Volunteer World is the largest volunteer abroad search engine worldwide
Please introduce yourself and your startup Volunteer World to our readers!
My name is Pascal Christiaens, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Volunteer World. Being a true global citizen, I’ve travelled extensively and visited many social projects across Asia, Europe & Latin America. I began my professional career with an apprenticeship at the German bank Sparkasse. After several internships, graduating from university and doing freelance work with clients within the financial industry, I founded my first company Volunteer World in 2013.
Volunteer World is the largest volunteer abroad search engine worldwide. We enable you to search and compare offers from large travel agencies as well as smaller local specialists and grass-root projects (NGOs) with only one click!
Volunteer organizations, on the other hand, are provided with an integrated application management tool to simplify the application handling and stay ahead of increasing demands. They are able to fully manage their profile as well as the incoming messages and applications themselves. During the application process, Volunteer World provides support to both, the volunteers and the organisations, ensuring a smooth process. This comparison platform is designed to guide both parties through a safe and easy application and booking process, including all necessary communication and payment tools.
How did you get the idea to Volunteer World?
When Felix, one of the founders planned his volunteer abroad stay, he decided to organise everything by himself instead of paying for an agency. However, getting into direct contact with an organization turned out a lot more complicated and time consuming than he expected. After returning from volunteering in Namibia, he created the blog “Team Social Work“ to share his experiences. After nine years of bootstrapping, Pascal and Felix decided to take their blog project to a professional level. Inspired by “Team Social Work” and supported by Christian as the Head of IT, their vision became reality with the launch of their comparison platform Volunteer World in July 2015.
How difficult was the start and what challenges did you have to overcome?
As a social startup, it is relatively easy to convince people of your idea and the good cause behind it, but it is all the more difficult to justify the financial return for your company. Especially in Germany social startups are still facing many reservations as social problems have always been tasks of the government or non-profit organizations for the past decades. Even though there have been many changes in this field, social entrepreneurship is still in the fledgling state in Germany. We do, however, notice that there are more and more open-minded investors for social enterprises, on personal and institutional levels alike.
Who is your target audience?
The target audience for international volunteering is very diverse. The classic example you would think of first are of course students and high school graduates who want to gain work experience, prepare for their future studies or jobs and spend some time abroad. Many volunteers are employees who want to take some time off work and do something meaningful during their holidays or even a sabbatical. Another big group of volunteers are retirees who would like to use their motivation and experience towards a larger goal. Generally we have made the experience that international volunteering is especially appealing to women as 70% or our customers are female.
What are the USPs of your startup?
Our aim at Volunteer World is to create a safe, quick and easy way for volunteers to communicate with and apply to social projects worldwide. With more than 1.000 organizations in 70+ countries worldwide represented on our platform, volunteers save an enormous amount of time finding the right program. The extended filter search, detailed descriptions and reviews from former volunteers make the search and comparison easy for everyone, no matter what they are looking for.
An extra security layer makes the communication and reservation process secure for both sides, the volunteers and the organizations. Our multi-step quality management process assures the high quality of our partner organisations around the world as well as their programs. To get featured on Volunteer World, every project has to meet our high standards for ethical work, especially in humanitarian and animal welfare programs.
When planning to volunteer abroad, there are many factors that need to be taken into account, like visa, insurances, personal circumstances etc. Chances are that at one point or another, there might be a change of plans for the volunteer. With our Flex Option, volunteers can change programs even after reserving their spot and use the deposit they have already paid to pay for a new one.
In the unfortunate event of a cancellation by a project, the Refund Guarantee steps in and provides volunteers with double security. The deposit can be refunded or be used for a different program and the project will refund any program fees that have been paid already.
Another important service we offer is our Resolution Support that helps you with any problems before or during your volunteering journey. The direct contact to project coordinators as well as the Volunteer World team makes it quick and easy to talk about and solve any existing problems.
Can you describe a typical workday of you?
There really is no such thing as a typical day for me. I travel around the world a lot to meet new partners and get to know social projects, but at the same time it is important to stay in close contact with the staff in the office. At Volunteer World we put great emphasis on team spirit and we believe that a good and reliable team is crucial for the success of the company. We are open to new concepts instead of the traditional office work, so the possibilities for remote office and flexible working hours are commonly used by many of our employees. One of the reasons that we find this approach working so well is that the people who work for Volunteer World show a high ability for self-motivation and are happy to work, no matter where they are.
Where do you see yourself and your Start-up Volunteer World in five years?
Volunteer World was founded to revolutionise the market of international volunteering and that is the goal we will keep pursuing in the future. In five years, we want to be the leading comparison platform for volunteers and organizations alike, offering highest transparency, fairness and ethical standards.
Already today, we are the first platform to work in accordance with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which have been developed as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. The SDGs are used on Volunteer World to show the pursued goals of each listed program which ensures a transparent and sustainable social impact of the volunteering programs. They also enable volunteers to decide which goals they want to contribute to during their meaningful journey.
The other important aspect we are constantly working on growing is of course the social impact. Volunteer World distinguishes between soft and hard targets to measure the social impact. As a hard target, total time of mediated volunteer work is measured. Since the company was founded, a total of 800 volunteers doing 23.000 days (equivalent to approx. 60 years) of volunteer work were mediated. The criteria to measure social impact via soft targets is an adaptation of the guidelines of Tourism Watch in cooperation with Brot für die Welt. These guidelines have been extended by Volunteer World with further criteria.
1. Promote sustainable volunteerism
2. Ensure child protection and increase the length of stay
3. Sustainable partnerships with local organisations
4. Avoiding poverty-oriented marketing
5. Ensure price transparency
6. Improve the selection of skilled volunteers
7. Improve the preparation of volunteers
8. Establish a follow-up process
9. Support of local projects by qualified volunteers
10. Sustainability of the social business model
What 3 tips would you give other Startup founders on the way?
The most important tip I would give to fellow startup founders is that you always have to get up one more time than you fell. There will be many obstacles and many times when it would be easier to give up and that’s when you need to keep going. I also think that it is very important to constantly remind yourself of the great responsibility that you have for yourself and for others, as power always comes with responsibility. And last but not least, never lose your sense of humor, no matter how tough and stressful the times are.
More information you will find here
Thank you Pascal Christiaens for the Interview
Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.