Emerging as a convergence of the changing world of work and the search for a better work-life balance, the coworking movement is gaining momentum as coworking spaces pop up all over the world, giving birth to offshoots like coworking vacations, coworking and coliving spaces, and even mobile coworking offices.
But many successful, self-employed, location-independent professionals will still yearn for a chance to give back to the community. Taking inspiration from the growing volunteer tourism industry, Venture With Impact is a new startup that combines coworking with travel and volunteering in local communities.
While there are already companies such as Remote Year and Coworkation that offer travel packages to remote professionals, Venture With Impact (VWI) is a "social business" -- a business with a social mission that aims to make a difference in the communities it is based in. The company launched its first pilot program earlier this year in Trujillo, Peru, welcoming a diverse range of people of all ages and occupations, all looking to contribute their skills to various community projects, while still working remotely.
Cowork with purposeFounder and former teacher Ann Davis was motivated to start VWI after a close brush with death from brain cancer. This life-changing event prompted her to quit her job, and to move her life in a more personally meaningful direction, something that she now wants to share with others:
My co-founder and I started Venture with Impact because we, like many professionals, were torn between the desire to travel and make a social impact, while at the same time, maintaining a professional career.
We found that many people of all ages have the same desires, but also don't want to forego financial stability and professional development. Venture with Impact solves the problem by allowing people to work remotely from their jobs in a foreign country for one or two months. We organize the accommodation, workspace, and personalized volunteer experiences for professionals wishing to get abroad and dive into a new culture.
Individualized volunteeringVWI is a one-of-a-kind coworking program in sense that it centres around volunteering. One of the advantages of the program is that it is flexible and adapted to each person. Each participant will get an individualized volunteer experience, tailored to their professional skills, interests and work schedule. Depending on the time-zone(s) of their remote work commitments, some may volunteer a few afternoons or evenings a week, another may volunteer a full day on Friday, and those who are not working can volunteer full-time.
To give their "Venturers" a volunteering start, VWI typically partners with local non-profit organizations that are familiar working with international volunteers, so knowledge of Spanish is not required (though participants are encouraged to learn some).
Davis recounts some of the collaborations done by recent participants:
In one of our recent programs we had a few participants working with a local women’s collective to package and price their products... [building] a website for the collective so that they could begin to sell their products online. [We] had two engineers [who] worked with our partner organization, Moche, to use topographical mapping equipment to create plans that will bring water to a local community. Additionally, we have had professionals working with our non-profit organizations at an administrative level, to provide advice in marketing, creative fund-raising, and financial planning. Other projects have included teaching English, art, music and sports, providing health campaigns in the community, installing solar panels in public schools, and additional projects.
Beyond volunteering, VMI aims to deepen participants' engagement with each other and with the surrounding communities, by organizing other optional activities like weekly hangouts and dinners to try out new cuisines, and attending local lectures, cultural events and concerts. Volunteers can also do "site visits" of each other's non-profit projects, to see what other participants are doing.
Davis says that accommodations are typically private rooms in two- to three-bedroom apartments, and Internet-dependent professionals will be happy to know that they come with reliable, high-speed Internet and emergency backup satellite Internet. Private apartments are also available.
So far, the program has attracted software designers, doctors, professors, teachers, social workers, entrepreneurs, non-profit directors, artists, writers, physical and occupational therapists, and even families with young children, hailing from United States, Thailand, Philippines, the UK, France and Spain.
The program fee for one month -- which includes accommodation, Internet, volunteer placement and related fees -- starts USD $1,000 with a discount for each additional month ($1,800 for two months, $2,700 for three months, and so on). Participants do have to pay for their own airfare, visas, any needed vaccinations and food, but it's surprisingly reasonable, considering other volunteer abroad programs might charge twice as much for one month.
With the success of their launch in Trujillo, Peru, the organization plans to open up a second hub in Medellín, Colombia later this year.
"Both of our programs provide an opportunity for participants to create a great social impact in a short period of time, while being immersed in an interactive cultural experience," says Davis. "Medellín has become one of the most progressive cities in Latin America, and is a hot-spot for digital nomads and expats. Although the city has become a safe, cosmopolitan location, similar to Trujillo, the city has great need."
This is honestly a great idea that hits all the right spots at once: work, travel and social purpose. There are so many coworking abroad programs out there now, but very few that put giving back to the community front and centre as their main concern. So if you're an adventurous digital nomad (or adventurer, period) with a heart of gold who is looking to make a difference while you travel, check the program out over at Venture With Impact.