10 May 2012

Building an International Support Network for Isolated Aid Workers

Ed note: I invited Weh Yeoh of whydev, a friend to AVFTC, to write a post sharing a project that he and his colleague Brendan Rigby started. Have a read. - Tom

International development work is often difficult, exhausting, and isolating. Many people who seek to serve and live abroad often become burned out by the overwhelming nature of their work. In isolated places, often the only people you can turn to for support are your boss or your partner. For various reasons, neither of these are a good choice.

However, we know that the support of a peer is an easy and effective way to reduce stress, burnout and, just as importantly, have access to someone to bounce ideas off.

This is why we, at whydev.org, have decided to build an online platform where international aid volunteers and workers can connect and discuss their challenges and experiences, allowing them the opportunity to support others across the globe who are also making a difference. Knowing that the world of aid and development is under-resourced as is, we think our idea fits well. This service does not require more resources to be added to the sector (in the form of professional mentors, coaches or counselors), but rather, builds on existing resources that are not connected.

We would like to think that it’s the first of its kind – an international support network for isolated aid workers.

Luckily, we’re not the only ones who think this is a good idea. Since asking for expressions of interest earlier this year, we’ve had over 320 people sign up to our pilot program. This is great news for everyone involved, because the larger the pool, the more likely we’ll be able to achieve a good match.

One international aid worker said, “I feel isolated, uncertain and a little forlorn about finding my way into development-related work, and would like to have someone to share my experience with, who is perhaps also experiencing the same thing.”

It is perspectives like this that make us want to keep working towards creating this platform. But, this is where we need your help. We’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign over on StartSomeGood where people can chip in amounts of money, small or large, to help us get this project going. If you are reading this post, chances are you’re either working, studying or are at least interested in aid and development. Therefore, you’re probably the right demographic to understand the difficulties that aid workers can face across the globe.

Jennifer Lentfer, of How Matters, writes that having self-awareness of your own qualities and needs is crucial in becoming an effective aid worker. If you want to help us to build a future that supports the needs of aid workers across the globe, then this may be a worthwhile campaign for you.

If you are a frequent reader of A View From The Cave, then you would be familiar with Tom talking about the need for sustainability, no doubt. So, just how sustainable is your funding? Good question! Once the platform is built, we think that we can keep the service running by adding in a tiered system of participation, so that it is self-sustainable.

Our vision is that peer coaching should always be accessible at no cost, as we promised right from the start. That option will remain, and people will still be able to be linked up to suitable peer coaches around the world at no charge. However, we think that people may also be willing to pay a small amount of money to get a value-added service. As such, we’ll be adding in different levels of participation so that those who are willing to pay a little extra will get a little more out of it. Whatever we make from this can then be fed back into the project to account for running costs. That’s why seed funding is so vital for us – the major outlay is not running the program, but getting it off the ground.

We’d appreciate it if you would consider donating whatever you can to our StartSomeGood campaign here, and spreading the word far and wide about what we’re trying to achieve.

If you have any questions at all about our campaign, please do not hesitate to contact either Brendan or myself. We’d be more than happy to answer any questions.

For the final word on the topic, here is Brendan, speaking from Ghana:


You can donate to our campaign on StartSomeGood here.

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Weh Yeoh is a current job-seeker based in Cambodia. He is a professionally trained physiotherapist who has completed a MA in Development Studies at the University of New South Wales. With experience in the NGO sector both in Australia and in China, with Handicap International, he hopes to combine his interest in development and passion for visiting far-flung destinations in the future. You can view his LinkedIn here and follow him on Twitter here.

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