORPS FAST FACTS:

  • Established on March 1, 1961 by John F. Kennedy
  • Currently serve in 65 countries; have served in 139 countries
  • 7,209 volunteers and trainees currently in service
  • Work in the areas of education, health, environment, community economic development, youth in development and agriculture
  • Annual budget of $356.25 million

The Peace Corps appealed to me. First, I did not have to pay. The Peace Corps is a U.S. Government Agency, and funding comes from the government. In fact, the Peace Corps was going to pay me at the local level to volunteer! Second, it was a 27 month commitment, and I was hoping to work abroad for at least one year, which is something most other organizations did not provide. Third, I felt that the experience I would gain through my Peace Corps service would give me the skills I needed to qualify for the jobs I wanted.

First Group of 51 Peace Corps Volunteers, Aug 30, 1961. The first group of 51 Peace Corps Volunteers, Ghana I, arrives in Accra to serve as teachers. Image/info from http://www.peacecorps.gov/about/history/

“First Group of 51 Peace Corps Volunteers, Aug 30, 1961. The first group of 51 Peace Corps Volunteers, Ghana I, arrives in Accra to serve as teachers.”
Image/info from: http://www.peacecorps.gov/about/history/

TIPS FOR THE PEACE CORPS APPLICATION:

  • Speak to a Peace Corps Recruiter about your skills and qualifications
  • Prepare all necessary documents, including transcripts, financial obligation information, and reference contact information
  • Complete the application within 30 days from starting
  • Be prepared to answer questions about your medical history
  • Tell your parents you are applying to the Peace Corps when you start – the more information and time they have to learn about the Peace Corps,  the easier it will be for you and your parents!

Unfortunately for my parents, I received an invitation to serve in the Peace Corps as a Secondary Education English Teacher in Nicaragua. I accepted my invitation and departed for service the summer after graduating.

The Peace Corps developed my skills and abilities far more than I had anticipated.  I gained valuable language skills and nearly three years of international development experience (I extended my service beyond the two year commitment).  I also discovered a passion that tied all of my initial career goals together: international education development and policy.

After Peace Corps, I attended graduate school to receive my master’s degree in international education policy. I hadn’t planned to attend graduate school so soon after college.  However, I knew that my experience and a graduate degree would make me competitive for many of the jobs I was interested in.

TIPS FOR APPLYING TO GRADUATE SCHOOL:

  • Consider the Peace Corps Masters International or Peace Corps Fellows program, combining graduate school and Peace Corps
  • Make sure you’re passionate about what you plan on studying – don’t go to graduate school just to go to graduate school
  • Reach out to alumni from schools to hear their experiences
  • Consider all variables, not just the name or reputation of the school: Do they offer financial aid? Is it located in an area that has good job or internship opportunities? When was the program established?

As I dove back into full job search mode, I now had real experience and knowledge of international job search resources.  My graduate school internship at an international education non-profit turned into a full-time job, and I worked there for two years before returning to work with Peace Corps as a recruiter.

I don’t know what my next job will be or where it will take me.  However, I do know that I have the skills, experience, and passion – and the resources – to continue my work in international development.

RESOURCES FOR THE INTERNATIONAL JOB SEARCH:

Katrina Deutsch is currently the Peace Corps Recruiter for the Metro Boston Area. For more information on the Peace Corps, application process, and when Katrina will be at Northeastern, you can reach her at kdeutsch@peacecorps.gov. Learn more about Katrina’s Peace Corps experience here

Tips for the International Job Search from the International Guru

photo from http://www.visassimply.com/work-abroad

photo from http://www.visassimply.com/work-abroad

This guest post was written by Ellen Zold Goldman, Associate Director of Career Development and lover of all things international.

It’s officially International Month on the blog and a great time to think about escaping our snowy winter weather. If you have the travel bug, maybe working overseas is in your future. Check out these tips for creating your own work abroad experience in this first blog post focused on international topics.

Tips for the International Job Search

  • Learn about cultures you’re interested in. Don’t spend lots of time finding a job in a place you can’t warm up to…Develop friendships with international students. Make sure you like the sound of the language and the food.  A great resource is Transitions Abroad’s Living Abroad section.
  • Join Global Jobs Network, Expat & Global Worker, and other groups on LinkedIn. Join groups related both to your career interests and countries you’re interested in working. Follow the weekly digest and reach out to folks whose discussions interest to you.
  • Check out overseas Fellowships: That’s money you don’t have to pay back which underwrites your experience.
  • Use Going Global, by logging into Husky Career Link for great resources.
  • Network, Network, Network! With your co-op employers, your international student friend’s uncle, hair dresser, professors, Study Abroad adviser… with ANYONE who will listen to you. While you’re on co-op,  see if they have a location in a city you’re interested in. Remember speaking the language enables you to function professionally.
  • Join list-servs like Dev-X. List-servs are usually related to professional associations. It’s where they get the word out about jobs.
  • Considering Teaching Abroad? Check out the JET (Japan) program, CIEE, Search Associates, and Dave’s ESL Café, but buyer beware. Do your research to find a credible program.
  • The Peace Corps, may be a great option for you. We have the most amazing Peace Corps Employer-in-Residence. Make an appointment with her and stay tuned for her blog.
  • Connect with panelists at our events. Career Development has a program called Build an International Career on March 27th and Global Careers Forum in the fall. Network with the folks on the panel.
  • Consider going from local to international—work here first and get selected for an international assignment or transferred overseas.  Case in point: My friend worked in Kenya with International Rescue Committee after working for them in Boston. Another friend’s starting the finance department at his company’s new international location. Also check out Foreign Firms Operating in the U.S. through the library or amazon.com.
  • Go on an International Co-op, study abroad, or a dialogue. While you’re there do information interviews. I’ve done a lot of info interviews and usually folks love to share their advice. Remember- the ASK is NOT for a job, just for advice. Do your research ahead of time and know what you want to ask.
  • Many companies have joint ventures with local companies overseas. Some Consulates/Embassies have the list in their business section.
  • Go overseas to your target country for a vacation or visit and check out some of the “Meet Ups” (always go to public places—now I feel like I’m channeling my Mom). Connect with others while you’re there and network. Check out American Firms Operating in Foreign Countries through www.uniworldbp.com or through the library.  If you have a work permit, or EEU citizenship, you can always sign up to temp…but know it’s really hard. It’s a job to get a job, and even more so in another country—especially if you’re not a native speaker. Our international students here at Northeastern understand that very well as they’re going through it themselves in the US.
  • Check out the Advanced People Search on LinkedIn.com. You can type in Northeastern University for the school, click on your target country, and find alum overseas, or do info interviews with NU alum who have worked in your target country but who are in the Boston area.
  • Here are some additional sites. Just remember that while being on line can feel efficient, it’s rarely effective without networking. There are meta sites- like Monster with their world-wide gateway and local sites that specialize in specific countries. Remember to use your Northeastern Network, Husky Nation, and Husky Career Link. Check out: Riley Guide, Overseas Digest, 4 International Careers & Jobs, and InternationalJobs.com. There are also professionally-focused sites that offer jobs internationally, themed by type of position; for example: Econ-Jobs.com, and others.

Want to learn more?  Make an appointment with Career Development! Be sure to check out our International Job Guide. Also check out this article How to FInd Your First Paid Job Overseas.

Ellen Zold Goldman is Associate Director at Career Development. She’s worked on a short-term gig at a non-profit in Greece, has coordinated an international co-op exchange program in Australia, directed study abroad at another university, loves international students, and as you can probably tell, she has a passion for anything international.