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Something I’ve realized in the past few years is that when we are individually on a good path, we’re better suited to step out of our comfort zone and give back to our communities in both time and money. How many times have you heard someone say, “When I win the lottery, I’d give…” or “When I retire, I’m going to start volunteering for…”? Times are changing and trends are definitely pointing out that volunteers are starting at earlier ages and incorporating their service with their ever shifting lifestyle: from high school to college to early in career to parent to executive to retiree.

We all at some points in our lives question where we are on our path, what our priorities are, and where we’d like to be in the near future. If we had that “great” job or lived in that “perfect” house, would we be that much more stable or more content? What if we just had a daily schedule that we were happy with: a lifestyle that supported us, meaningful relationships with our friends and families, and overall home and life security. At that point, is it possible for us to start giving an hour a month or week to help others in need?

Something that people are often surprised about is how fulfilling the simple act of giving can be. Maybe the compassion we share with others will come back to us in other ways. Maybe it will help us in how we define our life needs.


When first researching volunteer opportunities, what first comes to mind may be beautification projects, serving a meal at a soup kitchen, or event specific services. These are wonderful activities, but the world of volunteering is much much bigger. When considering non-profit organizations, it’s important to view such organizations as a type of company that aims to serve the community. All companies have similar departments that help the organization run on a daily basis: marketing, finance, accounting, customer service, sales, facilities, etc. Maybe what a non-profit needs right now is not someone to plant a garden in the front of their building (although that may be a bonus); perhaps what they need more than anything is someone to help with grant writing, marketing, or to be a volunteer teacher.

You may be reading this thinking that back-office volunteer opportunities are not as fun as beautification projects,  but if your overall goal is to help the organization, you may be able to help further their mission and at the same time, build/enhance skills that you can take back to your job. Volunteering doesn’t have to be 100% selfless, its purpose should be to benefit the majority, just don’t forget to include yourself in that equation!

Wanted to share with you some interesting articles which break down the current education issue in the United States.

I don’t often single out specific issues on this blog, but the education crisis in the US is worth investigating.

There are so many simple activities we can do to make a difference. I know the issue seems vast and that it would be so difficult to change anything, but the simpliest activity we can do today is to become a volunteer tutor or reader. Elementary students especially can be deeply impacted by a volunteer taking an interest in their future. Doing a good deed today can multiply drastically in the future. That student may grow up to be a successful person who can positively impact our world in ways we can only dream of. And studies have proven that you may even benefit more than the recipient of your service. Doing someting for others feels good! You may also gain increased interpersonal skills which you can bring to other areas of your life.

Not sure where to start for finding this type of volunteer activity, reach out to your local United Way, they should definitely be able to help.

by Adina Ba

Ndeye Binta Houma works in the Senegal office of Ashoka, a US-based non-profit organization which focuses on fostering “social entrepreneurship” in over 60 countries. Before we learn more about Ashoka, let’s get to know Ndeye Binta.

Born in Saint Louis, Senegal, Ndeye Binta’s family moved to Dakar when she was a child. She grew up in a single-parent household (which is uncommon in Senegal) with her mother and five brothers and sisters. In college, Ndeye Binta majored in Literature and afterwards, she applied and was accepted in a competitive professional training program which gave her a well-rounded background to work in many types of office disciplines. She then interned in Client Services at a major Senegal electricity company and afterwards moved into the real estate sector for four years. Ndeye Binta has been working at Ashoka since 2004.

Okay, starting at the beginning, what is a social entrepreneur?

Paraphrased from Wikipedia, “A social entrepreneur is a person who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to make social change.”

How does Ashoka help social entrepreneurs?

Ashoka invests in up and coming social entrepreneurs—Ashoka Fellows—with a living stipend for an average of three years, allowing them to focus full-time on building their organizations and spreading their ideas. Ashoka also provides Fellows with a global support network of their peers and partnerships with professional consultants.

What is the work you do at Ashoka?

I manage venture programs and fellowships as well as administration and accounting for the West African region of Ashoka. I focus on the selection process to find potential fellows which are often nominated by a second party. After my office reviews a potential fellow, they are then reviewed by a panel with expertise in a specific area, and eventually our board.

Working at Ashoka is a very interesting and rewarding experience. It is a way to meet many dynamic individuals with unique personalities. When I’m searching for candidates, I feel like I’m doing important work in the world.

How do you evaluate the success of a Fellow? 

Ashoka Fellows operate in diverse fields with a broad spectrum of goals. Ashoka’s measuring effectiveness program has developed a system of proxy indicators that reflect Fellows’ roles in transforming their societies. Our impact indicators are: lifelong dedication to original vision, independent replication, policy influence, leadership in the field, and leveraging Ashoka’s resources.

Please share a success story of one of the Ashoka Fellows and their projects with us? 

Haidar El Ali is a successful Sahel Ashoka Fellow who is considered one of the hundred most influential environmentalists of the world by the newspaper “Le Monde.” By ensuring sustainable management of natural resources by local people, Hader educates fishing communities about preservation of marine life, and the community joins the fight against various marine environment aggressions, including cyanide and dynamite fishing. Haidar then involves these communities, as well as the wider public, in both creating and managing protected areas.

His awareness campaigns concerning the biological rest of cymbiums in the Saloum Islands of Senegal, for example, have been met with great success, creating opportunities to develop aquaculture of commercially lucrative maritime species, like shrimp. The objective of Haidar’s Marine Park Project is to create a large number of protected areas, awareness campaigns, and dissemination of information on the maritime environments and resources.

Ideas for the future of Ashoka? 

Some of our ideas are to build a critical mass of social entrepreneurs, support and spread new ideas by connecting peers around the world, change the discourse with the concept of everyone a Changemakertm, and to build strategic partnerships with other sectors to design new ways of sustaining innovation.

Do you think your background growing up affects the work that you do?

I had a wonderful childhood and a very brave mother. Divorced with six children, she engaged in income-generating activities to support her family. Although she never went to school, she fought hard to keep her children in school and did not hesitate to hire private tutors when needed.

In the spirit of striving to succeed, my twin sister and I decided after our Bachelor degrees to follow a professional training. Although we did not have financial means, we entered a state-run competition and were accepted with professional training and a monthly stipend. From 1,000 candidates, we were two of only 21 students who were accepted into the two year program.

My first internship at Sonotel really drew me in to love working in public relations. When I eventually had the opportunity to work at Ashoka on a temporary basis, I really enjoyed it. I discovered social entrepreneurship and got to meet exceptional individuals. I was eventually asked to come back to Ashoka on a part-time basis and also worked part-time at other American non-profit organizations. One was called ARED which fights against illiteracy in Africa as well as ACI, where I got to mentor young international students travelling to Senegal to study abroad.

In July 2006, Ashoka recruited me as a full-time staff member for the Africa Associate Program position with the mission to take care of administration, finance and assist the representatives on their various missions. Currently my work is more focused on Venture Fellowship Program and research funds.

Do you get to travel for work?

As our office is covering 6 Sahel countries, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, and Gambia, we have to travel throughout the region to meet with potentials candidates, visit their projects and of course hold meeting for Fellows established there.

Also, I visited the US for the first time in January 2009. Some colleagues from Africa and India including myself participated in a training on our Venture Program. It was the first time I met with colleagues I had worked with for many years and never seen in person. This visit is symbolic because I had the honor of attending Barack Obama’s Inauguration thanks to a colleague Simon Stumpf and her friend Ashley Keenau who magically found an invitation for the historic event.

How has your idea of ‘social progress’ changed since working closely with the Fellows of Ashoka?

It is common in my community for people to take care of each other and do their best to improve the life condition of their peers, but not necessarily under this concept. When I started working with Ashoka Fellows, I got a close up understanding of this term and each Fellow’s great idea for change. The one thing Fellows have in common is a vision that society may change in a positive way if people decide to be involved in that change.

Is there any specific subject matter of social entrepreneurship that you are personally passionate about?

Education is the sector I personally like. My vision of African development cannot be accomplished without enormous innovations in education. Learning is the first step of life, and generally where people discover what they want to do for their life, their vision, and their ambitions. This creates a strong and skilled workforce for any sector of society and our leaders of tomorrow.

What would you say to people who think that individually, they cannot make a difference in bettering the world?

“Yes we can”, as President Obama said. If we all become involved in bettering something in our community, it is possible.

What would you say to someone who has a lot of ideas, but is shy? How can they get involved without having to do it alone if they prefer working in a community setting?

Having lots of ideas and never getting started is worse than having no idea at all. If you are shy in starting something on your own, join a group that promotes the ideas you have. That way, you don’t have to do it by yourself. You may be surprised once you get started how much you have to offer. You may start to collaborate with others in amazing ways.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I invite all people (in particular African people) to be part of the change to develop Africa for the better of our people.

By Adina Ba

Stephanie Davis with students from the Bridgeport Lighthouse Afterschool Program

Stephanie Davis with students from the Bridgeport Lighthouse Afterschool Program

“Volunteering is not just an activity, it is a way of life,” says Stephanie Davis who started volunteering 10 years ago when she was only 6 years old. She has two cousins with autism, and this inspired her to start participating in walkathons and fundraising. To this date, she has raised over $30,000 for autism by making and selling “have a heart” pins and other products in her community and has been recognized by the U.N. for World Autism Day in 2008 for her personal advocacy efforts. She has since expanded her advocacy scope to include human rights issues and tutoring children locally in Bridgeport, CT.

What subject in school are you most passionate about?

I’m just starting the 11th grade, I don’t really have a favorite class, although I find biology to be interesting, and I love Spanish because I want to be able to spend time living in a different country when I’m older.

What do you see yourself doing as a long-term career?

I want to spend all the time I can exploring opportunities in the world that will help me find something I am interested in to spend my life doing. I want to do something I feel passionate about and that benefits other people. I want my career to be one that inspires or helps people in some way.

Share the story of how you got started in volunteering.

I was six years old when I started walking in walkathons for autism for my cousin David with my family. It was a few years older when I started volunteering with my mother taking care of children in Operation Hope in Bridgeport while their mothers searched for homes/jobs. I was in sixth grade when I started asking my mother every day to find me a volunteer job so I could help young children in need of education and tutoring. She finally found me one when I was 12 years old and I began volunteering weekly at Elias Howe Family Resource Center in Bridgeport, CT.

How many hours per month / what kind of volunteering do you do?

I spend about 2 hours every Wednesday (sometimes Thursdays as well) helping the Lighthouse Program Students in Bridgeport with their homework and giving them the one on one attention that they deserve. For the past four years I have been doing an annual fundraiser for these children at Cesar A Batalla Elementary School. When I was 13, I made my Bat Mitzvah project a mural painting for the school. The next year I did a winter clothing drive. For the past two years I’ve been doing a letter writing campaign to all of the Bridgeport businesses, raising money for scholarships for the students of The Lighthouse Summer Program. I am also team captain of my Autism Speaks team, “Curing Cousins,” inspired by my two autistic cousins. Since I was 9 I’ve been raising money to support autistic people by making and selling heart shaped pins. Now I involve young children in helping with this cause and advocating for autism awareness in their elementary schools, along with autism fundraisers I do with my friends. In my school I am also co-president of The STAND Club, Students Taking Action Now in Darfur. However we have expanded the club to help not only Darfur, but all of Sudan which is in dire need of aid and restoration. I am also Community Service Officer of the buildOn Club which provides community service opportunities for students.

What keeps you motivated in doing community service?

I am very passionate about the causes I am involved with. My desire to help and make a difference motivates me.

How has volunteering affected you?

Volunteering has definitely shaped the way I view the world. Knowing that the world can be a better place with the effort of every person being kind and caring about others is an amazing thing. I love spending my time doing humane things, especially when others get inspired to do the same.

Share an incredible experience you had through volunteering.

Every week when I enter my classroom I am knocked over by the door with the endearing hugs of the children. Leaving the room is always a struggle, but what the kids don’t know is that I don’t want to leave them even more than they don’t want me to. I’ll never forget the kids that I’ve connected with, helped, and grown to love so much.

What advice would you give to other youth about getting involved?

Everyone needs to find their place in the world by doing good, starting with their community. It is important for people to play their role in giving back to the community and making helping others a part of life. Reaching a hand out to someone in need opens doors that one could never imagine.

What would you say to someone who says it takes too much effort to volunteer?

If someone feels passionately about something and wants to make a difference or help out, then they should. If it means that much to you, then you will find the time. If there isn’t something specific that excites you, give anything a chance. You may be surprised how much you like it.

What benefits have you found in community service?

The feeling I get when I volunteer is my benefit. Just knowing that I have affected someone else’s life in a positive way is the best benefit I get.

What perspective have you gained that could be useful to a future job?

I know the volunteer work I’ve done will help me to have a positive and passionate outlook on any work I do.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Last summer, the summer of ’08, I was fortunate enough to go on an amazing trip to Costa Rica on a teen tour. I went with a group called “Global Works”. The program’s purpose is to allow teens to see the world while doing community service and learning the language of that country. For me, Costa Rica was one of the most memorable experiences of my life because of the connections I made with friends on the trip and the people I met in the town we lived in. We spent ten days living in a town called Parcelas where we got to stay with a Costa Rican family while helping out in the town. I learned how to communicate with people there speaking Spanish and surprised myself as to how well I could keep up in conversation. I still keep in touch with the people I met there and the people who joined me on this incredible journey. The people I met, the friends I made, and the experiences I went through on my Costa Rica adventure have all changed my life substantially. After living in the conditions in this developing country, I have grown a stronger appreciation for what I have in my own life. Also, I feel that this trip has shaped me into a happier, more outgoing person. I am so fortunate to have had such an amazing opportunity so early in my life, and hopefully one day I will make my way back to Parcelas!

About Me

adina pic This blog is created to share and dissiminate easy ways for any concerned citizen to be an agent of change in their community and the world at large. Please join in the conversation towards progress.

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