Giving back through travel: An interview with Mark Horoszowski

Have you ever wanted to travel overseas to volunteer your expertise?

Mark Horoszowski had that same aspiration. In 2010, Mark left his job at a marketing agency in Seattle to travel and volunteer his professional skills around the world for a year. That year would change his life, and it might just change yours.

From a chance meeting with a fellow globetrotter in Buenos Aires, Mark and Derk Norde would spend the next year creating a global platform that connects other professionals with volunteer opportunities all over the globe. Since its launch in 2011, MovingWorlds.org has already helped unleash over 1 million dollars worth of professional skills to social enterprises and NGOs in over 30 countries.

I recently had the opportunity to talk to Mark about MovingWorlds, and how its growing network of Experteers is helping to create change throughout the world.

Mark, can you tell us a little about MovingWorlds and how it works?

MH: We’re a social enterprise empowering locally led organizations that are solving last-mile challenges and have the greatest potential to create jobs. We do this by connecting them to talent to overcome any creative, technical, or business challenge.

Think of it like a short-term Peace Corps for skilled professionals. We help people volunteer their skills overseas for any length of time. In exchange for skills, our field partners provide free accommodation and immersive experiences. Our matching site makes it easy to find potential projects, and more importantly, it connects you to our support team, online training, and facilitated planning process to help you have a safe, high-impact trip.

Where do the volunteers typically get placed? And what types of organizations and projects do they get involved with?

MH: Our goal is to connect volunteers to organizations in any country where they want to travel. Beyond non-profits, we actually connect most volunteers to start-ups and social enterprises. An easy way to envision the organizations we work with is to look at your own community: Think of a small start-up working on education, an advocacy group working on environmental issues, or a university launching a social innovation lab. Now envision that organization in another country, like Colombia, Indonesia, India, or Kenya. They are small, growth-minded, and resource-hungry groups with real potential to create change. The right skills at the right time can really be catalytic to them, and they provide you a local, exciting experience in exchange for your know-how.

Let’s talk about your origin story. What compelled you to start MovingWorlds? Was there a particular “light bulb moment” that motivated you to take action?

MH: Yes and no. I spent a year traveling and volunteering my skills around the world to figure out how I could best support the social enterprise movement. For the longest time, I didn’t know that my very experience was something that others were looking for. It took a lot of people messaging me on my blog and a serendipitous meeting with Derk Norde, my co-founder, to come up with the idea of creating a platform to scale international skills-based volunteering, which we call Experteering.

Mark Horoszowski Experteering in Nepal with the Nepal Wireless Project
Mark Horoszowski Experteering in Nepal with the Nepal Wireless Project

 

You use the term “Experteers” to describe the volunteers that you help to place. If you had to explain it to your grandmother, how would you describe an Experteer?

MH: Someone who volunteers their expertise. Our most important assets are our time and brain, and Experteering is the giving of that to solve some of the biggest challenges facing global development.

Let’s hear about one of your success stories. Can you share a recent example of a community that was helped by one of your Experteers?

MH: We hope that every Experteering engagement accelerates the impact of organizations in the field. This can vary greatly, but one of the recent stories that I just love is of Deana. She’s an accomplished UX Designer at a major corporation. She only had a week of vacation, but really wanted to make an impact while traveling, and the chance to connect to an immersive travel experience. She helped Maya Traditions, a social enterprise creating education and job opportunities for its community, plan a new website to increase exposure of their local, artisanal products. Since she only had a week, we then found two other Experteers, a couple, to pick up where she left off. Deana actually ended up staying engaged virtually after returning home and was able to help mentor the two younger Experteers in the field, helping them not only develop a new site better than anyone could have imagined, but also was able to help teach them best practices so they could continue to grow in their fields. Check out the new Maya Traditions site!

Deana Experteering with Maya Traditions in Guatemala
Deana Experteering with Maya Traditions in Guatemala

 

What about the volunteers themselves? What do they take away from the experience?

MH: There is a quote I just love by Harvey S. Firestone: “You get the best of others when you give the best of yourself.” This message really resonates because in exchange for people giving their most valuable assets, they get this immersive, exciting, and impactful experience that many people call “the trip of a lifetime.” But what we’re seeing is this is more than just a trip. It’s a catalytic event. These experiences have helped people get new jobs, developed their skills, and given people the confidence to start their own socially responsible enterprises. We actually call “Experteeering” a gateway drug. It’s not for everyone, but some really get addicted as it blows their mind and then they can’t get enough.

Drew Miller, an architect, in front of his sustainably built “magic cabins” in Panama
Drew Miller, an architect, in front of his sustainably built “magic cabins” in Panama

 

Starting a new organization from the ground up is hard work. What advice do you have for someone who has an amazing social innovation idea for a new business and wants to make it a reality?

Go talk to potential customers and stakeholders and validate it using lean start-up principles. There are way too many failures in this space because people think they have good ideas. They don’t… they have passion and that is even more important.

Finally, how can people get involved with MovingWorlds?

MH: Visit MovingWorlds.org/join, tell us where you want to go, what skills you have, and when you want to go, and our support team will find projects that are the best fit for your skills. We do charge a membership fee (plans start at $99), and in exchange you get customer support, our facilitated planning process, and a guaranteed match to an organization that never charges you additional fees to volunteer.

Mark Horoszowski is co-founder and CEO of MovingWorlds.org, a global platform that connects people who want to travel and volunteer their expertise with social impact organizations around the globe. For more information, or to join up, visit the MovingWorlds website.