US Volunteer Eleanor Bedford
Volunteering at Ashoka, I’ve found that big picture, large-scale systems change isn’t just an aspiration and innovation isn’t just an ideal. They are real -- it’s what Ashoka does every day. After two decades of work in human rights, humanitarian relief and international development, it’s like a shot in the arm of inspiration each week! I support Ashoka-US and the Start Empathy initiative by interviewing teachers, principals and students in the growing network of Changemaker Schools to help capture good practices and share their stories, ideas and inspiration on the Start Empathy Blog.
Michael and Marguerite Mitterlehner
We took a one year sabbatical to travel the world and work with social entrepreneurs to apply our business skills for the social good. Previously, Michael has worked in Goldman Sachs' Corporate Private Equity division and then co-founded and scaled an e-commerce business while Marguerite was part of an elite management program with Reckit Benckiser in France and Spain. Given our private sector backgrounds and our conviction that real social impact needs a sustainable financial backbone, Ashoka Fellows were a natural fit. They spoke the same language, were focused on the same objectives and could very clearly see the value of our advice. In these projects, we:
- Led and participated in fundraising discussions with a broad range of investors, including the IFC (World Bank Group), LGT Venture Philanthropy, Blue Orchard, GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit)
- Revised and put together business plans and prepared Investor presentations for fundraising discussions
- Created communication strategies
- Developed a franchise strategy and market entry strategy for a chain of low-cost optical stores
- Developed a full turnaround strategy for a white label business, including the build up of a branded business line, opening of a new office in the target market, investor strategy and business valuation and marketing strategy
- Developed a detailed 2013 Marketing plan and high level 5 year Marketing strategy
Michael Waas Smith
"Volunteering with the Ashoka Awards team has been a great way to learn more about the incredible work that Ashoka fellows are doing every day. It is a wonderful way to stay connected to social justice issues and learn about cutting-edge social and environmental activism — and to help Ashoka amplify the work done by changemakers all over the globe."
"I recently volunteered with the non governmental organization Impulse in Shillong, India. Shillong is a city in Meghalaya--one of eight states in the north east region of India--where I had traveled to learn about human trafficking and to work with Impulse regarding successful preventative measures. My specific task as a volunteer was to evaluate a 12 month anti-human trafficking campaign called the ‘Cross Border Anti Trafficking Initiative’ which had been supported by UNIFEM and had been ongoing throughout the eight states in the north east prior to my arrival. During the evaluation that I conducted I attended border security force and NGO meetings regarding the campaign and the current situation of human trafficking in the region; I did a mass analysis of secondary data which had been collected throughout the 12 months in which the campaign was launched; and I traveled throughout three of the eight states to conduct interviews with NGO heads and individuals who had been involved in the anti human trafficking campaign at a grassroots level. Through the abovementioned research I created a final report on the Cross Border Anti Trafficking Initiative which addressed the successes and challenges of the project, as well as whether or not the proposed criteria for the project was met and how effective and far reaching the educational initiatives were overall. I was also was given the opportunity to use my analysis to create proposals for the Chief Secretary of the Government of Meghalaya, as well as the Social Welfare Department, which addressed the situation of human trafficking in the North East region of India and highlighted what future anti human trafficking campaigns should entail.
I gained an incredible amount of professional experience through my volunteer work with Impulse; for example, I learned how to effectively network and lobbying for a social cause, how to set up and conduct a successful interview, and how to assess a campaign which has been simultaneously launched in numerous locations for an extended period of time. The environment that I worked in was dedicated and encouraging; I was treated as a professional, a friend, and a colleague working toward improving social equity and advocating for human rights and was wholeheartedly welcomed to the Impulse team. I also underwent extreme personal growth throughout the enculturation process of living in another country, overcoming language barriers and traveling alone to and from India. It was an experience that has been unparalleled in my life and has significantly inspired me continue traveling, learning and volunteering my time toward a greater social justice."
Michael Mangano, Michael Silvestrini, Paul McManus, advisor (pictured), Emily Farwell, Michael Mann, Dami Ogunmola
"As a team of five students studying International Relations at Boston University, we wanted to have a meaningful impact while learning about grassroots development in Africa. Ashoka welcomed us into a partnership with their Nigeria field office. We helped plan a resource center for social entrepreneurs, provided advice on an energy audit, and worked directly with an aspiring Ashoka Fellow on his business plan. We forged meaningful relationships and are happy that an organization like Ashoka is successfully supporting grassroots development."
"As a volunteer with the Ashoka Awards Team of Global Fellowship, I truly felt like a real part of theAshoka community, and I was by all means treated as one. I was responsible for researching and writing nominations for Ashoka Fellows eligible to win strategic and prestigious awards, which tangibly influence Fellows’ careers as well as their lives. Learning about Ashoka Fellows was not only inspiring, it was also strongly motivating and encouraging."
"To be associated with Ashoka as a volunteer was akin to returning a favor to society in a positive manner. The vision and concept of Ashoka has had a great influence on me, improving my perspective on life. Working for the volunteer coordinator, I was responsible for helping determine the impact of the volunteer program, and I helped manage correspondence and volunteer requests from Ashoka staff and Fellows from around the world. It was challenging to analyze and respond to the sizeable number of future volunteers. The complete experience was stimulating and enriching. My sincere thanks goes to the Ashoka team for making my affiliation memorable and fulfilling."
"During my one-month internship with Ashoka Fellow Hasina Kharbhih and Impulse in Shillong, India, I was inspired by the organization’s efforts and success. I was especially impressed by the Impulse staff members’ strong work ethic and dedication to creating social change. During my internship, I gained insights into issues related to the prevention of human trafficking and HIV/AIDS, which made a lasting impact on me.
My project responsibilities for the internship were to provide content analysis and development for Hasina’s website. While tasked with my website-related assignment, I was included in various events related to the organization. In addition, I helped to organize a poetry meeting on women’s issues attended by local female poets and members of Kolkata’s American Center, which added yet another facet to my understanding of Impulse’s community relations.
However, the significance of Impulse’s mission and the organization’s successes were most evident to me when I had the opportunity to interact with survivors of human trafficking. These various interactions and organization’s resources helped me to gain insight into the tragic problem faced by women and children in Northeast India who are exploited for the sex trade and child labor."
"Although I was admittedly nervous about spending three months so far off the traveler’s map (in Shillong Meghalaya, India, working against human trafficking with Ashoka Fellow Hasina Kharbhih) as a writer and editor, I was also happy to know that I could put my professional skills to use as a volunteer. It was important for me to feel as though I were making a true contribution and not just doing something that just anyone could do.
My work at Impulse mainly consisted of writing, revising, and editing external documents for the organization; through that work I had the opportunity to work with a variety of other Indian and international organizations. Using my education background, I also assisted in creating training modules to be used by the government of Assam and UNICEF. Working with either of these entities from the U.S. would have been nearly impossible for me at the time; however, working with Impulse made the connections possible.
I saw first-hand how a successful organization (and those who are a part of it) manage finances, network with other organizations and stakeholders, and generate excitement around the idea; all which will be a huge help when I work to launch an NGO focusing on media and human rights this year.
Although I’d heard good things about Ashoka while in the U.S., after working with a fellow, I now believe what I’d heard. There is definitely a mindset that separates Ashoka fellows from leaders of other social initiatives."
"I arrived in Shillong for a 3-month internship with Impulse NGO Network (Indian Ashoka Fellow Hasina Kharbhih) with no expectations, only the hope that I would learn and contribute a great deal. It turned out that the experience overwhelmingly exceeded any hopes I held, and would actually mark a permanent turning point in my academic and career goals.
There was never a dull moment at the office, as I worked on many projects at once, all requiring me to contact new people, visit new places, and research new subjects. One assignment was to evaluate Impulse’s Jingkyrmen Project, a targeted intervention of female sex workers in Shillong whose goal was to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. This required me to travel to every locality in Shillong city to conduct primary research among all of those directly and indirectly involved in the commercial sex trade, including clients, sex workers, and even headmen. I also evaluated Impulse’s progress in the prevention of human trafficking in the North East, which it pursued under the sponsorship of the UNODC and US State Department.
While compiling the histories of these projects and evaluating their success on behalf of their financial sponsors, I also worked with Impulse staff to plan, coordinate, and carry out state consultations for anti-trafficking in humans. I traveled to Assam, Tripura, and Sikkim to attend these state consultations, where I gave presentations on the global scenario for trafficking in persons, and helped stimulate discussion among focus groups of attendees while they prepared recommendations for an action plan on the prevention of human trafficking in their own state. Sometimes I was denied a permit for entry into a state, so I would take up other Shillong-based functions of Impulse staff while they traveled. For instance, I taught several classes on human rights at St. Edmund’s College as a substitute for Impulse lecturers. In short, I loved the fast pace and excitement of never knowing what new assignment or challenge would come up next!
While working hard, I was also able to learn about and experience a lot of India’s history, culture, and current affairs. Impulse staff provided wonderful support, taking me shopping in bazaars, preparing local dishes for me in their homes, explaining the complexities of Indian government during the president’s election, and taking me on trips to special festivals or nature preserves on the weekends. They lent me books and music by Indian icons, taught me to cook roti, and brought me along to celebrate birthdays with their families.
I also learned a lot about myself, developing important skills that will be invaluable to me in my future career. Most importantly, I improved my research, public speaking, and organizational skills under tight deadlines and intimidating pressure. I learned to manage independently with limited resources in a sometimes unstructured environment (like bahnds and the rainy season!), as well as communicate complex ideas to multicultural and high-level audiences. But the most important thing I took away with me was a lifetime dedication to human rights and international development. Impulse has changed my career goals by redirecting my interest to this sector, and my subsequent endeavors have all been related to this field. I recently began learning Nepali and am interested in studying the state-level and regional policies of South Asia so I can help expand Impulse’s work across borders."
Global Volunteer Coordinator Beth Inabinett
In my eight years of connecting volunteers and Ashoka staff and Fellows, I have seen exciting collaborations ranging from enhancing media strategies to strategic alignment with global best practices to even national policy change. And there have been countless volunteers who have translated documents, researched important markets, designed materials for scaling, analyzed impact, and built systems that can sustain growing organizations in country after country. Ashoka volunteers are some of the best in the world -- talented, committed, proactive, and most of all, dedicated to systems change across the globe. They are part of our team of teams, and we value their contributions tremendously!
Joey Katona, Ashoka US
In my 2+ years with Ashoka, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working alongside literally dozens of volunteers. One particularly stands out; she decided to volunteer with Ashoka after 15+ years in academia followed by global management consulting. She volunteered to provide some legs to Ashoka’s “empathy in business” efforts. In addition to mapping out a highly detailed landscaping of empathetic businesses, she led the design of our very well-attended “Activating Empathy at Work” session during the 2013 Ashoka Future Forum, which featured Ashoka Fellow Molly Barker and Wharton professor/best-selling author Adam Grant, among others. This volunteer provided immense value to the Ashoka network, and I very much think of her as a colleague and friend today.
Ashoka Fellow Maria Baryamujura
I was connected to a volunteer who has been a blessing to our organization!
She supported us in building a very good interactive website which has greatly added value to our NGO, Cobati. Last year Lori and her husband, Michael included Uganda on their itinerary when they visited Africa. We hosted them around the communities we work with, which gave Lori opportunity to see Cobati in practice. Their feedback was very helpful and the pictures they took immensely improved our website. Kindly pass on to her and ASHOKA our gratitude.
Ashoka Fellow, Anita Ahuja
The last posting of Conserve's request for interns led to a very special collaboration with Michael from the UK, and Paige from America. ) We are together working on the branding of our online webstore. The store will be operational by August!
Ashoka Fellow, Ben Cokelet
Our internship announcement through Ashoka has been and continues to be amazing; several quality people have found us that way. While Philippa is no longer with us, copied on this e-mail is Tamar, our Interim Research Coordinator (paid staff), who initially started with us as an unpaid intern who found us through Ashoka. Proof positive that this continues to be a valuable recruiting tool for us.
From India Ashoka Fellow Mukti Bosco, Healing Fields Foundation, about volunteer Thien Nguyen-Trung
"I want to put it on record what a wonderful volunteer you sent us this summer - it was such a pleasure to host him at Healing Fields. He has added such tremendous value to our programme with lots of ownership, immersing himself and driving us to get his objective for Healing Fields met. His interest and drive to get at what he has set as goals to acheive has left a tremendous impact on me. His grasp of our work, and the study that he undertook before coming here to us on Healing Fields and the Micro Insurance sector shows his professional approach and helped him jump start his work. He is such a great self starter. It has been the first time that we have hosted an overseas volunteer and it was a very positive experience and we do hope to keep in touch with Thien and wish him all the best in his future. He has a bright future in his chosen area of Social Entrepreunership Development. I do hope that he will get what he desires. Warm regards."
"Thank you for so many volunteers: they helped build up our organization in terms of resources, documentation, research, and evaluation."
— Ashoka Fellow, India
"We have been successfully incorporated as a 501-3c NGO in Washington DC and our hosts and volunteers sit on the Board which has the responsibility of fund raising in the USA."
— Ashoka Fellow, Africa
"I am very impressed by the work team, the personal commitment of each volunteer; we could not find the money to do this translation. Thank you sincerely for the excellent work."
— Ashoka Fellow, Africa
"Youth Venture has benefited tremendously from [publication of the volunteer form] since we have had many people asking to serve as panelists on our selection panels. It even came in handy yesterday, when last minute a panelist dropped out and we got a new inquiry from the Arlington area who wanted to serve. It was perfect timing!"
— Ashoka Staff, Youth Venture