11 Ways to Use Big Finance to Help the World

This post is fantastic. Brett Veerhusen, Esc’s biggest fan from the other side of the pond, is currently working for BlueEnergy Group, writing for La Vida Idealist, and being kind enough to be Esc Hero profiled here and to write words of wisdom for our blog. Thanks Brett.

Please support me and blueEnergy give the gift of light to rural and poor coastal communities in Nicaragua. Donate to my marathon campaign. http://www.firstgiving.com/brettveerhusen

11 Ways to Use Big Finance to Help the World

Most of us scour Escape the City for a similar cause: to find reason, motivation and a chance to get out there, wherever there may be. But, how can you use your skills in a job that may not be the perfect fit to help organizations around the world?

I left my Analyst position at a top, Fortune 500 Company to work as the Controller for blueEnergy Group in Bluefields, Nicaragua. This organization builds and installs renewable energy like wind turbines and solar panels to rural, and very poor coastal communities along the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua.

Here are 11 methods to transfer the skills from your day-to-day city grind towards helping an international organization.


Your professional skills are extremely valuable to the right organization. Do your homework and be patient and you will be able to advance your professional skills while gaining in-the-field experience.


Contact local offices or branches of international organizations that interest you and set up an information session. Get face time with people already working for the cause you are interested in. Perhaps they know of an opening, within, or outside their organization.


Microfinance organizations are popping up around the world. This is a perfect fit for those with big finance experience that want to volunteer and/or work abroad. Check out Microfinance Gateway, Kiva and Idealist.org for opportunities.


Focus on a geographical area and subject matter. There are a myriad of opportunities and it can be daunting to find the right one. Narrow your search.


Start networking and volunteering locally. Every city has networks or groups for those interested in a certain subject. For example, I became involved with the Seattle Microfinance Organization, volunteered at their events, which connected me to individuals who worked for organizations that interested me, including blueEnergy.


More often than not, international organizations, especially non-profits, can always use a helping hand with infrastructure. Your finance skills can be used in almost every organization. You have a hard skill and whether it’s human rights, renewable energy or education, every organization can use your help.

It is difficult to have streamlined processes with such harsh working conditions particularly if many people who work for the organization are volunteers. Big finance teaches you how to pay attention to detail with strong technical skills. These are extremely valuable assets to any organization. Use them to your advantage and market your skills. Are you an expert with macros or other fancy Excel expertise? Use it. Can you streamline an accounting system and processes? Use it.


Be creative where you search. Smaller and lesser known organizations can use your help too. Look for eco-lodges in Latin America or perhaps an orphanage in Africa, both of which can truly benefit from your skills.


Do you want to go to a country and learn the language? Are you willing to spend a significant amount of time abroad, but can’t track down the right organization?

Go to the country that you have chosen, enroll in a long-term language immersion program and wing it. Once you are on the ground in the country, you’ll have a much better opportunity to connect with places that need your help. Focus on a more metropolitan area to start.

Also, you can talk to other travelers and locals who know more than what the Internet can tell you. If you want to learn Spanish, for example, book a ticket to Nicaragua and you can expect to pay roughly $150-200 per week for a homestay, two meals a day and 20 hours of private tutoring. This is a great situation to put yourself in because you are learning another language and getting a better perspective on where you want to work. Get out there and stop procrastinating.


Be relentless. Email, call and knock on the doors where you want to volunteer. Remember that many of these organizations do not have the infrastructure to handle all inquiries in a timely manner. Show your dedication by being persistent.


Micro-entrepreneurs are a growing sector. This is similar to microfinance, but on a slightly larger scale. Your business experience, especially with developing financial structures and perhaps accounting systems are hugely valuable. Organizations are helping locals incubate small businesses to build capacity on how to run a successful enterprise. You’ve already worked for a successful company and can transfer your skills to smaller businesses.


Forget finance and give everything else you got!!! Volunteer for an orphanage, or even an organic farm through WWOOF. You can gain valuable in-country experience while breaking away from the 9-5. Plus, you can learn another language, which will open doors and pay dividends (pardon the financial nerdy terms) in the future!

Feel free to contact me if you have any specific questions and hopefully I can be of service. Have fun searching… remember how lucky you are to have the opportunity to help others. Not everyone has the same chance; we have no control what reality we are born into.

You can ask Brett a question at the bottom of his Hero profile or get in touch via his First Giving page.

  • http://www.tbnetwork.org Jerry Marshall

    Great stuff but go beyond non profit and microfinance. The real powerhouse of development is the SME sector, which is typically small in developing countries, the ‘missing middle’.
    1. Some of our members started an SME fund in Nairobi, which now has nearly 300 clients – who could not borrow from banks – and the fund produces a reasonable return so growth is easy.
    2. One member raised £10m and runs an organisation with 8 farms in Malawi and 13,000 outgrowers who earn an extra $1000 pa growing cash crops and growing staples more effectively. The farms provide trials and training and have literacy and feeding programmes. Again investors are getting a reasonable financial return too, so there is scope to grow without depending on fickle donations.
    3. Many members mentor and / or invest in individual SMEs.
    4. Some members are helping orphans in Africa or ex-trafficked women in Camboia but through integrated projects that include for-profit SMEs that provide vocational training and initially sheltered employment.
    Meanwhile members have a great time meeting amazing people and visiting parts of the world we would not otherwise get to see.
    For more info, come to our London conference on 14 May, see http://www.tbnetwork.org and on escapethecity.org .

  • http://www.blueenergygroup.org Brett Veerhusen

    Great feedback Jerry, and I couldn’t agree more. Other companies like E+CO provide seed capital to entrepreneurs. Look for ways to get involved with SME (Small, Medium Enterprise) development because this is definitely a growing sector.

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