Position: project manager/owner
Counterpart Travels is a volunteer project in Uganda, focused on knowledge exchange between Northern professionals and students with their Ugandan 'counterparts'. When my partner and I were asked to take on the organisation, Counterpart Travels had been a side project of the SYPO* foundation for some years.
As Counterpart Travels we organised volunteer work and internships for anyone with a positive outlook on international cooperation, ready to share knowledge and skills and to learn from the other as well. We arranged a suitable position, a local counterpart (organisation) to work with and accommodation near the workplace. We provided the volunteers with all information, practical support and advice before and during their stay in Uganda.
* SYPO offers structural aid in Uganda by starting and supporting sustainable, entrepreneurial projects. Instead of taking a top down approach, it is our conviction that a country should grow starting from the strength of its own inhabitants. Read more >
Before we moved to Uganda we tried to address future volunteers and interns in a wide range of expertise areas. We built a new website, we gave presentations and visited fairs for internships and working abroad at universities in the Netherlands, where our first 'clients' directly applied.
For each applicant we tried to find the best match by linking interests, education and work experience to opportunities in Uganda. To this end we used the local network and experience of our Ugandan colleague Charles Musisii and of the SYPO foundation with development in the region.
Although we took on all kinds of applications, we arranged most placements in the following fields: medical and paramedical, engineering and ICT, economics and business studies, agriculture and forestry, education, tourism, international law, journalism, anthropology, animal management and veterinary medicine.
Technical job support
Regarding my background as an industrial design engineer, I typically took the support of technology and business related assignments for my account. These included drinking water and sanitation projects, social business initiatives and product development issues, like how to create healthier and durable alternatives for cooking on firewood, etc.
We managed the project as a social business, in the sense that our main objective was to generate positive impact at both sides, instead of going for maximum profit. Our starting point was that the work should be meaningful and enriching for both the volunteer and the Ugandan counterpart. For example, the placement should not replace a job opportunity for a Ugandan. In exchange for the placement and support, the volunteers made a fixed donation, smaller than the fees asked by most volunteer organisations. The main part of this contribution was used to cover the costs to run Counterpart Travels. A smaller part went to the SYPO foundation, which they spend on their other projects.
When we started, we had to find suitable accommodation for each individual volunteer, using host families and friendly guesthouses. As it would be more attractive for many and make sense organisationally to have a home where they could stay together, we set up a guesthouse. We equipped it for about ten guests, constructed facilities like electricity, a kitchen with running water, a bathroom, a backup water system, soakpits in the garden, an indoor compost toilet, etc.
Managing on a distance
We employed two Ugandan young men and trained them to run the guesthouse on their own, from taking care of and cooking for the guests to maintenance tasks and bookkeeping. When we left Uganda after a year, we could share the administation 'in the cloud' and stayed in control by regular conference calls. We were happy to receive positive feedback from most volunteers.
We have been running Counterpart Travels for over two years, until we passed the project on to others. A number of adventurous volunteers and interns keep going to Uganda every year.