“The hardest thing is to challenge your personal perceptions.” – David Hoffmann about the launch of the epExpert service
Offering the empowering people. Expert Service (epExpert), Siemens Stiftung devises a program to support social enterprises, inventors and organizations that are part of its empowering people. Network. These often face deficits in knowledge and with workforce and are thereby hindered in the development of their products or services. This can, more often than not, prevent them from reaching more people with basic needs problems as well as sustaining livelihoods.
We talked to epExpert project manager David Hoffmann about the latest program developments and why he thinks that the role of voluntary experts is a valuable one.
- Siemens Stiftung has devised the epExpert Service to offer hands-on support to those facing far-reaching challenges in their businesses. Have you witnessed such challenges first-hand?
Yes and no. Before starting to work with the foundation, I volunteered in disaster aid missions providing humanitarian relief. There I could directly see what impact a specialist could have on peoples’ lives – especially when there is shortage of such specialists. The scenario of a natural disaster is admittedly quite different from the situations faced by the organizations that are part of the empowering people. Network, a network of innovators and entrepreneurs that the Siemens Stiftung initiated a few years ago. The epExpert Service is mainly a response to a constant demand we’ve experienced from their side. One of the most familiar questions is “Do you know somebody who could help us with…” . So we figured we need to find a way to target their short-term resource problems.
- Can you tell us how the program works?
It’s quite simple: After identifying the short-term workforce or knowledge deficits within our network member organizations, we publish job opportunities on our webpage and work through a screening process with our partner, movingworlds.org. In a next step all qualified volunteer applicants are invited to phone interviews before a final decision is made. The host organization and the expert then jointly work on the details of the field mission before the expert is ready to go. What’s quite different to most other programs though is that we, as Siemens Stiftung, cover the travel & living expenses of the expert and provide them with travel insurance. This ensures that, besides offering time and skills, he or she shouldn’t have any further costs.
- Do you think an epExpert can really help?
Yes, I do. The reason why we’re actually using the word ‘experteering’ instead of the more common term ‘volunteering’ is that we want to differentiate our program from many of those volunteer travel agencies where unskilled tourists visit places abroad and volunteer at schools or animal shelters. We are not looking for touristic adventurers but for highly skilled experts who are willing to share their knowledge and work experience to contribute to an organization’s development. The clear priority is to offer support through their manpower. As a side benefit they can also enjoy their travel experiences.
- What skills should an epExpert have?
The spectrum of challenges for the empowering people. Network organizations ranges from technical aspects of the developments of their products to organizational development, from biogas solutions to IT applications, so there’s not just the “one” skill that an epExpert should possess. If you forced me to chose one skill, I’d say ‘listening’. The required skills will be different depending on each single organization and task, but the willingness to listen to fellow workers and people in the field as well as the ability to learn from them will ultimately determine whether your mission has a chance of being successful.
- What kind of challenges do you think epExperts will face in their role?
I think the hardest thing is to challenge your personal perceptions and plans. You may be a specialist in electrical engineering and have a clear plan on how to fix the problem at hand, but the reality of infrastructure in developing countries, humid climates, rainy season etc. will challenge your plans and you’ll have to figure out new strategies with the experts in this context: the locals.
- What are the benefits of working as an epExpert?
The benefits probably coincide with the challenges: Experts move out of their comfort zones; they have to look at familiar problems from new angles. The problem solving and working in intercultural teams and in a new environment is what makes an epExpert mission special. Additionally experts will be working for organizations that really have an impact in the field and support unfortunate people in their daily struggles.
- What happens once the epExpert mission is over ?
As I said, we are addressing short-term resource problems, so in principle the organization should be able to advance without any further help from the expert. It is therefore essential that part of the expert’s knowledge stays with the local colleagues – a classical knowledge transfer. In reality, what we observe from voluntary work around the globe is that expert and hosting organization often stay in close contact and exchange new ideas after official missions have ended.
The Siemens Stiftung empowering people. Expert Service aims to support social enterprises, inventors and organizations that are part of its empowering people. Network and help them to increase their social impact in developing countries.
To receive more information about the program or inform yourself about current job opportunities visit: http://www.empowering-people-network.siemens-stiftung.org/en/services/epexpert/ or sent an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
About David Hoffmann:
David is a project manager in the area of Basic Needs and Social Entrepreneurship and is working in and contributing to a number of activities within the empowering people. Network such as the epExpert volunteering service, epOnsite trainings, website etc.
Prior he worked on development issues for the European Parliament, Brussels and the German Embassy in Chisinau, Moldova. He volunteered as project coordinator for humanitarian disaster aid missions and in donor liaison for “Give a Goat” Uganda. David studied Economics and Geography at Munich and Constance and holds a Master’s degree in Applied Economics from LMU Munich, Germany.