GoAbroad Interview

Steve Rosenthal - Executive Director

Steve brings years of experience in volunteering and international development to his role as Executive Director of Cross Cultural Solutions. Since founding the organization in 1995, Steve has continued to travel and volunteer all over the world. Steve’s mission for international programs is illustrated in every CCS program, and more importantly, every CCS program continues to meaningfully impact communities around the world. 

Executive Director of CCS in Thailand
Steve in Thailand in 2004 in a community where CCS works.

Since 1995, Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS) has become one of the leaders in volunteering abroad and has sent over 30,000 people abroad.  What sets CCS apart from other volunteer abroad programs?

We’re there every step of the way to make sure the process is incredible for everybody involved. I would say that our strengths to fall in these areas: 

1. EXPERIENCE - We virtually invented short-term international volunteering and have been perfecting it for nearly 20 years. We’ve made the international “experience of a lifetime” possible for over 30,000 volunteers.   

2. COMMUNITY IMPACT -We hold ourselves accountable to local organizations. When surveyed, 99% of our partner organizations reported that CCS volunteers had a positive impact on the lives of local people. 

3. SAFETY - The unique CCS Home-Base structure provides incomparable safety, including 24-hour security for volunteers, the highest standards in transportation, and meals expertly prepared to ensure that volunteers stay healthy and well-fed. Our safety standards across the board are unmatched. 

4. VOLUNTEER SATISFACTION - Thanks to the expertise and commitment of each of our incredible in-country teams, in 2013 99.5% of our volunteers said they were satisfied, or very satisfied with the CCS experience.  

5. PRE-TRIP PLANNING - The CCS team ensures that our volunteers are ready, covering everything from visa advice, to what to pack in carry-ons. We’re all proud CCS alums, so our advice isn’t just a good guess; it’s firsthand, insider info. 

6. TOOLS AND TIPS THAT HELP VOLUNTEERS SAVE - Tax deductibility, fundraising tools, matching gifts. Use of these tools often dramatically reduces the out-of-pocket costs for our volunteers. 

Volunteering in Kenya

Steve volunteering in Kenya in 1995 while he was visiting a Peace Corps volunteer.

With a staff of over 250 people, is it difficult to manage the operation like a non-profit organization?

Running a global program to the high standards that we have is not an easy task. However, we are very fortunate to have an extremely talented staff that is very passionate about our mission which makes it much easier. We all really enjoy our work and get great pleasure in seeing the positive impacts our programs have on the communities where we work and the volunteers that serve with us.

When you were traveling the world in 1994, you volunteered for a week with Peace Corps volunteers, are there some pretty major differences between volunteers that go short-term and long-term volunteers like those with Peace Corp? 

Over the last 20 years, many Cross-Cultural Solutions alumni have gone on to become Peace Corps volunteers. I think there are a lot of similarities between our volunteers. In fact, many aspiring Peace Corps volunteers volunteer with Cross-Cultural Solutions to see if international volunteering is for them. Volunteering with Cross-Cultural Solutions has been called “an on-ramp to Peace Corps” by many. 

You sit on or lead about 50 different advisory boards from More Peace Corps to the Roundtable Consortium for the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange.  How does this impact CCS?

Well, maybe not 50! But I do see my work outside of CCS as a way of giving back to the field.  This is such an amazing sector that is doing great work – but we can do much more. Especially if we work together. I believe in collaboration and I really enjoy working with others that share our passion for international volunteering and high quality, high impact programs.

Many prospective volunteers want to know why they should pay to volunteer abroad. What advice does CCS offer? 

Great question. We first remind prospective volunteers that like any form of travel, there are costs involved with volunteering – room, food, transportation – the basics. We then explain that volunteer services can be provided in ways that are helpful to the community or in ways that are not. Our on-the-ground professionals interact closely with both volunteers and the local community to ensure that everybody involved is getting what they need. And finally, we explain that safety cannot be left to chance, and therefore has some cost. Generally, our volunteers understand and appreciate that 24-hour security, safe food preparation, and vehicle safety all have costs.

After 9/11 you received the New York Senate Liberty Award “for selfless contributions during the terrorist attacks”. Can you tell us a little bit more about that experience of rallying CCS staff and alumni to the September 11th relief effort?

In the first week after the disaster, virtually every member of the Cross-Cultural Solutions New York staff was at Ground Zero supporting rescue workers by providing food service, coordinating volunteers, crisis counseling and various other needed services. We staffed the effort around the clock in three shifts.

Cross-Cultural Solutions partnered with the American Red Cross to provide volunteers for the cruise ship The Spirit of New York, which hosted food and resting quarters for rescue workers at Ground Zero. We set up a special phone bank in our office to coordinate more than 1,400 volunteers, who worked over 12,000 hours and served approximately 130,000 meals to rescue workers.

February 22, 2002, marked the end of Cross-Cultural Solutions' direct involvement at Ground Zero. We are proud to have provided more than 6,500 volunteers to more than a dozen different projects in the six months after the disaster.