For years I've been telling people to go abroad. My argument has been simple: working overseas is personally and professionally transformative. It's good for you, good for your career, good for your company.
This is still true. However, today as never before, there is yet another option that more and more Americans and American companies are catching on to - one I think could make the proposition of working overseas even more enticing to many. It's what I call "getting ahead by going abroad...to do some good."
In short, it's about high-skill volunteering in a foreign land. This can take many forms, but let me give you just one example of what I mean. Say you're a logistics expert. You know how best to get things from point A to point B. Well, that's not only a skill your company needs, it's exactly the type of skill many humanitarian aid organizations need to carry out their relief missions, to get food aid from where it is to where it is needed, for example.
So, if you're interested, maybe your company would sponsor you to volunteer with one of these great organizations. It just takes a few months to help an organization deal with a particular long-term crisis or to help them build the skills and capabilities of their own staff on the ground whose job it is to do this every day.
High skill volunteering is a real win-win-win-win proposition in my book. You win by getting overseas experience (often in an emerging market), personal development and probably personal fulfillment. Your company wins from you getting this exposure and development. The non-profit wins as you've helped them carry out their mission and enhance their capabilities. And, the people that non-profit serves win as well since, in the example above, you've used your expertise to deliver the aid they so need.
At my company, Kraft Foods, we've been doing this for years. One program we've been running since 2001 sees several members of our R&D team competing to volunteer in developing markets on behalf of the UN. Each opportunity lasts about 8 weeks and the feedback we've gotten from the Kraft volunteers and the UN has been amazingly positive. Another example is the story of a friend of mine, Jeanne Shalvoy. In her early 20s she went off to volunteer in Africa. It was there she says she learned the skills and confidence to start her own business. Today, she is a successful business woman deftly juggling work and family. Volunteering in Africa was good for her, good for her company, and, good for those villages she helped.