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Experiences from voluntary work in Ghana – Kickoff

What is this blog about?

In this blog, I will share my experiences regarding my work as ‘volunteer’ for the ‘Shea project’ in Ghana – a joined initiative between PlaNet Finance and SAP.

How did it all start?

In January 2010, I got an invitation to a telephone conference on January 25 in which some background information about the ‘Ghana volunteering project’ and the ‘terms and conditions’ of voluntary work for this project were presented. I had no idea why I had received this invitation, but as it sounded interesting, I joined the conference – together with 33 colleagues from all over the world.
Later I found out, that these colleagues had been invited, who had shown some interest in the project itself after its press release or in skills based volunteering in general.

The ‘Shea Project’

The ‘Ghana volunteering project’ referred to the ‘Shea Project’ in Ghana, which is the first joint field initiative of the partnership between PlaNet Finance and SAP to create sustainable business models through access to microfinance, education, and information technology. The project’s goal is to develop a financially, socially and environmentally sustainable and inclusive shea value chain to increase business activities of women in Northern Ghana and generate long-term economic growth.

One of SAP’s motivations for contributing to the Shea Value Chain project was, linking social welfare closer to the business of SAP. SAP contributes to the project by providing skills, technology, and cash. The project started in June 2009 and will run until December 2011.

Sending a volunteer to Ghana who provides MS Office training to selected participants was one of SAP’s contributions to the Shea Value Chain project.

Overview: Shea & Ghana

The volunteer’s job

The job of the volunteer within the shea project was to provide MS Office training to the Ghanaian employees of PlaNet Finance and two Micro Finance institutions (MFIs). In addition, he/she had to roll out the Micro Loan Management (MLM) software to PlaNet Finance and the MFIs. These activities should cover roughly 6 weeks between May and July:

  • 1 to 2 weeks in the local office to create a concept, to plan the training activities, to get some training to be prepared for the job, and to get familiar with the MLM software
  • 4 weeks in Ghana to identify the exact requirements, prepare the final training material, provide the training, roll out the MLM software
  • 2 days in the local office to prepare feedback and lessons learnt

After the conference call, I was even more interested in this project. I like to travel to foreign countries and to interact with people of foreign cultures. Working in Ghana for 4 weeks would probably be a unique opportunity to get to know this West African country. Furthermore, working for the shea value chain project would be an excellent chance to contribute personally (not just with money and some hours spare time – what I already do) to a sustainable project in a developing country. These were the main reasons, why I decided to apply for the job. Two weeks later, I was notified that I was – together with three colleagues – on the short list and the organizers of the project wanted to have an interview with each of us. The interview took place end of February, and three days later, I got the confirmation that I could have the job.

Organizing the trip

With the confirmation, I got a list of ‘next steps’. As the project was the first of its kind, many things were not yet clear and it was part of the project to find out how to handle potential issues and questions:

  • Working out the details with HR to make sure that we adhere to all company policies while at the same time exploring new things
  • Creating a training plan to make sure that I will get the necessary training for preparation (details on the project, working in an Islamic environment, working with NGOs, living in Tamale etc…)
  • Making travel arrangements including Ghana Visa & medical prep
  • Preparation of the MS Office training material

Here are the main challenges I faced:

  • It is very difficult to combine (private) voluntary work with some kind of SAP contribution – and to find ‘creative’ solutions for any challenge.
  • At least in Germany, you are supposed to use your annual holiday for recreation, not for (voluntary) work.
  • Things are much easier if your manager really supports your ambitions (and I was that lucky).
  • Communicating via email is not that reliable in Ghana. Either emails got lost, or when trying to make a room reservation via email I never got a reply. Better use the telephone, but:
  • Communication via phone to/in Ghana can be hard. On the one hand, the line is often bad or unavailable; on the other hand, Ghanaian English is neither British English nor American English 😉
  • Plans are handled very ‘flexible’ in Ghana: my scheduled stay was shifted several times, and even after my arrival, the schedule we agreed on 4 weeks ago, was again changed. According to an article in a Ghanaian newspaper, Ghanaians have a ‘planning phobia’. 😉

How did I prepare for the job?

As I did not get any training to be prepared for my job (in contrast to the initial plans), I finally decided to buy some books and do some self-study. In the project’s presentation was stated, that the MS Office training is about basics, and everybody working for SAP should have the required knowledge – that’s why I applied at all – but nevertheless I was a bit concerned regarding my MS Office skills. Fortunately, I found many online courses about MS Office 2007 products on Skills-on-Demand, which contributed a lot to my preparation.

Here comes how I prepared

for the training:

  • Reading ‘The Internet For Dummies’
  • Reading ‘Microsoft Office For Dummies’
  • Conducting ‘Skills on Demand’ sessions about Microsoft Office 2007

for the topic (Micro credits, CSR) – by reading the following books:

  • Social Entrepreneurship For Dummies
  • Für eine Welt ohne Armut – Autobiography of Muhammad Yunnus

for the country (Ghana, Africa) – by reading the following books:

  • Novels by Amma Darko, a Ghanaian author
  • Mein Herz schlägt in Afrika – documentation of a journey through Africa with Henning Mankell (unfortunately not through Ghana)
  • Watching ‘die story: HühnerWahnsinn – das eiskalte Geschäft mit Geflügel’ – a TV broadcasting of the German ‘WDR’ about meat export from Europe to Africa, focusing on Ghana and Togo


Interested in the experiences I made in Ghana? Then continue with
part 2: Experiences from voluntary work in Ghana – on-site
part 3: Shea nut processing
part 4: Experiences from voluntary work in Ghana – Resume

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