6 ways volunteering can improve your skill set and make you a better entrepreneur

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Malak Yacout, Curator, Beirut Hub, Global Shapers

  • Volunteerism is a powerful tool in a time of technological change as it can help address the skills gap and support a workforce in adapting.
  • Volunteerism presents a unique opportunity for people to leverage their experiences to diversify their workplace skills for the future.
  • Attributes such design thinking and soft skills are also invaluable for entrepreneurship, which is an important driver of economic growth.

Entrepreneurship has long been acknowledged as an important driver of economic growth, job creation and innovation. In today’s rapidly changing world, the importance of entrepreneurship has become even more pronounced.

With the increasing pace of technological change, there is a growing concern about the skills gap and the ability of the workforce to adapt to the new reality. Volunteerism has emerged as a powerful tool for addressing these challenges, particularly when it comes to employability and entrepreneurship.

Nearly six in 10 (58%) of the global working-age population volunteers, according to the UN Volunteer’s 2022 State of the World Volunteerism Report. Volunteerism is not driven by hidden agendas, hence is one of the most prominent sources of universal free will.

Volunteerism also presents a unique opportunity for individuals to leverage their volunteer experiences to diversify their skill sets for the future, innovate and form a renewable resource for job creation.

Volunteers play vital role in global economy

Volunteers keep our economy running, improve our lives and accelerate the development of our nations. Their output contributes more than $11 trillion worth of services to the global economy. Volunteerism also saves millions for local authorities, making volunteers a productive workforce that should not be overlooked.

The traditional ways of knocking on doors of organizations for the sake of finding a suitable volunteering environment have gone out of fashion and are not coming back.

The young population of today is shaping volunteerism, with new businesses and techniques learned online. With the digitization of processes, volunteer marketplaces have emerged, enabling more people to join, especially those who found volunteering inaccessible.

Skilled volunteerism presents opportunities to face universal sustainability and innovation challenges. It also serves as the starting ground for successful social enterprises that address real problems.

Based on a survey of 7,000+ existing volunteers aged between 15 and 35, for every volunteer who prefers to offer their time to do miscellaneous volunteering, seven others prefer to use their actual skills, according to The Volunteer Circle’s Impact Report 2019-21.

As part of the #GiveLoveWinACareer campaign by The Volunteer Circle, we found multiple examples of volunteers-turned-entrepreneurs like Samer Sfeir and Maryam Shaar in the Arab World, TOMS Shoes Founder Blake Mycoskie in the US, and many other entrepreneurs who turned service into a career.

“Volunteering is what made me choose a career with social impact. It brought growth to my social enterprise. My volunteer experience led me to create a social enterprise empowering thousands of people with disabilities to find jobs as part of our mission.””— Samer Sfeir, Founder of Shareq and M Social Catering

Nowadays, volunteering is a vehicle for learning the real-world knowledge needed for career advancement, whether this means creating new impact businesses or scaling up existing ones, while in keeping with the needs of local and global communities.

When skilled volunteering isn’t contributing to making you a better entrepreneur, it is feeding into making you a more relevant talent in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Reasons why

If you’re looking to build the next big innovation, start by volunteering somewhere new. Here are six reasons why:

1) Volunteering puts you at the forefront of a problem, with a principle of design thinking essential for launching any start-up. Whereas some people may look at problems from the outside, as part of their mandates, volunteers have to understand problems intimately, usually from within and, through personal experience, direct observation or field research.

With persistence, they discover mistaken assumptions and may develop an entrepreneurial spirit to correct them. For instance, a volunteer for a food security project is more likely to have collected data-proof insights that would allow them to develop a sustainable solution to end hunger.

Due to the relevance of their volunteer experience for a specific solution, volunteers may identify novel contributions that can turn into founding effective impact enterprises with a deep understanding of their target audiences and missions.

2) If you have an existing project or company, volunteering on the frontline can help you identify communities to scale your business, diversify your audience, or grow your community base.

3) Volunteers have greater access to social capital for entrepreneurship. According to research by the World Bank (2018), young nationals in the Middle East and North Africa region who volunteer are more likely to plan to start a business, find someone they can partner with for their next impact venture, or meet someone who can mentor or invest in their newly-founded enterprises.

The resultant social capital from volunteerism is thereby an enabler for entrepreneurial activities, especially in emerging economies. Volunteering also provides a risk-free environment for individuals to explore new fields and develop skills that the job market needs.

4) On an employment level, volunteering provides a risk-free environment for individuals to explore new fields and develop the new skills that the job market needs.

In 2019, LinkedIn’s Global Talent Report highlighted that 41% of hiring managers consider volunteer experience as valuable as professional experience. Organizations increasingly recognize the value of candidates who have a demonstrated commitment to social impact.

5) Volunteerism brings you together with people who share similar interests in the field you are volunteering in.

Meanwhile, sharing and exchanging your skills gives you access to people who have already succeeded in your field of interest, providing experience, a network and credibility for your talent.

These people can prove to be vital connections for future job opportunities, partnerships, mentorship or investment.

6) Soft skills are becoming increasingly important in the job market, with 93% of global hiring managers saying they look for them in recruitment. Volunteering is a great way to acquire the timeless soft skills that employers are looking for, making it an asset for the future of recruitment.

When volunteering for a mission that includes lives, animals, plans or policies at stake, the soft skills you develop are self-discipline, empathy, effective communication, proactiveness to solve complex problems, inspirational leadership, networking and pitching, teamwork and emotional intelligence.

Volunteerism can fuel economic growth

Intrinsic growth relies largely on a country’s potential for entrepreneurship and local job creation. Volunteering may be vitally important for countries seeking to fuel their economic growth without the benefit of substantial oil revenues or over-reliance on large inflows of international aid, by supporting entrepreneurship and job creation.

Measuring the impact of volunteerism on well-being, employability, innovation, entrepreneurship, and gross domestic product is crucial for maximizing its benefits.

However, the economic and social value of volunteering transcends the labour provided and services delivered. Volunteering is an important channel for people to shape countries’ pathways out of the pandemic, wars and other crises.

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