SPECIALIZED PROFESSIONALS: Volunteers Advance Prosperity

  • IMPACT Highlights

Because volunteers are professionals and passionate about giving back, they provide practical, tried and tested advice to their counterparts, resulting in jobs, trade, competitiveness and growth.

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Volunteers from the private sector are particularly well-suited to assist businesses in emerging economies because they understand how problems faced by businesses are not theoretical; they are unpredictable and can happen at any time. Volunteers carry the needed specialized, practical, and technical knowledge from their professions, allowing them to use their skills, experience, contacts, and knowledge to solve specific problems.

VEGA helped catalyze uptake of USAID’s Development Credit Authority (DCA) – unleashing private sector capital in emerging markets. When VEGA member International Executive Service Corps began implementing the Liberia Investing for Business Expansion Program (IBEX) in 2012, uptake of DCA backed loans was only 2%. Many Liberian entrepreneurs (pictured above), like their counterparts in other developing countries, operated informally and were ineligible for loans. At the same time, banks lacked customer service and underwriting best practices and risk analysis standards. IBEX recruited a mix of volunteers and consultants to advise both business owners and lenders.

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“With Liberia beginning to get back on its feet after the civil war, I thought it was a great opportunity to share my knowledge with bankers and business technical assistance providers because that’s what I do.”
– Mike Sturdivant, volunteer

I love volunteers because volunteers are trusted advisors … they become good friends for life and they have excellent experience that money cannot pay for. As a Chief of Party, I wish I had all volunteers because my budget would be used for other programming.
– Watchen Harris Bruce, chief of party, USAID Investing for Business Expansion (IBEX) program in Liberia.

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One such volunteer is Lucretia Freeman-Buster, a seasoned U.S. banker, small business advisor and Liberian- American. She trained bank officials to develop standards for analyzing risk, evaluated business plans, and advised businesses how to become eligible and apply for loans. She has stayed in touch with many of the people she met, and continues to advise business owners as they grow, and bankers who call her when analyzing loan packages. The work of volunteers such as Lucretia, and others with specialized expertise in agricultural lending and healthcare finance, have significantly increased use of DCA– backed loans in Liberia to more than 69% in only three years, unlocking $8 million in capital. During the Ebola crisis, IBEX worked with lenders to restructure loans, preventing firms from collapsing.

Volunteers have also significantly increased uptake of USAID’s DCA program in Ethiopia. VEGA launched a new DCA support program in Mali in 2015. These programs ensure that available finance is accessed by the businesses that need it, contributing to stronger, more vibrant economies.

RELATED Projects

Matt Cleaver first went to Malawi as a volunteer on a project managed by VEGA member Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture to assist a mushroom growing cooperative. But he won’t consider his work done until he solves a larger problem mushroom producers face in Africa, lack of viable mushroom spawn. A business and mycology consultant from California, Matt has been working with a Japanese volunteer he met on his first trip to Malawi to create a small mushroom spawn facility to help meet the needs of area farmers. He is looking to expand the work to the rest of Malawi as well as Mozambique and Zambia. Additionally, he and colleague Dr. Omon Isikhuemhen, from North Carolina A&T State University, are seeking investors and creating a network to establish a large spawn production factory in Lagos, Nigeria. With a profit margin of 80-90% regionally, mushroom spawn production is a good opportunity for the private sector in Central and West Africa.

At the request of VEGA member International Executive Service Corps, volunteer Susan Gurley, a non-profit leadership expert from Washington, DC, advised the leadership team of a Cambodian women’s health organization. While her immediate task was to help the organization become eligible to receive USAID funds, her larger goal was to help it develop a strategy to remain viable in the absence of donor funding. She mentored and led the team through changes related to board governance and management of human resources and financial systems. Her experience as a non-profit executive director, understanding the complexity of juggling multiple donors’ requirements, helped her quickly establish rapport with the team. Female executive directors in Cambodia have few peers they can talk to for guidance, but Susan quickly became that peer, establishing a friendship that has lasted long past her assignment.

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“I worked with an incredible Executive Director in Cambodia. I was able to give her my expertise on helping to strengthen their operations. At the same time, she gave me a different perspective on how I could do my job better in the US”
– Susan Gurley (pictured left), volunteer, in Cambodia