STM Volunteer: You are the punchline

You are a STM volunteer who wants to change the world.

To your friends and family you are one incredibly sexy beast. To the machinery of big-international relief and development agencies you, a STM Volunteer, are the problem.

You need to know that there are huge systems already in place.

  • cog in the STM machineGovernments have committed 10s of billions of dollars to fixing the poor.
  • Famous brand name agencies have done this work for centuries.
  • Experts have written the book on centuries of failures.
  • Researchers spend millions of dollars to study and research and collect and collate and teach new standards and blah, blah, blah. Then everyone decides to change them next month.
  • Rock stars bring their massive star-power and swagger
  • Countless students with doctorates in international studies are willing to work for anyone, anytime, anywhere just to gain some practical experience so they can start to pay their student loans.

To this massive beast of an industry –  you, a volunteer with a good heart and a few months – are not even noticeable.

You are not even a cog in this machine … yet.


The Idealism of the STM Volunteer

you are the punchlineYou with your idealistic hope to change the problems of humanity do not know what you are doing.

You are not the first one into the community. In most cases you are not even the 101 person into the community.

Your solutions have been thought of, by people with doctorates on their office walls, many times over.

As a STM volunteer into this world, you are the punch line to the jokes.



You say your heart led you here.

You are unpredictable, unwanted and untested. For the experts your two weeks in that Guatemalan orphanage, cruise around the Caribbean and band trip to Europe don’t count. In fact they are a liability!

You want to understand but you don’t know the insider language that development experts speak. You won’t even realize it when you are being evaluated: When someone asks to see your EPR or whether your WASH program meets SPHERE – you will be judged and dismissed in moments. You are rejected before you even knew it was a test.

They see the idealism in your eyes, passion in your heart and enough support from friends and family to stay on the field for a few months and they will wait for you to fail and go home already.

That’s the bad news


Here is the good news.STM volunteer change what you know

  • You are not alone.
  • You can succeed.
  • And you will make a difference if you are willing to change everything you thought was right.

There are a thousand reasons why you can’t do this, you need the one reason why you will.



What’s your reason? 

Mark Crocker

March 25, 2019

6 responses on "STM Volunteer: You are the punchline"

  1. A great post! It is so easy to forget that, as a STM volunteer, you are not the first person to enter the community in attempts to provide change. While you may have great ideas to change the community, these ideas have likely been thought of before by others in your position. But it is encouraging that even though you face these struggles, there is still hope for you to make a difference by keeping things in perspective

  2. OK Mark, you succeeded in getting my attention. Well written, correct and necessary. Thanks for saying it. Looking forward to part 2. On a side note, given we have a foot in both worlds, it’s remarkable how (often) poorly the professionals perform. As a process person, I love the INGO’s systems, but in terms of value for money, I would be very interested to measure real outcomes between the volunteers with heart, and the professionals with knowledge (and whole lot of misspent dough). Happily, there are a examples when the two are successfully married. It’s not one or the other, but our short-term volunteer orgs. can really improve by how they strategically make use of short-terms by linking them to a long-term strategy and a specific value add; our short-terms can learn to appreciate the complexity (and, perhaps, unlikelihood) of “making a real difference;” and the INGO’s can also learn to maximize the potential of short-terms by appropriate placement (Cuso does this well). I kind of see our STM’s like the annual fireworks festival, they’re in our life just briefly–but meaningfully: they dramatically light up the sky for a time, the long-term impact is minimal, but you (and our local partners) really miss them when they’re gone and can’t wait till they come back again.

    • Great comments Peter! love the fireworks analogy and I think it often fits.

      What I suggest for long-term workers (like yourself) is that we stop primarily accommodating Short Term teams on their needs and see how they can be used to fulfill the long-term agenda of the long-term worker. Much easier said than done i know, but if we started from that perspective more frequently, we may be able to see some interesting change …

  3. Appreciate the comment and the insights Jay – i think you pulled out some great thoughts from it!

  4. Very provocative piece and very challenging. What is good about it is that it is realistic and challenges short term workers to really think about what they are doing and to not be arrogant by thinking they have all the answers.

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