By: Monica R. McClintock, MAODL, SHRM-SCP, SPHR
My July 2016 Master’s Thesis was an action inquiry associating volunteering in a cross cultural context to the development of leadership skills. It attended to my passion for volunteering, travel, and desire to provide a new methodology for organizations in the development of their leaders.
My research concluded that through the pure satisfaction of helping others achieve a better life, the rewards are personally and professionally infinite. People develop and cultivate leadership skills and behaviors. They develop a sense of purpose with something special to offer. Through volunteering abroad, organizations can prosper with strong leadership while also serving so many in need.
Throughout my research, many individuals from the United States and Canada willingly shared this special time of their life. They were delighted recalling their stories of joy, love, risk taking, difficulty, making a difference, and being transformed by helping others. They went to such places as Africa, Central America, Greece, Peru, China, Philippines, and Thailand. These extraordinary people provided care in education, healthcare, caregiving, food/agribusiness, and business. After each interview, I was inspired. I knew that this was something that I would do; to give back in some profound way.
I spoke with organizations that provide such opportunities for their employees. They cited numerous benefits to include improved morale, increased loyalty, and greater public and brand image. Upon reentry into the workplace, immediate changes were observed in their employees in areas of leadership development. Such observations, including additional data revealed in my study, included agility, adaptability, possessing a greater global perspective, innovation, creativity, improved ability to deal with ambiguity and complexity, self-confidence, learning on the fly, collaboration, maintaining calm under pressure, and gaining a greater understanding of others.
During my research, I learned of a nonprofit charity, A Broader View Volunteers (www.abroaderview.org). Their mission is to link volunteers to programs for needy communities in developing countries around the world. In August 2017, along with my friend (Theresa McGlinchey), we were on our way to Africa for two weeks. Along with much anticipation, we were overflowing with several suitcases of donated books, school supplies, puzzles, soccer balls, and so much more, all for the children of a very special orphanage/school located in a Liberian Refugee Camp in Buduburam, Ghana.
Some of our responsibilities were of educators to kindergarten through fourth graders. We issued, scored, and recorded final examinations, all done in English. We assisted with food preparation and delivery. We taught their first yoga lessons and ushered them to the beach for the very first time. We danced, played, and sang with the children. Most of all, we shared our joy and love with them. The children have very little, however, they have each other. They are bundles of love and delight right from the start, instantly winning our hearts. As corroborated in earlier research, we received so much more in return.
The orphanage founder and staff welcomed us with open arms. We felt safe and cared for in this new land. Fully immersed into the culture living in the camp, we enjoyed the local food made with such a labor of love, shopped often in the open-air food market (no refrigeration), attended worship with the family, and so much more. We traveled around the country on off days to experience Ghana’s beauty.
The national pride of their country was palpable. Along with learning a bit of the local language, Twi, we were agile and flexible, open to any and all needs and situations. Our creativity blossomed when structure was necessary. When faced with the unknown, we remained calm and receptive to new experiences. We have been enriched with a greater self-confidence, have gained a greater global perspective and appreciation for this special culture living a difficult daily existence in severe poverty.
We learned that beyond our many years of experience and education, what matters most is discovering who we really are. Knowing that we all have something special to give…offering ourselves as a volunteer in this society. In doing so, we simultaneously discovered so much about other cultures while developing our leadership skills and abilities. This transformative has been humbling and we urge organizations to consider volunteering abroad to develop their leaders.