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Volunteer Overseas


Recession-worn British small business directors and entrepreneurs are increasingly abandoning Britain to join ‘Enterprise gap year’ schemes in developing countries.

More than half of the 60% increase in older volunteers leaving on gap-years in developing countries are British small business directors and entrepreneurs, according to Projects Abroad, the world’s leading commercial volunteer service organisation. Over 500,000 small businesses having ceased trading since the credit crunch began with over 50 businesses per day collapsing, leading to the increased interest in gap year programmes.

“As a result of the economic crisis, we have picked up significant numbers of people from the small business sector and entrepreneurs opting for gap years,” says Dr. Peter Slowe, Founder of Projects Abroad. “Rather than ‘Career Breakers’ as we used to call them. This group are ‘Career Escapers’.” They are getting involved in ready-made enterprise schemes ranging from an organic farm in India, a football academy in Ghana, an IT company in Sri Lanka and a web-design company in Mexico. Some are going for one month. In some cases 1 year. Even 18 months in countries as far flung as Peru, Mongolia, China and Bolivia.

The other half of the jump in older volunteers are redundant professionals using their final pay-cheques from the finance, telecommunications or media sectors to fund their trips. The overall increase in volunteers, including school leavers, is 11% year-on-year.

Instead of traditional ‘straight aid’ volunteering, entrepreneurs and small business directors are largely opting for ‘Enterprise’ slanted gap years. The volunteering industry for some time has been moving away from ‘straight aid’ schemes towards ‘Constructive’ volunteering. “Enterprise volunteering is the evolution of that general trend,” according to Dr. Slowe. Others are choosing Conservation and Environment projects, Human Rights, Law and even English as a Second Language. These projects are being assisted by practical on-the-ground support by British businesspeople in terms of marketing, seed finance, accounting and distribution.

Projects Abroad were the first volunteer organisation to join hands with Global Entrepreneurship Week, which promoted enterprise in 77 countries worldwide when it launched in November 2008. At the launch event at Southbank, London in the presence of Lord Peter Mandelson and Gordon Brown, two young entrepreneurs from Projects Abroad’s enterprise schemes in Ghana and India spoke via video message to the 500 strong audience before Sir Richard Branson’s video-message about Capitalist philanthropy.

Projects Abroad recently launched Enterprise to further encourage entrepreneurs to take up ‘Enterprise gap years’ as an option whether that be through Projects Abroad, other commercial operators of charitable organisations such as the Volunteer Service Abroad. Entrepreneurs such as Dragon’s Den star James Caan launched Projects Abroad’s enterprise scheme in Pakistan in March 2008. Nick Wheeler, Founder of Charles Tyrwhitt Shirts is a judge of the Enterprise competition, and Make Your Mark Organisation Chairman Peter Jones is a supporter.

Dr. Slowe is an Economic Geographer with a PhD from Oxford University, author of ‘Geography and Political Power’. He was the Chairman of the Labour Finance Industry Group when Tony Blair and Gordon Brown first came to power. He founded Projects Abroad in 1991. It has since become the world’s leading commercial volunteer service abroad organisation with recruitment offices in 13 countries, including Japan, Denmark and Israel, and projects in 33 countries worldwide.




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