GoAbroad Interview

Simon Hare - Development Director

Simon Hare - Development Director

After more than 20 years working in the media, British born Simon Hare decided he wanted to take a sabbatical and see the world. His employer had other ideas and wouldn’t give him leave, so he resigned anyway and headed West, ending up in Cambodia where he had previously volunteered. That was nearly four years ago and he has been with Globalteer in Cambodia, Peru, and now the U.K., ever since.

What kind of volunteer experience do you have, and how did you get connected with Globalteer?

I did some volunteering when I was at school, helping students with literacy issues and getting involved in initiatives for local senior citizens. But, I first came across Globalteer when I was researching volunteer travel for myself and my partner. We had done a lot of pure vacationing in the developing world and wanted to do something a bit more meaningful rather than sit by a pool and drink cocktails.

Fundraising volunteers in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Taking part in a fundraiser in Siem Reap, Cambodia

After lots of research, Globalteer made it onto my short list and then one day out of the blue, whilst on a walking holiday in South West England we chanced upon a stall outside a cottage where a lady was selling second hand books and gifts to raise money for a charity. The charity turned out to be Globalteer, and the lady with the stall was Globalteer founder Jim Elliott’s mother.

Although Jim lives in Peru, he just happened to be on holiday at his Mum’s so we got to meet him and quiz him about the charity. That was when we knew our futures were fated, and we made up our minds that day to take the plunge and go for the volunteering trip we had been thinking about in Cambodia.

Before we even got to Cambodia though, I put some of my professional experience to use by helping Globalteer with marketing, and in particular their online presence. And a year or so after volunteering with the Cambodia community project, we had sold our house, given up our jobs, and were off on a world trip that would take us back to Cambodia and to jobs with Globalteer. That was four years ago now and I’ve never looked back!   

Your role focuses on partnership development and a bit of marketing; what does your day-to-day look like as Globalteer’s Development Director?

I am extremely lucky in that no two days are the same. Ever. And being located in between our two main offices in Peru and Cambodia means that I start work just as my Cambodia-based colleagues are coming back from lunch, and then my Peru-based colleagues start work just as I finish lunch. So I can be Skyping with Cambodia in the morning and Peru in the afternoon.

Cycling in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Cycling to work in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Unless I am disciplined, it can be a very long day; but, it’s the kind of job where you can’t be a clock watcher, and to be honest there is always more that you can do. You do need to learn to shut off at some point! A lot of my work, like compiling email newsletters, uploading new content to the site, or editing video content, can be done at any time of day, so if there is anything super urgent I can just keep on going until it’s finished if something else has taken longer than I had hoped. I have to be careful to prioritize and make sure I focus on what is going to bring the greatest reward to the charity.

As well as my marketing work, I also get out and about quite a bit, which is great. I attend college volunteering fairs to talk to students about volunteering opportunities, call or visit potential volunteering partners and donors, and of course spend a lot of time putting together grant proposals for our projects. I am always looking at new ways to generate income for Globalteer, but of course they have to be activities that complement our core work.

You’re also in charge of Globalteer’s online presence, including social media. How are you able to connect with prospective and past volunteers on these channels and what impact does it have?

Digital devices are ubiquitous, from desktops and laptops to tablets and smartphones, and social media does not age discriminate. Even small charities have to embrace online marketing if they want to get their message across to as many of their target audience as possible. But, digital media is evolving so fast you have to work really hard to keep up with trends.

When I joined Globalteer full-time in 2012, we already had a very good website. Since then, it has been relaunched and we have really increased our social presence. We focus very much on what gives us tangible results as we have a very small team. Up until now, Facebook has been a great tool for us in terms of building awareness of what we do to potential volunteers, as well as keeping past volunteers up to date with our projects. Social is a great way of getting people who support our work to pass things on to their friends who have a strong chance of being interested in what we do as well. Social media sharing is just the 21st century version of good old fashioned word of mouth recommendations, but it’s much faster.

Riding a bus in Cusco, Peru

Taking the bus with a volunteer to our project in Cusco, Peru

What advice would you give to volunteers preparing to head to Globalteer’s remote project locations in Cambodia and Peru?

Firstly, I would be sure to define the word “remote”! Cambodia and Peru may be a long way from home for most people, but don’t forget we have permanent, English speaking teams in Siem Reap and Cusco. We also work with long term partners, as well as run our own projects in both Cambodia and Peru, so volunteers are well looked after all the time they are on placement.

It’s also important to understand that despite the extremely challenging conditions faced by some of the communities we work with, volunteers live in good standard accommodation. There is usually internet connection and no one is too far from decent medical care if they need it. Some projects are tougher than others, but we go to great lengths to give as much detail as possible on our website of living conditions so that no one is in for a nasty surprise!

I would really encourage anyone on a volunteering trip to go into it with an open mind and flexible attitude; the countries where we work are not like home, nor should they be! There is almost always a good reason why things are done in a certain way and those reasons are often incomprehensible to us with our Western backgrounds.

And finally, it is really important to remember that no matter how small you think your contribution as a volunteer is, it is a vitally important part of something much bigger. You can’t fix decades of hardship in a few weeks, but you can make a really valuable contribution to a long term solution.

What is the key message you want interested volunteers to understand about Globalteer?

I think it has to be that Globalteer works with communities to come up with sustainable solutions rather than imposing our solutions on them. We don’t create work to satisfy volunteer needs, but employ volunteers to work on tasks which have a real value for the communities we aim to help. It may mean some of the tasks can be challenging, but if something is not at least a bit challenging, then it’s likely to be less rewarding too! At the same time, our in country support teams do all they can to make sure that in spite of the hard work, and mostly because of it, our volunteers have an enjoyable placement and lifelong happy memories.  

What has been Globalteer’s biggest charitable contribution? What impact did it have?

Our biggest contribution is what we have done in enabling other projects to achieve their charitable aims, by providing support, be it volunteers, project management advice, or financial donations, to the projects we work with. Many of them would have struggled without our support. And I know it’s rather intangible, but I also think that the cross cultural experiences we make possible serve an enormous educational purpose too. They help to create much more rounded “global citizens” who have greater understanding of the world outside their immediate environment. And for me that is very important. Many of our volunteers go on to do great jobs in increasing awareness of international development issues, and become lifelong supporters of our projects.

Your academic background is in modern languages, and you have done a great deal of freelance writing, how are you able to apply those skills to your role?

Being fluent in Spanish was very useful when I was based with Globalteer in Peru, although I should add that you don’t need to be able to speak Spanish to be a good volunteer. Of course it helps, which is one of the reasons we give all our Peru and Colombia based volunteers free Spanish classes.

And just as being a good verbal communicator is useful, having good writing skills is also a huge bonus in a job like mine when you have to tell a compelling, but realistic, “story”, especially when trying to secure funding for our projects. There are a lot of great projects competing for a limited amount of funding. It would be great if there was more to go round! I also write content for our website, so a background in writing is extremely useful for that.

Visiting Machu Picchu in Cusco, Peru

Time off - a visit to Machu Picchu near our projects in Cusco, Peru

You’re based in Globalteer’s U.K. office, what are some of the challenges you face working with staff who are located in other countries? What are the benefits?

The most obvious challenge is communicating with my colleagues in Peru and Cambodia. Mainly due to the time differences, but we also sometimes have issues with technology letting us down. Even though email and Skype are just fantastic, occasionally we can’t quite communicate when we want to. I am still amazed that we can have team meetings on Skype with attendees in three different countries!

I guess the main benefit of my being in the U.K. (I am the only Globalteer staff member here) is that I can physically meet potential partners and donors. Again, technology has made remote communication a lot easier than it used to be but there is still nothing quite like face to face contact.

What has been your greatest achievement as since joining the Globalteer team in 2012?

I could say something really boring like increasing the number of volunteers we have placed while actually reducing our marketing expenditure (which is true, but a bit dull!), but on a personal level it has to be when I was working at a project in Peru; I was helping children with their literacy. One day I was working with a child I’d never worked with before, and he could barely read. By the end of our session, he was able to read a few words and the look on his face each time he got a word right was just priceless.

What is the most fulfilling part about working for Globalteer?

Over time you really do get to see the long-term impact that our work has on communities. Knowing that we are really contributing to lasting solutions is probably the single most fulfilling aspect of my job. And of course, being able to channel the goodwill of our amazing volunteers to be part of those solutions.