Staff Spotlight: Maggie Bjorklund

Ecuador Country Manager


Maggie studied Global Studies and Spanish at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, for which she studied and interned in Ecuador for an academic year. A native of Minnesota, she has called Ecuador home for over 16 years.

What is your favorite travel memory?

The first time I ever left the United States was to go to Tanzania on a volunteer program for three weeks. I was 17 at the time, and this trip shaped my world view in more ways than I can describe. To be able to have that experience at such a young age was crucial to my understanding of the world. Working alongside Tanzanians and being exposed to another culture was invaluable.

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

I have been able to learn about a plethora of community development efforts going on all over the world with the assistance of Global Volunteers. It is true grassroots development work, directed by community leaders. I have always believed in Global Volunteers' Philosophy of Service, since even before I started working with the organization 8 years ago. But I have grown in that I have embodied all of these principles throughout all of my work in the community.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

The best story I've heard from a returning volunteer is what they feel they've gained from the experience of volunteering in Ecuador, with families and children who are truly in need, and how happy they are to come back and serve again. It's always wonderful to hear stories after years have passed, memories have faded, and to hear volunteers describe, as I often have, how much they learned in Ecuador and how much the experience meant to them - that is the greatest.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

If I could go on any Global Volunteers program, I would go on all of them! But if I can't do that, I might return to Cuba once again.

I've led two teams in Cuba. I find the island infinitely fascinating. The work we do with the elderly or "abuelitos" (grandparents) in Havana is so much fun. To be able to sit with Cubans who lived through the revolution, listen to their stories, delight in their singing and dancing - it's very special. I find there are very few barriers to experiences like this in Cuba. People are so incredibly opening and welcoming. For this girl from Minnesota, it's so different and so wildly refreshing.

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

Global Volunteers is unique because we are pioneers in short-term volunteering abroad. We are true to our Philosophy of Service and only work where we are wanted. We have to be invited by the community in order to collaborate there. So, when you are on a Global Volunteers program, you know that the community wants you there to work with them. I think there are a lot of programs out there that don't offer that.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

One of the biggest factors in being a successful organization is staying true to our principles.

Global Volunteers was founded on the belief that local people must be in charge of their development. For 35 years, Global Volunteers has worked under the direction of local people in communities around the world, on projects they want assistance on. It's easy to say, you need this done, or, it's better to do it this way. But Global Volunteers doesn't do that. We are successful in our work in communities and providing meaningful volunteer experiences because we hold our principles dear.