Can I spend £1k doing something useful in exotic supply chains?
July 16, 2012 11:02 AM   Subscribe

Volunteering abroad; three week Supply-Chain-project filter

I've been given a great opportunity to write a pitch for a no-strings £1,000 grant to use in 'self improvement'. This is something being offered by my employer, and there's no guarantee I'll get it, but I'd like to give it a damn good go.

My long-term career goal is to work for Medecins Sans Frontiere or similar organisation, setting up emergency supply chains following 'big events'. I've worked in Logistics, Supply Chain and Production for seven years (good start!) and have experience of managing people and projects. I'd like to get some wider experience towards my ultimate goal.

I am also desperate for a holiday.

I'd like to join these two things and pitch for the grant to work in somewhere like South East Asia for a couple of weeks, following it up with a holiday (at my own expense).

I am struggling to find any specialised companies to volunteer with.
If anyone has any specific recommendations that fit my requirements, that would make me so happy.

I would
- like my expertise to be really useful - so, a mini project?
- be able to spin this to my company as a 'career development' scenario
- like it to actually be career development
- like it to be safe for a single white female
- have up to four weeks to do this thing in

I would not
- want to be a burden on an already difficult situation (and am nervous about the language barrier)
- expect to be paid
- be phased about going anywhere alone
- have any linguistic skills to offer, so need to go somewhere where I can make myself understood in English
- want to teach English
- mind staying in the UK/Europe

Have you volunteered abroad using specialist skills for a short amount of time?

How did you find these opportunities?

Am I wasting my time without a second language?

Thanks in advance, AskMe!
posted by citands to Work & Money (3 answers total)
You may have more luck looking for 'internships' than volunteering placements. Most short placements (shorter than a few months) exist solely to get the 'volunteering fee', and not to help fill an actual need. (I think you wouldn't really have a valuable career development experience if you weren't tasked with meaningful work, or assisting with meaningful work.) It just takes longer to train someone, get them acclimatized to signficant cultural differences, etc.

Your intentions sound good - you might want to try and and 'create' the opportunity you want by calling up organizations and pitching a proposal - shadowing, interning, etc - because i suspect that the only three weeks opportunities you see advertised won't be ones that you'll be satisfied with.
posted by Kololo at 11:19 AM on July 16, 2012

To add to what Kololo said, there is a reason why many of the volunteering/internship opportunities charge a fee (numerous reasons). The main reason aside from the fact that it is incredibly difficult to accomplish anything sustainable in just a few weeks is that it is a heck of a lot of work for the organization that is hosting you to host you, and you end up taking away more from the experience than you give to them in a lot of cases.

I think it's great that you want to help with supply chain stuff because that's your area of expertise. I am no supply chain expert, but I am pretty certain that doing supply chain work in a developing country setting such as the ones Medecins Sans Frontieres work in is *completely* different than doing that work in the UK (i.e. trying to function within a system that doesn't work rather than a system that does work), so much so that your experience might become almost irrelevant.

I suggest letting go of the idea that you need to make a difference/do something useful, but absolutely pursue an opportunity to try to work on supply chains (or even something else emergency management related) somewhere (I'm sorry I don't have any specific connections for this, but I think there are thousands of nonprofits in Africa or Asia or Central America that might be possibilities) in the developing world, because having that experience will probably be pivotal in helping you decide whether you really want to do this sort of work in the future - I do not do this kind of work precisely myself, but I understand it to be quite difficult, emotionally draining, and frustrating, although I am sure that makes the moments of success that much sweeter.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:08 PM on July 16, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks both - I had a moment of panic after I posted this when I realised how moon-on-a-stick ridiculous I'm being about this opportunity.

I had suspected that the timescale I'm working to would make this very difficult.

treehorn+bunny, your term 'emergency management' makes me wonder if there's something more generic I can be doing instead to learn about the differences between my current job (which I would describe, on balance, as being more 'emergency' than average!) and the sort of thing I think I'm interested in.

I think I'm going to research some broader-brush logistics management learning opportunities (seminars, conferences etc) rather than trying for, effectively, a two week internship at my Dream Job.
posted by citands at 9:33 AM on July 17, 2012

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