In Challenges Worldwide, volunteers are placed in SME`s in sub-Saharan Africa as part of the ICS programme. This presents a unique opportunity for them to develop on a personal level, together with contributing to the development of a growing enterprise and as a knock on effect, the development of a nation. It is the appeal of having a social impact upon a developing nation that attracts many of the 18-25-year-olds to ICS, whilst a sustainable model of business development attracts them to Challenges Worldwide in particular.
Responsibilities as a Challenges Worldwide ICS Team Leader
As a Team Leader, we have a certain level of responsibility for the volunteers and their progress on this placement, playing the role of mentor and being a port of call when any issues may arise. Three weeks in to this placement in Lusaka, a common issue that has arisen is that of social impact. Volunteers question how, what and who they may be having an impact on – if any. There is a myriad of enterprises here, ranging from the well run to the amateurish. Ones with money to invest and ones with none. Ones with socially conscious owners and ones motivated by money alone. Ones willing to listen to recommendations and ones who aren’t. Many of these factors within the enterprise present a host of obstacles which can cause volunteers to question one of their major, and in some instances primary, objectives for joining this programme. For example, in a well-run business, it can be difficult to see what changes can be made and so how a social impact can be made. In a business with money to invest, the owner may be risk averse and unwilling to invest. With a socially conscious owner focused on making a difference, it may be difficult to convince him that the business needs to be managed differently to ensure longevity and continued social impact. In an amateurish business, it can be difficult to convince the owner of the benefits of record keeping to secure potential investment.
There is a myriad of enterprises here, ranging from the well run to the amateurish. Ones with money to invest and ones with none. Ones with socially conscious owners and ones motivated by money alone. Ones willing to listen to recommendations and ones who aren’t.
When faced with the above challenges or similar, questioning who, what and how you have a social impact is perfectly natural. Another thing to remember is that it is rarely ever one volunteer questioning. Many others are doing the same whether they raise the issue with Team leaders or not. Having spoken to several volunteers it has become apparent that a key factor in creating a social impact is mindset. Having the correct mindset is, in fact, imperative and with it, many of the obstacles faced become surmountable or certainly more manageable.
Social Impact Mindset
This mindset involves having the determination to create social impact. The ability to keep going despite obstacles. It`s about recognising that nothing worthwhile tends to come without considerable effort and social impact is no different. It`s about recognising that social impact is not a walk in the park, it rarely comes easy and small gains are often hard fought. It’s about being appreciative of those small gains and realising that having a major impact is often unrealistic, certainly within a three-month time frame. It’s about recognising what constitutes social impact is often subtle and rudimentary in nature such as a conversation which plants the seed of social responsibility in the mind of a money-hungry entrepreneur or providing a basic spreadsheet to one that does not have documented financial records. It’s about being aware that we cannot control every single factor and we cannot force others to make lasting changes but we can definitely make a strong recommendation and that may constitute the social impact. It involves understanding that the opportunity for social impact comes in different guises and often in ways we may not be expecting. For example, rather than having an impact on the enterprise or owner it could be about having an impact on an employee by helping them to secure a promotion. Alternatively, it could be impacting our counterpart by helping them to secure a job.
Social Impact as a Team Leader
As a Team Leader, it becomes apparent that part of our responsibility is about helping to cultivate and cement this mindset within volunteers. It’s about bringing them to an understanding that often social impact is about where we place our focus and being happy that it is our intentions which are then acted upon morally and ethically which count. After all, not every social impact can be quantified and will always be subject to opinion. In cultivating this mindset within volunteers, we are in my opinion, helping to develop one of the cornerstones of what is required to be an International Citizen.
Written by Arindam Shome – Team Leader in Lusaka, Zambia