Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Use your IT skills to fight poverty

International development charity VSO is calling on qualified IT professionals to use their skills to fight poverty by volunteering in some of the world’s poorest countries.    

VSO works through volunteers who help tackle global poverty by sharing their professional skills. The charity currently has 25 volunteering placements for IT professionals in countries like Ethiopia, Malawi and Bangladesh. Placements are typically for one or two years, although there will be some shorter term positions, and all start in September 2012.

 The majority of roles are for IT advisors. Each placement will have specific requirements, however, they will generally involve: creating an IT centre, conducting training on areas such as web browsing, email management, the use of Microsoft Office’s applications, carrying out trouble-shooting and maintenance of client and server computers, supporting the on-going management and development of the IT centre as well as helping with procurement.     

Jon Rosser, interim director of VSO UK said: 'People want to work their way out of poverty and by sharing vital skills, VSO volunteers help them do just that. You’ll leave behind a lasting legacy and it’s this sustainable approach that makes volunteering such a cost-effective way to fight poverty.
'We urgently need IT professionals on board. IT volunteers have found the experience rewarding, challenging, exciting and an opportunity to enhance their own career while also helping to make a real difference.'

Volunteers need to have an IT degree (related degrees like maths and engineering plus IT experience are also accepted). Three years’ industry experience is required across a mix of IT competencies including database development, computer maintenance and networking skills as well as experience of delivering ICT training. 
Alan Mercer is an IT security manager from Cheltenham. He volunteered with VSO in Ethiopia for two years as an IT training expert.

'It was a wonderful and unique experience. Humbling to live and work alongside people who had very little but were willing to offer what they had to you as a guest in their country. You realise how lucky we are to be able to travel. It also makes you appreciate the things we take for granted in the UK, such as clean water, electricity, free education and healthcare.

'Given my background in IT security is quite specialist, I did not expect to move my technical skills miles forward but I certainly advanced many of the softer, personal skills. Teaching a group of IT guys was a great experience. I am certainly more confident standing in front of people delivering presentations. Mentoring IT guys was also professionally very rewarding and I got a great sense of satisfaction seeing them implement the skills I had taught them. 

'On my placement, there were periods of free time e.g. in the evenings, so if there’s a technical skill you want to learn, this can be a good opportunity. In addition to your VSO volunteering, it’s very useful for your CV. I took a course on satellite technology and passed an entry level qualification. And when I wrote the training courses on networking I refreshed my Cisco skills and passed my Cisco Network exams when back in the UK. 
'I would also say that the VSO pre-departure training is some of the best I have ever had, and I have experienced over 20 years now of different training courses for both technical and business skills. It equips you so well for the adventure ahead and has a number of crossover skills for use when you get back - such as presentation skills, teamwork, problem solving and participatory skills.

'If you’re thinking about volunteering, do it! Don’t be an ‘if only’ or ‘I wish I had’ person. Do expect challenges, tough times but also amazing unique experiences that you will keep in your memory for ever. In many cases volunteering is what you make of it. Go in positively, keep smiling and be patient and your efforts will pay off as you help make a difference.'

VSO does not charge individuals to volunteer and its recruitment policy is based on matching the right professionals with the right placements rather than on the ability to pay. Volunteers are provided with full training, flights, insurance, accommodation and a daily allowance to cover basic costs.

There should be almost no financial outlay for the volunteer apart from for their own social activities, travel during time off and other personal purchases. For individuals who own a home in the UK, most rent out their property for the duration of their volunteer post.

Interested IT professionals are being invited to VSO’s events across the country, where they can learn more about the volunteering opportunities currently available. Places must be pre-booked.                  
  • 26 June (London)
  • 7 July (Cambridge)
  • 14 July (York)
  • 17 July (London)
To book a free place or to find out about future events for volunteers go to

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