What position do you hold at Big Beyond and why do you like working there?
I’m the Founder & Director of Big Beyond which means I’m lucky enough to get to find, live and breathe the amazing places and people in Africa we support, to see the daily smiles and achievements of our incredible volunteers and to push the boundaries of volunteering and sustainable impact through innovating projects.
I love challenges! I love problem-solving with other people. I have the chance to inspire and help different people every day of my life, across cultures. I have the chance to learn every day from others too. Through my work, I’m privileged to become a genuine part of different communities. What could beat all of that!
What does the future hold for Big Beyond - any exciting new programs to share?
Well we launched Big Beyond Ethiopia this year which is an awesome achievement —for us, the communities and volunteers. We’re embedded into the Hamar Tribe in the Omo Valley and all the projects are pretty remarkable, as is the experience for volunteers. Our ambition is to take our model to other national parks in need and push the boundaries of volunteering and travel!
We have something particularly exciting on the horizon which I've sworn to secrecy about, ha!! We are excited to grow our BigBeyond family of volunteers who continue to return to their second homes and help us launch new project sites too.
How does your organization differ from other ones in the industry?
We’re often told Big Beyond is unique and unparalleled in this world! We like to focus on that. My goal was to invest human resource (ideas, knowledge, skills, motivation) in remote communities of Africa and then discovered self-funded volunteer programmes could enable this investment to be sustainable.
We do not just find a place, then find things for volunteers to do in a ‘destination’, we have a specific mission and then find volunteers to help make our critical grassroots projects possible. Our volunteer programmes are bespoke, shaped around each individual and the project needs at the time - no one has had the exact same programme in the history of Big Beyond! We absolutely love to wow every volunteer by creatively transferring their personal or professional abilities to real development or conservation work. We offer volunteers an opportunity to immerse, genuinely, in communities way beyond the tourist trail. Our volunteers are most certainly names, not numbers.
How does your program support sustainable projects within the community?
Sustainability is at the heart of Big Beyond. We have spent years researching the communities in which we work - understanding their needs, the culture and also the challenges of the wildlife parks alongside. Our philosophy is to invest in Africa beyond handouts and grow the potential of its own people through building capacity.
Our volunteers make this possible. We work across a range of sectors. In health, we focus on disease prevention rather than treatment. In business, we support local people in generating their own family income and learning to save rather than wait for donations. In education, we do not replace jobs but build the strength of local people to lead their own education opportunities in the long term. For the future of the natural world, we have a number of conservation initiatives in action. We always consider what happens if Big Beyond had to go tomorrow.
What is the level of cultural immersion your volunteers receive?
I’m confident to say that’s far beyond what anyone usually expects. We are fully embedded into the communities we support and work hand-in-hand with local people every day. Volunteers make genuine local friends in both Uganda and Ethiopia. They have the chance to learn about the depths of culture from day one and are free and encouraged to immerse at every minute of the day!
We create a very easy platform to make that possible. It’s actually what becomes the biggest impact on most volunteers’ experience with Big Beyond.
What's your one piece of advice for people who want to volunteer abroad?
Volunteering abroad is possibly the most personally enriching and positive way to travel the world - people are also allowed to have different motivations.
This may be to travel in a different way to their normal adventures, to experience and learn about different cultures or to see something they have dreamed of on the same trip. It may be to give back and help the people or wildlife in Africa. It may be to push yourself gaining personal and professional experience. It could be for a career or university break or even after retirement.
There are loads of options out there suited to different people and motivations - my advice is to do your research and ensure that the program you choose is in line with your philosophy, that they will create positive impact through projects whatever your personal motivations and that it will give you what you would like to get out of it too.