What is “Leave for Change”?
Leave for Change is a subprogram of Uniterra, one of Canada’s leading international volunteer programs. The program offers individuals and companies the opportunity to contribute towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). While Uniterra offers longer term projects, the Leave for Change program is unique in that it offers shorter projects that last 2-4 weeks. These are well suited for professionals who may not be able to take leaves of absence, but would like to offer their expertise as a volunteer. For more details on how the program works for employers and employees and how you can get involved, please visit the Uniterra website at www.uniterra.org.
Can someone make a difference in 2 to 4 weeks?
This is the most commonly asked question and the answer is “Yes!” The key strength, and what makes short term mandates work, is focus. Since the partners know the volunteer is only there for a short while, everyone works more efficiently to maximize their time. Most people don’t have the same sense of urgency to get things done when a volunteer is on a longer term project.
Knowing some of the complexities and challenges in humanitarian work, I knew I had big shoes to fill when the organizers kept telling me that the last short term volunteers were incredible! In the end, everyone was pleased with the results and I received these kind words from the partner I worked with:
“Your courage to choose a country that experienced a decade long civil war, diligence to get things done rightfully, a skill-set to adapt to a new environment and upbeat and pleasant personal traits in combination mitigated all challenges to make the program successful.”
What was your mandate?
The partner organization and I offered a “Business development and social entrepreneurship awareness” seminar to 8 of the largest NGOs in Nepal. The NGOs in attendance dealt with a range of social issues such as healthcare, energy, finance, forestry, media, etc. The participants also varied in age and experience so the audience was quite diverse. We presented business concepts in ICT, marketing and finance as well as recommendations around potential income streams to minimize donor dependence. The feedback received after the seminar indicated that it was a great learning experience for them.
Leave for Change mandates are focused on capacity building, so unlike a reconstruction mission I did after the Tsunami in Sri Lanka, this was more of a knowledge transfer/educational project. While this project wasn’t in the field at the grassroots level, as many volunteer projects are, the transfer of skills was still a very satisfying experience.
Who did you work with?
My project was a multi-partner placement; however, I worked primarily with Magnus Consulting, a social enterprise based in Nepal. Magnus has only been active in Nepal for 4 years, but, arguably, they’ve done more for the country than some NGOs that have been there much longer. Their current focus is to bring ICT to local farmers in rural areas of Nepal.
The founders’ courage and determination to push forward in a country that is experiencing significant political change is inspiring. Their core values of integrity, transparency, good governance and efficiency in everything they do, make Magnus a good example of why social enterprises are the way of the future in driving social change.
Would you recommend this program to others?
Absolutely! After my experience with Tsunami relief work in Sri Lanka, I feel everyone, at some point, should volunteer in a developing country. My experience in Nepal further cemented that belief. A short term Leave for Change project is ideal as it allows you to sample volunteerism. Although humanitarian work isn’t meant for everyone, Leave for Change is a great way to get your feet wet! It’s an amazing experience both personally and professionally; I highly recommend it!
If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask as I’m happy to share my experience!