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Challenges credited for postgrad business placements

We’re delighted to get a mention  for our work with Cranfield MBA students in The Guardian’s recent article on postgraduate business placements:

Cranfield School of Management has seen a switch away from study tours to major growth markets – such as China and Brazil – towards field trips to developing countries. This year, around half of all MBA students volunteered to work in Uganda, Egypt, Ghana, Mongolia and Nepal. Lasting 10 days in June – and co-ordinated by Cranfield and the charity Challenges Worldwide – the trips take place towards the end of the course.

“MBA students can apply their knowledge to help small businesses in the developing world to structure their ideas and meet some daunting challenges. This is no easy option. There is real value in it for both parties,” says David Simmons, Cranfield international director.

For the full article, please see:

Challenges to Private Sector Development in Malawi

Tione Kaonga

Umodzi Consulting‘s Tione Kaonga reflects on the range of factors inhibiting private sector growth in Malawi in this insightful blog post.   Tione explores how issues such as the inability to save or problems with over-diversification and over-trading are due to a lack of entrepreneurship and business management skills.  He suggests that although the establishment of SMEDZI (the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Institute) and business development providers such as Umodzi indicate progress there’s still much to be done:

“Young people need to be incentivized to engage in entrepreneurship from a young age. Incorporating entrepreneurship in the school curriculum would help instill a spirit of enterprise in the young and in creating an enabling environment. Enterprise education will help the young to analyse business risks and to be risk takers especially where the rewards for doing business are enormous.”

The blog is published on The Practitioner Hub, an online forum aimed at promoting inclusive business which is facilitated by the Business Innovation Facility in partnership with Innovations Against Poverty.

Problems of voluntourism need to be addressed

Providing businesses with the means to grow is an advance on the misguided approach of the ‘voluntourism’ trade, says Amy Bodel in today’s edition of The Scotsman.

 Sri Lanka Market

REMEMBER the highly praised, purple-shirted Games Makers of London 2012? They kick-started a wave of enthusiasm for volunteering in the UK, and it’s encouraging that this seems to be continuing with recruitment for Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games. More than 50,000 people have applied to play a part in next year’s events, and half of those are currently being interviewed before the final 15,000 are selected.

The Games Makers developed a reputation as a dedicated volunteer workforce, giving up their time to make a valuable and worthwhile contribution. Some have even gone on to complete a national qualification – the Level 2 City & Guilds Award in the Principles of Customer Service – which recognises skills they developed last summer. This is a boost to their employability, to the hospitality sector, and has also done wonders to increase the profile of volunteering as a rewarding experience.

Things, however, aren’t as rosy when it comes to volunteering internationally. There has been great debate in international development circles over what constitutes a useful, constructive volunteering opportunity. Although those satirical “Gap Yah” sketches featuring Orlando – dubbed the private-school equivalent of Little Britain’s Vicky Pollard – on his travels or organising fundraisers for “Haiti, in Africa” elicit a chuckle, they do raise a valid point.

The “voluntourism” trade where volunteers of all ages travel to developing countries – albeit under well-intentioned premises of supporting charitable organisations – is a cause for concern. Volunteers, and even the organisations themselves behind such trips, can have worryingly little understanding and it’s unsurprising that these opportunities can in fact be detrimental to the communities they aim to support.

For instance, take the horror stories of orphanages where managers are actually incentivised to keep children looking poor in order to keep support and finance from voluntourists coming in. Yes, of course that’s an extreme example, but it happens.

Here at Challenges Worldwide, we’re a not-for-profit social enterprise and we provide volunteering opportunities that have a lasting positive impact on communities. We partner with local and international organisations such as Oxfam and Christian Aid to deliver projects which support the development of fair and inclusive local economies.

Our volunteers assist enterprises and entrepreneurs in low and middle-income countries to strengthen their skills and abilities, which in turn helps them to grow businesses that generate income, sustainable economic growth and alleviate poverty.

Rather than taking the voluntourism approach of tailoring activities to suit volunteers, our assignments are dictated by needs of the organisations we work with. From scoping visits and dissertation research to providing support on areas like business planning, financial management or marketing, our volunteers know they are an integral part of process in building local capacity and improving the resilience and sustainability of these organisations

Take SolarNow, a business selling solar kits to households and businesses in off-grid areas of Uganda. They needed help to implement processes that would allow them to offer customers a 12-month credit term. Volunteer Kevin Kennedy, an experienced consultant, spent time working with the local team to identify and implement new initiatives, develop a business plan and provided sales training:

“It is rare to see hard-won experience have such a direct impact,” he said. “In my case I was able to directly fill a management gap in operations and vendor financing. This allowed SolarNow to move from a consultancy with expert marketing and microfinance knowledge to a fully integrated distribution and financing company.”

The company is now a market leader in Uganda and operates franchises in Tanzania, Mali, Burkina Faso and Senegal.

Or take Jerry Comyn, who left behind a career in corporate advertising and is now on his fifth business mentoring assignment with us. Speaking about his time with Eco-Fuel Africa, a business which manufactures an environmentally-friendly alternative to charcoal, Comyn said: “I have agreed a schedule of deadlines with their director, Sanga. It’s a heavy list but he appreciates everything we are working towards. I have great respect for his vision and have no doubt he will achieve everything he sets out to do. I feel privileged to be part of that.”

We’ve now supported hundreds of organisations in over forty low and middle-income countries and we hope that more talented individuals will opt to participate in placements with proven impact instead of the gap year-style voluntourism options on offer.

We’d like to hear your thoughts, so please do join the debate on The Scotsman’s website.  If you are interested in volunteering with Challenges, please tell us about yourself by completing our online application form or dropping us an email   

Trade Fair Success for Umodzi Consulting

NASME Trade FairIt has been a busy month for Umodzi Consulting, the consultancy firm established in Malawi through our Scottish Government funded Capacity Building for Enterprise project.

Together with Ministry of Trade and Industry officials, Umodzi consultants opened the National Association of Small and Medium Enterprise (NASME)’s annual trade fair in Lilongwe.

The fair, which attracted participants from Malaysia, Kenya and neighbouring Tanzania and Zambia, is a great opportunity for businesses to both network and boost their sales.  Umodzi consultants offered business advice to both start-ups and more established organisations looking to expand.

It was also useful to see how small businesses were implementing skills they had learnt at a Umodzi-facilitated workshop on business planning the previous week.   NASME Chairman Mr Mwale thanked Umodzi for its support, sound business advice and asked for continued partnership.

Over 15,000 SMEs from a variety of sectors are members of NASME. NASME’s goal is to establish a vibrant SME sector that’s an engine for economic growth and prosperity through capacity building, access to finance, market linkages, the coordination of international trade fairs and liaison with key private sector stakeholders.

Umodzi has since arranged several business diagnostic meetings and is looking forward to working with these SMEs.

Business planning workshop


Invest in Women – It Pays

This week has seen one of the largest gatherings of policymakers, advocates and researchers focused exclusively on women’s health and empowerment to date.  Kuala Lumpur has hosted the 2013 Women Deliver Conference, calling on the global community to continue to place girls’ and and women’s health rights high on the global development agenda.

Whilst watching the Guardian’s live streams, we’ve been reflecting on projects which have empowered girls and women in low and middle income countries.  From supporting women’s development centres and enterprises which provide women with employment or smallholder opportunities, to facilitating research placements on women’s rights, we’re proud to invest in girls and women.

This investment in women at the Base of the Pyramid (BoP) helps them to develop business skills and income-generating opportunities.  Not only do they benefit from the income they receive, there are a range of socioeconomic benefits too such improved mobility, greater social interaction and more respect in the household.

Here are a few examples of organisations in our network who champion opportunities for women:

Income-Generating Opportunities

Eco-Fuel Africa are attempting to ease Uganda’s reliance on charcoal by providing an environmentally friendly alternative – a briquette made from agricultural waste such as old corn husks and sugar cane stalks.  Its franchise-type business model deliberately targets women as vendors, offering them employment and income.

We also supported a project in rural Bangladesh which provided extreme poor women with income-generating opportunities by selling Danone yoghurt.  Danone had previously struggled to sell its fortified yogurt for the poor but succeeded through these female sales agents under “Project Aparajita” – a Bengali word that means women who never accept defeat.

Educational Opportunities

Going to School is a non-profit trust which creates books, films and multimedia projects to teach enterprenurial skills to the children of India’s poorest slums and villages.  One of its latest programmes, Be! An Entrepreneur, is aimed at inspiring young people from underprivileged backgrounds to become entrepreneurs by creating businesses that solve the social, economic and environmental problems they face in their lives.

Every week 50,000 girls read a story and take part in follow-up tasks and projects such as Anarnika and Nivedita’s model mapping problems in their village.  Going to School also facilitate the Be! Fund which provides access to capital for young women who live in poverty.  For instance, the leaf plate making business in this video,  has already created 85 jobs for women.

Supportive Services

Over the last year we’ve sent volunteers to the Women’s Development Centre in Kandy.  A speech therapist and physiotherapist have both spent time working with women and children at centre’s Community Based Rehabilitation unit.

“The Community-Based Rehabilitation Program was not originally planned when we started our work. But we came across women who were left destitute, because a child was disabled. No one would take responsibility for this disabled child.” - Mrs. Pearl Stephen, WDC Coordinator.

The CBR offers support to the mothers of disabled children and our two mentors have helped to update the teachers’ skills and knowledge.

Researching Women’s Rights

University of Edinburgh student Tara spent time working with the Centre for Social Research, a non-profit, non-governmental organisation based in New Delhi. The Centre aims to empower the women and girls of India, guaranteeing their fundamental rights, and increase understanding of social issues from a gender perspective.

Tara was involved in researching factors behind the increase in the number of Indian women becoming trapped in fraudulent marriages to overseas Indians (or non-resident Indians/NRIs).  She was successful, not only in talking to women about their experiences, but in creating a platform for awareness and education for victims.

Do join the conversation on Twitter by using #WD2013 hashtag and following us @ChallengesWW.

Celebrating David Livingstone’s Legacy

We were delighted to join the University of Strathclyde in celebrating the bicentenary of David Livingstone’s birth and discuss what’s being done to keep the links he established between east Africa and Scotland alive.

International development professionals, academics and students joined with representatives from the Scottish Government, DFID, Scotland-Malawi Partnership and a variety of social enterprises, businesses and volunteering organisations to show that these links are alive and well today.

Here at Challenges Worldwide, we take pride in assisting Strathclyde students to participate in overseas work placements.  These opportunities allow students to collect data for their dissertations in a ‘real world’ context and enhances their employability.

So far, we’ve supported 13 Strathclyde students from 3 degree programmes to conduct field dissertations in 6 different countries.  You can read more about our collaboration with Strathclyde in this presentation given at the event by CWW team members Rebecca, Ben and Ruaraidh.

This summer we have 2 students from Strathclyde’s LLM in International Economic Law undertaking field dissertations with us. One is travelling to Malawi to work with Renew N Able, an environmental charity based in Blantyre. The student will support them with a report on the lack of interaction between science and research institutes and NGOs in the country.

The second student will work with Concern Universal in their Accra offices, Ghana, to collect data for her dissertation and to support the development of agriculture in the area.  She will also be investigating the legal barriers to the exportation of goods for smallholder farmers in the country.

A big thank you

Eco-Fuel Africa design

We put Graphic Design students from Edinburgh Napier University in touch with Eco-fuel Africa to help them develop packaging options for their clean burning fuel briquettes. Eco-fuel Africa’s Director, Sanga Moses, was thrilled with the designs and has selected a drawstring bag for the company to adopt.

Sanga is also looking into using a new box design, as suggested by the students, to distribute the briquettes.  The team at Challenges look forward to this exciting new chapter for Eco-fuel Africa and can’t wait to see the students’ designs come to life in Uganda.  Thank you all for your  hard work.

Eco-fuel Africa work with local communities in Africa to turn farm and municipal waste into clean burning fuel briquettes and organic fertilizers.  Sanga sold all of his personal belongings (including his bed) to build the first kiln and make the first briquetting machine and in November 2010, Eco-fuel Africa brought its briquettes to market.   

International Masters Projects Underway

MMM students' motivations for taking part

We’re delighted to be a part of the team behind Making the Most of Masters, a Learning to Work 2 (LTW2) initiative which allows postgraduate students to undertake work-based projects as part of their studies.

The students, from Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh, specialise in a number of different subjects from Carbon Management, Emerging Markets and Law to International Development. We’ve pictured a great word cloud of the students’ motivations for applying (thanks to Diane Gill @ MMM for generating this).

The first group has already arrived in Malawi to begin undertaking research for their dissertations, and there will be more setting off for Uganda, India, Kenya, Egypt, Indonesia over the next few weeks.

For more information on the students and the projects they’ll be involved in, please visit MMM’s designated blog.  We look forward to following the updates on their progress.

If you’d be interested in carrying out a similar project, there are still places available.  Please check the Research Assignments tab on our Current Opportunities page for more details.

It’s Never Too Late To…

Jerry with the team at Eco-Fuel Africa, on his first assignment with Challenges

Delighted that our international volunteering work received a mention on It’s Never Too Late To, an informative blog which offers advice to those nearing retirement or considering a change in their career.    It’s full of useful tips  to help individuals interested in new challenges, so do have a browse.

Upcoming Event



Challenges Worldwide is pleased to invite you to Sri Lanka Development: Partnerships – the Good, the Bad and the Uncertain.

At the close of our Sri Lanka Enterprise Development Project we want to share our experiences: our achievements and outcomes, as well as the challenges we faced and, the lessons we learnt specifically related to partnership working.  We aim for this to be an interactive session where attendees can also share their experience on partnerships in projects and develop consensus on best practice. We hope you can join us.

Date: Wednesday 17th April 2013

Time: 10 am – 1pm (includes a light lunch with an opportunity to network)

Venue:  The Vine Trust Barge, Prince of Wales Dock, Leith, Edinburgh, EH6 7DX

Please sign-up by emailing before 8th April 2013.

Challenges Worldwide is dedicated to alleviating poverty by helping to strengthen the skills and abilities of entrepreneurs and enterprises, to grow businesses that generate income, employment and sustainable economic growth.  We work in low and middle income countries.  We are a pioneering not-for-profit organisation with over fifteen years experience delivering expert support to micro, small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Challenges Worldwide provides a range of services including designing, managing and delivering capacity building projects. We also provide other services for clients including sourcing skilled and experienced mentors, as volunteers, to undertake a range of professional assignments.

The Sri Lanka Enterprise Development project was funded by the Scottish Government. The aim is to train and build the capacity of local business development management consultants to support the growth of SMEs.

Read all about it: January edition of NIDOS News

The latest issue of NIDOS News is now out and it’s jam packed with upcoming events and training opportunities, so well worth a read.  Look out for Challenges Worldwide’s Member Profile whilst you’re browsing:

Christmas Update from Challenges

Our Christmas newsletter is now live and will be dropping into mailboxes shortly.  If you are not already signed up to our mailing list, you can read the latest version here.

Interested in receiving future newsletters?  You can join our mailing list by clicking the plus sign in the top left-hand corner of your screen and entering your email address.

Access to Finance for Inclusive Business

Despite rapid growth in some sectors of Zambia and Bangladesh’s economies, there are still major imbalances which leave large sections of their populations living with extreme poverty, inequality and insecure livelihoods.

Challenges recently undertook studies commissioned by the Business Innovation Facility (BIF) to map the financial landscape for SMEs in both Zambia and Bangladesh.

Kieran Archer,  Director of Challenges Consulting, has written a short blog reflecting on access to finance for inclusive businesses in these two countries.  You can also access full and short versions of Challenges consultant, Barclay O’Brien’s reports on the landscape of SME finance in Bangladesh.


Pineapple chutney anyone?

Great to have Just Trading Scotland’s new bulletin drop through our letterbox this month.

JTS arrange for fairly-traded products to be imported and distributed in the UK. You can read more about what they do here.

Their bulletin is a nice read full of stories, upcoming events, even special offers on pineapple chutney and a recipe for rice pudding with marmalade.

It also mentions our volunteer, Gill Lowy, who spent six weeks working with Eswatini Swazi Kitchen, a jam and chutney producer in Swaziland.  Gill helped them to improve their finances and started a quest for new supporters.  JTS received three containers  of goods from the Eswatini Swazi Kitchen this year, which is a new record, so well done to all involved.

We look forward to reading the next instalment in January!

Voices of Entrepreneurs

Those in our network are warmly invited to the Voices of Entrepreneurs Publication Launch, to be held in Washington DC on November 14th.

Innovators. Risk-takers. Dreamers. Doers. Entrepreneurs.
Join the World Resources Institute (WRI) and New Ventures to celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week and launch of “Voices of the Entrepreneurs,” a publication that gives voice to a group of extraordinary people who are dedicated to creating environmental benefits through successful commercial enterprises. Learn about their challenges. Be inspired by the solutions. Join the effort to scale environmental entrepreneurship across the world. Hear firsthand one entrepreneur’s story and engage in a discussion led by experts from the international development, capacity building, impact investing, and philanthropic communities about how different stakeholder groups can enable greater success of environmental entrepreneurs.

You can find out more about the event and register here.


Blogging round up: The latest in Sri Lanka

Here at Challenges, we help the Church of Scotland’s World Mission Council to fulfil requests for highly-skilled and experienced volunteers from their partner churches across the world.

We’d like to introduce you to a couple of new volunteers who have recently arrived in Sri Lanka as part of this project.  We’ve arranged for  Nicola Yeeles, an English teacher, and Robbie Granozio, a Clean Energy Consultant to join the Theological College of Lanka.  You can follow Nicola’s and Robbie’s stories as they adjust to life in Sri Lanka here:



Clare Armstrong, a speech therapist, has been in Sri Lanka as part of this project since July.  Clare has done some great work with the staff and children at the Women’s Development Centre in Kandy and we hope she enjoys her last couple of weeks there.

You can catch up with Clare’s blog here:

If you’d be interested in volunteering with us, you can view our current assignments and apply today.


Consulting in an innovative Solar Energy Organisation

Kevin Kennedy, an experienced senior practitioner and consultant, was posted in Uganda for 6 weeks to help an innovative solar energy organisation implement operations and credit processes to support growth.

‘I was struggling to find a project where I felt my time and skills would be well used, and where I could avoid the risk of being a ‘development tourist’. I felt I had very relevant skills, and preferred to see them used – not just painting walls. Challenges Worldwide were able to address these concerns immediately in two principle ways. Firstly, their strategy for placing senior advisers is to offer them to clients on a heavily discounted fee basis. This seems to focus all parties on getting a good fit. Secondly, they embrace the reality of time as well as other constraints for their volunteers, ensuring productivity whilst in the field.
The actual project was to help an innovative solar energy organisation called Solar Now to implement operations and credit processes to support growth. Whilst out there, I was fully occupied working with the local team to identify and then implement specific new initiatives. From the onset the match between my skills and the needs of Solar Now was appropriate and the project developed and maintained a real momentum. I found the local team skilled and receptive, and the feedback they provided reassured me about my contribution. I congratulate Challenges Worldwide on recognising this potential fit beforehand, and then creating a scope that engaged all parties. My lasting impression will be of time well spent – learning and contributing in equal measure.’


A change of direction

Working as a freelance marketing consultant in Edinburgh, Fiona Gilmour decided it was the right moment to take time away from work and volunteer with Challenges Worldwide. Fiona took the opportunity to complete an assignment in Belize, where she established a communications strategy for The Belize Red Cross.

“I had wanted to do a volunteer assignment to quickly broaden my skill base and gain more experience. The Challenges assignment was also an opportunity to work in an environment where the focus was on beneficiaries and not shareholders, which was important to me.Challenges offered so many options that choosing a project was a hard choice but I finally decided on Belize. The preparation training course was excellent at establishing a group of people all with the same thoughts and feelings of nervousness and excitement that we had an opportunity to share and discuss. Many of us kept in touch in person and online providing a good support network while we were away.

Creating a communications strategy for The Belize Red Cross was important to them as it was part of their business plan and now allows them to communicate better with their audiences about what they do and will hopefully allow them to secure more funding enabling their sustained existence. I reported directly to the Director General and had a desk to work from in their HQ. I was generally working on the strategy on my own but needed input from most people in the organization with whom I met on a one to one basis to ensure I represented all views.

On a personal note I learnt a lot. Working in a different culture, and also temperature, ensures that everything slows to the pace that they are comfortable working at, not me. Each individual had a lot to share and contribute and listening rather than talking proved the best way to learn from others.

The work plan I completed in my first 2 weeks enabled me to track my own progress and ensure that the majority of objectives were fulfilled in the available time. It was essential to the organisation that the work was completed and they were delighted when it was. They would not have had the capacity or skills to do it themselves. There is a communications officer in the organiasation who, with The Director General, will ensure that the communications plan is implemented. There is also now a guide for each staff member within the strategy which should mean that anyone in a new role should be able to pick it up and know what their communications responsibilities are.

While in Belize I lived with a host family who had other foreign volunteers also living there. It allowed me to properly live in the middle of another culture rather than just observe it from outside. It was great to come home to a houseful of people and to be part of their weekend and evening activities.

Belize took some getting used to but by the time I left I was desperate to stay! Initially it appears to be shambolic and chaotic but beneath the exterior the people are warm hearted, friendly and there are some quite incredible places to explore. It proved to be a relatively expensive place to live and travel around but with some careful planning and preparedness to stay in basic accommodation weekends could be quite brilliant.

Outside of work the highlights were discovering pilates and yoga classes which ensured the battle against the delicious food was won and some good friends were made. Attending most events at the National Arts Centre also ensured a good range of cultural insights. Settling in was fine with the family being instantly welcoming you, work took some getting used to though with the main problem finding time to talk to my director who was continuously under pressure from all angles as she had to fulfill many roles that there was no funding to fill.


Social investment volunteering

Before working with CEPA for 3 months Alex had been working at the Scottish Government in Edinburgh. He was keen to contribute to the work of an organisation working in international development whilst at the same time increasing his understanding and knowledge of the relevant issues in this field.

Alex fitted easily into the team at CEPA completing two projects with them. Alex wrote a working paper on micro-insurance which contributed to the institutional expertise of CEPA on this important topic. He also created a database for CEPA which “was essential to the survey work of the team, enabling them to deliver the commissioned project and store and analyse the results of the household survey in the Badulla District of Sri Lanka.”

“My skill set and their team’s skill set were matched well, which was no coincidence since project specifications are designed to match the skills of volunteers with the requirements of Challenges partner organisations.”

Alex’s skills complemented the skills already present in the team meaning “the project was therefore sustainable and wasn’t a replacement for local skills but added a different angle to the team which could be built on for future projects.”

Whilst on assignment in Sri Lanka, Alex was given fantastic opportunities to discover the country. “I was grateful to be invited to many events and occasions while in Sri Lanka, such as the privilege of being invited to family occasions, musical and cultural events and being made a part of the team and its wider extracurricular activities.”

Reflecting on his assignment, Alex said “The Challenges Worldwide pre-departure workshop puts the assignment in context and provides advice on a range of practical issues. If I needed information at any stage I knew I could just get in contact. In Sri Lanka, I also met my assignment co-ordinator at regular intervals during the three months to ensure everything was going well. Thankfully, there were few practical issues when I was on placement, undoubtedly because of the preparation work done by the team before and during my time on assignment. My assignment leader at CEPA, Karin, also provided clear objectives, goals and tasks so that my work was able to have the intended impact and add to the work of the wider team. The assignment made me see a new way of working. With this experience, this has given me a lot of confidence to implement new approaches in future work. Working in a new setting changed my perspective in immeasurable ways.”

Since his return Alex has started his own business. He said “doing the Challenges assignment was integral to making me realise that I could approach the work I do in a different way, providing solutions to specific requirements where there is a need to solve existing technical and analytical problems in new ways”.


Business Development

On assignment with Challenges Worldwide volunteer Nicholas Dear managed to turn an idea into a reality. Nicholas had been running an Internet Service Provider in the UK before completing an assignment in Kenya, where he made an NGO’s vision happen.

Nicholas wanted to live abroad and experience a different culture. He chose Challenges as he “was impressed with the level of professionalism displayed through the Challenges website, the quality of the placements and their track record. Challenges stood head and shoulders above everyone else I looked at.”

Whilst in Kenya, Nicholas worked with Allavida an organisation that believes in utilising community organizations and social enterprises to create development. Allavida run the Kenya Social Investment Exchange (KSIX) which has created a sustainable organisation that will bring social investors together with social purpose organisations in an accountable and transparent manner.

KSIX began as a small project of Allavida’s, but within 5 months it became one of their main focuses. Nicholas was at the heart of KSIX’s development.

I was responsible for turning an idea of a social investment exchange in Kenya into a detailed model, business plan, and project delivery plan. I wrote the concept and the business plan which was incorporated into the financial application and was instrumental in achieving one of the highest grant given by Rockefeller to date.”

Being completely new to social enterprise and development work Nicholas learnt about the industry as well as the importance of building relationships and networks to assist in achieving work objectives.

Nicholas took Swahili lessons in his spare time and having met many Kenyans he travelled extensively throughout Kenya fully exploring the country and culture. Nicholas now lives in Kenya and is a director of KenyaBuzz – the country’s leading event and lifestyle information provider as well as carrying out other consultancy work.

“Challenges gave me the opportunity to broaden my horizons and open my eyes. It’s certainly changed my outlook and has been one of the best decisions of my life.”


Legal reform in Belize

Challenges Worldwide volunteer Raheel Khan, worked with the Women’s Department of the Ministry of Human Development in Belize drafting domestic abuse legislation.

I decided on voluntary work after many years of increasing disillusionment as a corporate lawyer where the only impact I made through successful cases was on the balance sheet of my client bank or company. I had a desire to make a positive difference and use the skills that I had for what I perceived to be the greater good. I was even considering leaving the professional altogether. It was at this juncture in my life that I came across Challenges Worldwide. Challenges offered me an opportunity not only to expand my existing skill set but also to discover new skills and gain experience working in a completely different setting and with a completely different agenda whilst still working as a lawyer.

Being a somewhat bolshy city lawyer I specifically asked for a demanding placement which was commensurate to my years of post qualification experience. I was placed with the Women’s Department of the Ministry of Human Development in Belize City. My principal objectives whilst working as a volunteer lawyer with the Women’s Department in Belize was on the implementation of the new law concerning domestic violence. This was at a time when the Domestic Violence Bill 2007 was about to come into force, the first substantive legalisation in this area in 13 years. I had no prior experience of working on gender issues or law and undertook my placement with a certain amount of trepidation. Nevertheless I set my mind to seeing all the challenges as part of the adventure, something that became a bit of a mantra for me in my time there.

I had an ongoing duty to train the judiciary, Police and officers of Government Departments and NGOs on the new law and procedure. This together with my other objectives all required me, in a relatively short time, to fully grasp an area of law, practice and national policy in which I have had no prior experience.

I was also tasked with working on a national policy document, the National Plan of Action for Gender Based Violence 2007 -2009. I had to finalise the policy document for publication by the expiry of my three month placement. In order to do this I had to liaise directly with the heads of each of the 21 stakeholder organisations to the National Plan with regard to their respective stated commitments. I had quickly acquire a full grasp of the Policy and the role of each stakeholder organisation within a very short space of time. The organisations in question were as diverse as NGOs and government departments and as there was a degree of overlap between their respective commitments it was a delicate exercise.

I was also asked to write and publish a Men’s Handbook on Domestic Violence as a counterpart to the existing Women’s Handbook. This Handbook was to inform readers about the problem of domestic violence in it various forms as well as encompass the relevant law in an accessible form. This was both enjoyable and challenging. I found I had a lot of control over the format and the content of the handbook and undertook research by interviewing a broad cross section of men from all parts of Belizean society ranging from prisoners at Belize Central Prison through to the Chief of Police and a former Brigadier General of the Belizean Defence Force.

I publicised all of the above work through interviews on national television and radio. One of my most rewarding experiences was hearing my summary of the new legislation being read out on national television by the Attorney General as part of one of his speeches. I wonder what the chances are for this ever happening in the UK?

My time in Belize has been rewarding in so many ways but I really think I got the most out of it by living as a Belizean so far as I could. My host family was wonderful and supportive and not only provided me with a stable home life but also knew how to have a good time! My weekends alternated between spending time with them and exploring Belize and its beautiful Cayes with my fellow Challenges volunteers.

Although I had traveled independently in the past I have never worked in a foreign country and aside from a few pro bono session as a trainee I had never experienced such rewarding work. I would never have dreamt that being a lawyer could in fact make such a positive difference to the lives of so many people. By the end of my placement I wished I had committed myself for a longer spell, I had genuinely fallen in love with the people and the country.

Professionally and personally for me the placement offered everything that I was looking for. I have to say it delivered, although hard work and a dedicated commitment to the goals that were set to me were absolutely necessary to get the most out of it.In terms of my career I had come to Belize unsure about what I wanted to do after over 6 years as an insolvency solicitor. I now know that international development law is the way forward for me. It is a competitive route but I can say with conviction my placement through Challenges Worldwide has given me vital experience and confidence to take the first big steps in what I now know to be the right direction.





Discovering Human Rights Law


After working as a financial lawyer in a top law firm, Stephanie decided that she wanted to do something meaningful with her skills during her year off. “My time in India has been such an invaluable learning experience for me on so many levels, both professionally and personally – from being introduced to the human rights field, the scale and severity of the human rights atrocities occurring in India, working in an NGO, meeting so many new people, discovering that I can settle in relatively quickly and learning new skills.”

After working as a financial lawyer in a top law firm, Stephanie decided that she wanted to do something meaningful with her skills during her year off. Through Challenges she spent 6 months working with a human rights organisation in India. This is her story:

“After speaking with Challenges staff and former volunteers, I felt that Challenges was an organisation I could trust. Having been in contact with Challenges alumni network as well as attending their training course I felt ready to go on assignment.

I was really excited about developing skills I wouldn’t be able to at home. I was also looking forward to assisting my organisation providing resources that they didn’t have.

It was very sobering to see firsthand how a local NGO actually operates and the challenges they face i.e. the lack of resources and how this truly does impact on its work. Be[ing] able to advise the organisation from a commercial background and from a different perspective was hugely valuable to them… Volunteering for a long period of time, allowed me to build strong relationships with staff members and to really get familiar with the organisation, which cannot be understated.

I quickly learnt that I needed to be more patient or else I was simply going to spend a lot of wasted time frustrated! I also learnt to observe and not jump to conclusions so quickly and to see things from the staff member’s perspectives in order to see the bigger picture.

The team I worked with, although much smaller than my previous work teams was extremely collegial and very friendly. Everyone was extremely patient with me and took the time to explain things and answer my (seemingly endless) questions. I also became good friends with a couple of other volunteers which was great.

India itself was utterly fantastic – I had wanted to visit and live in India as it is an absolutely stunning country and I am definitely going to return to see more. I also found everyone I met from colleagues, friends and strangers on the street, to be extraordinarily friendly, kind and helpful.

Living with a host family was probably the most difficult aspect for me – whilst the accommodation was perfectly fine – location/amenities/food were all excellent – I found the lack of independence difficult to get used to. But on the other hand, this experience also contributed to me really appreciating how different life is in India to my ordinary life and in hindsight, I’m glad I stuck it out!

I was extremely lucky in that a former Challenges volunteer put me in touch with his two Bangalore friends before I arrived and I quickly formed close friendships which was fantastic – we did a lot of weekend trips together. In the evenings I could browse the maze of shops on the walk home and either chill out at home for the evening, or meet up with friends for dinner or coffee.

Being a human rights organisation there is a huge breadth of work that could be undertaken by future volunteers. I would only recommend that they spent as long as possible with them in order to fully understand the organisation.

My time in India has been such an invaluable learning experience for me on so many levels, both professionally and personally – from being introduced to the human rights field, the scale and severity of the human rights atrocities occurring in India, working in an NGO, meeting so many new people, discovering that I can settle in relatively quickly and learning new skills. It has also been a key opportunity for me to discover if this is a field I would like to pursue further professionally – at the moment, no, but it has certainly changed my perspective on several things.

I plan on volunteering my time and skills regularly to an organisation closer to home, ensuring that I keep aware of human rights issues around the world, supporting causes by attending protests/discussions and being more involved with my local community by supporting locally owned shops. I have also started to be much more aware of the impact that I have on the environment, in particular, my diet, and “green issues”.”

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Challenges Worldwide
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+44 (0) 131 225 9549

Company No: SC193890
Charity No: SC028814