MovingWorlds: Volunteering for Good

Moving Worlds staff on location.
Moving Worlds staff on location.

MovingWorlds is a shorter Peace Corps

By Eleanor Harte

A MovingWorlds team. MovingWorlds photos.
A MovingWorlds team. MovingWorlds photos.

People looking for volunteering opportunities to use their professional skills in an international capacity but who feel lost in finding a project that does good may have just found their perfect match. The powerful combination of social enterprise and volunteering is what led Mark Horoszowski and Derk Norde to found their organization MovingWorlds a few years ago.

The organization takes global companies that need help and pairs them with willing, talented volunteers for a time period of anywhere from one week to one year. They do this through a web-based matching program. The company’s projects are skills-based, “like a shorter Peace Corps,” said Horoszowski.

Users create an account and pay for a membership. This allows them to browse the listings of organizations that MovingWorlds has partnered with, and potentially match up with them if they’re interested in working there.

There are three levels of membership, each with its own level of services from the company. The first level, for example, offers access to matches and help with the planning process, at a cost of $99 for one year. At the highest level, MovingWorlds offers a personal travel manager, custom opportunities and an account manager who’ll find the perfect opportunity for you. That costs $999.

Most people go for the middle ground, the full access membership that includes personalized assistance and custom opportunities if you don’t find something you like on the website. That costs $249 for a year’s membership, which includes unlimited matches. All membership levels come with a guaranteed match, or you’ll get your membership fee back.

The Talent Gap

In 2010, Horoszowski left his job in corporate America to travel the world and to figure out how he could work in a career that made money but allowed him to do good for the world as well. He started writing about this journey, and people started reading it. He met Norde in Buenos Aires at a networking event, and they decided to form a partnership.

Their company is based on the idea of the “talent gap,” a kind of Catch-22 situation that Norde describes as a main problem in the barrier to progress. It’s a gap that can keep locally led organizations from reaching their full potential. Until they reach that potential, they often can’t receive grants or funding. But many times they can’t afford the quality employees that lead them to their highest potential, or the training to teach themselves.

“This is one of the biggest global development challenges, lack of access to skills,” said Horoszowski. “We took this idea and slowly but surely the idea grew and evolved.”

He described the site as a part matching site and part global support team. The team works to find skills-based ethical projects that can create sustainable impact, generally with growth-minded organizations that are pursuing capital – in layman’s terms, the grants that they can use to take their companies to the next level. What volunteers do is help get them to that next level.

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“The most precious things anyone has are their time, heart and mind,” said Horoszowski. This is part of the reason why MovingWorlds volunteers, who are referred to as “experteers,” are not charged additional fees by any of the volunteer organizations. They’re already giving their time, hearts and minds.

“Go With the Flow”

Sarah Horrigan and Misoji
Sarah Horrigan and Misoji. Sarah Horrigon photo.

Sarah Horrigan worked in a Tanzanian startup for two months. She served as an English coach for voice actors translating a television show into English to reach a wider audience in Africa. The startup, UBONGO Kids, makes cartoons that teach children math and are shown on Tanzanian National Television. She’ll soon be going back to work at the same company for another two months.

But that’s not what she initially planned to do with her time abroad. She thought was going to be teaching the actors English so that they could give presentations about the content of the show to potential funders. She did some of that, but her role ended up being more focused on the English translation of the show itself. This is one example of why she believes it’s important to ‘go with the flow’ of the experience.

Michael Robinson worked at a college in Ghana doing photography and fundraising for three weeks and said he would tell any prospective volunteers to have an open mind and not force your beliefs on the culture you’re visiting. “It was a great experience and helped me appreciate so many things I had taken for granted,” he said.

Jamie van Horne has been an Experteer three times, in Amsterdam, Bangkok, and South America. She described Experteering as an “as an intensive international MBA with a heavy focus on cultural competence.”

She worked on strategic planning in different capacities for three different entrepreneurial organizations, and loved her experiences. “They had a wealth of really interesting and exciting opportunities to choose from,” she said of MovingWorlds.

Typical Volunteers

There are three typical types of MovingWorlds volunteers, according to Horoszowski. The first is an early to mid-career professional who’s looking to take their career to the next level and use their skills in a new capacity. The second is an early retiree, whose kids are out of the house and is looking for a new adventure. The third is a mid-career professional, who’s been working for fifteen or twenty years and is looking to take a sabbatical.

There are projects for all of these volunteers and their skills, and if Experteers don’t see a project they like on the website, the MovingWorlds team will have a Skype call with the Experteer to discuss their skillset and will work to find them a custom opportunity matching that. Often the hosting organizations provide free housing for Experteers.

Deana and her team. Deana Jirak photo.
Deana and her team. Deana Jirak photo.

Deana Jirak said she instantly connected with Horoszowski’s vision because she’d see some of the problems he was solving firsthand. She was matched with a fair trade organization in Guatemala called Maya Traditions Foundation and was in charge of a total redesign of the website.

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This was the perfect match for her skills as a UX designer, and though she could only physically be in the country for a week, she worked remotely before and after her visit for a total of eight months.

“Make sure you will be utilized in a way that matches your skillset uniquely that isn’t taking jobs away from locals,” advised Jirak. “Make sure there is a sustainable plan in place that what you’re working on will have a positive impact well after you leave. Basically, just do your research. MovingWorlds is a great place to pick because they do these things for you.”

“I would suggest using them for their well-thought-out process, and also for the fact that they have expectations for the host companies, said Horrigan. “For example, UBONGO Kids provided me with free room and most of my meals, which made the cost of experteering for 2 months manageable for my budget.”

MovingWorlds has a planning process ahead of time and worksheets that Experteers fill out before they go. It’s a way to create a plan with the organization they’re working for. They take that planning process seriously, and Horoszowki said though some people complain about the length of the questionnaire, afterwards many of them say they wish they spent more time planning ahead of time.

Shut Up and Listen

“It’s important to begin with the right mindset,” said Horoszowski. “Shut up and listen to the people who know what they’re doing, basically.”

MovingWorlds measures success as something that happens one year after an Experteer leaves. So if the project and systems that they put into place are still working and useful a year later, that’s considered a success. It’s not based on immediate results, because those aren’t lasting.

“Volunteering abroad creates an opportunity to truly experience a new culture in a way that travel alone cannot. It also builds relationships that last a lifetime and positively impacts the hosting organizations.

For example, the innovation lab I helped plan in Thailand is now providing amazing opportunities to young people, and I think that’s pretty cool,” said van Horne.

Horoszowski said that Experteers have as much to gain as they do to give. “You can go and make an impact, but you’ll be impacted as well.”

“Volunteering abroad can seem intimidating, but MovingWorlds makes such an endeavor attainable by just about anyone, which I think is really incredible and has the potential to create some seriously positive change in so many ways,” said van Horne.

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