ProTalks with Marcel Koomson from The Challenges Group | Volunteers Guide!

  1. As Team Leader at Challenges Worldwide, what are some of the key skills you seek in a volunteer when recruiting? 

What I seek from a volunteer is enthusiasm and a willingness to learn. It is easy to discern, especially during the application stage, those who have a genuine interest in volunteering and those who are applying for the sake of it. I also want volunteers who have a desire to change the world around them. This does not mean they have to have studied a degree in development, but it should be evident that they want to help the social enterprises we work with create a better Uganda.

  1. What are the professional skills trained volunteers attain after their experience working with local partners in developing countries? Specifically within local volunteers. 

The Challenges Worldwide ICS programme is an intense 3 month programme, placing volunteers into challenging business environments. Volunteers, therefore, attain various professional skills through their placement. Working in a Small and Medium social enterprise in Uganda throws obstacles, which demands adaptability to overcome them- which also means volunteers might have to be creative in their problem solving. Adaptability makes it easier for a volunteer to work in a cross-cultural business. Volunteers sharpen their analytical skills when they are trying to gain a holistic understanding of a business. The grounding for this comes through the theoretical knowledge the volunteers gain through their Charted Management Institute (CMI) training they receive during the programme. This internationally recognized training helps the volunteers put into practice certain skills such conducting meetings, professionalism and ethics. They are then able to create recommendations and create systems, which will spark the potential for growth. All employers require candidates with a competency in computer literacy; writing reports among other deliverables helps volunteers improve their computer literacy. We also have workshop at various stages during a placement which target specific employability skills.

  1. Your target group for volunteers is 'graduates only' why is this? 

We run an inclusive programme for volunteers aged between 18-25; and 23-35 for team leaders. A university degree is not a prerequisite to be eligible for our programme. Nevertheless the allure of working with small and medium social enterprises generates interest graduates from all academic disciplines. They see it as an opportunity to enhance practical skills which they might not have had the opportunity to exhibit during their academic career.  Additionally, volunteers want to enhance some soft skills which can only be gained through experience. We also attract volunteers who have an entrepreneurial spirit, and see the programme as a stepping stone in gaining experience and ideas to enable them to one day venture into the world of business- being able to identify problems SMEs are facing during their placement helps them develop best practices for their future endeavors.


  1. What advice would you give to potential volunteers? 

The first piece of advice I would give a potential volunteer is DO YOUR RESEARCH. Make sure you have a good grasp of what the programme might entail- you could ask your friends if they are previous volunteers- as this prepares you for the realities. Contact staff if you have any questions, request information packs. The second is use your application to impress- this is the only way to get called back for an assessment. Spend time on your presentation, avoid making grammatical errors. This can be done by giving yourself enough time to apply. DON’T WAIT TILL THE LAST MINUTE. If you are fortunate to be called back to an assessment day be ready to MAKE YOURSELF STAND OUT.  Show your enthusiasm, confidence, problem solving skills and team work ability.


  1. From a Team Leader perspective what are some of the benefits of volunteering and how can this help those who have no previous experience? 

In Uganda, young people face high levels of competition for employment. Students are not necessarily exposed to opportunities which would make them ready to step into the world of work. Volunteering offers a fantastic opportunity to gain skills. It helps bridge the gap between universities and ‘the real world’, as skills gained can be adapted to new situations. Employers are also impressed by individuals who give up their time to serve their community- it demonstrates a volunteer as a well-rounded individual. In some instances volunteering enables you to engage many people, broadening your networks; you never know who you may come across while volunteering- it could be your future employer! We are very proud at Challenges that some of our volunteers are retained by their businesses.


  1. Let's say you could give 3 pieces of advice to aspiring team leaders, what would they be? 

The three pieces of advice are:

  1. Learn how to be organized. Usually as a Programme Coordinator you are pulled in many directions. Being organized helps you keep track of your work without becoming overwhelmed.

  2. Following on from the first point, learn how to adapt to new situations. It always helps to have a Plan B, even a Plan C might be required.

  3. Be a team player! Being a Programme Coordinator places you in situations where you are constantly working with others- share your ideas, learn from others and above all communicate. That is the only way you will see results.