Follow-up on international volunteering

Thanks again to Jisung and the S&S team for having me on the show!  I’d like to use this space to clarify two clumsy statements I made on the podcast, and then offer a short reflection about where I’d like to see Omprakash go from here, and how this hope for the future relates to some of the larger economic forces that Jisung and I discussed.

The clarifications: first, I cited Larry Summers as being the ‘head of the World Bank’ when he publicly celebrated the positive outcomes of girls’ schooling in the early 1990s.  In fact, he was the World Bank’s Chief Economist at that time.  Secondly, when stating some overview statistics for girls’ school enrollment in rural Pakistan, I said that only about 12% of girls make it through primary school (grades one through five).  In fact, this is a misstatement: the figure 12% represents the proportion of school-aged girls that enroll in secondary school, but the proportion of school-aged girls that complete primary school is closer to 40%. (These statistics are from the Government of Pakistan’s 2008 ‘Education for All: Mid Decade Assessment Report.’  The report states that 56% of girls in rural Pakistan ever enroll in primary school, and of these, roughly 67% make it through grade five.)

Of course, these numbers only give the faintest sketch of the changes that are (and are not) occurring in Pakistan’s educational landscape, and that’s why my real research interest is not changes in girls’ enrollment per se, but rather the complex ideas, intentions, aspirations, and evaluations that are bound up in those changing enrollment rates.  My sense is that these qualitative aspects of ‘demand’ for girls’ schooling are often overlooked in the popular and academic literature, and that investigating them more carefully will enable a more nuanced understanding of what is happening at the nexus of gender, education, and global processes of development.

The patterns of change that take place at this nexus are local in scope but cannot be separated from larger global flows of people, information, and material resources.  As I tried to make clear on the show, these transnational flows constitute the fundamental overlap between my research and Omprakash: while my research tries to parse out their effects in a very specific context, my work with Omprakash is an effort to help diverse social actors negotiate the challenges and possibilities of leveraging these flows for the common good.  As Jisung noted on the show, this effort addresses a matching problem as well as a basic information gap, and by doing so it aims to increase efficiency, transparency, and trust between different individuals, communities, and organizations that can learn from and support each other’s work.

Looking forward, I hope to see Omprakash expand to a point at which it is performing this vetting and matching service not just for volunteers, organizations, and small-scale donors, but also for a range of other actors: secondary and tertiary-level educational institutions seeking to help their students become more engaged learners and more conscious global citizens; corporations seeking to explore new avenues of social responsibility; philanthropists or socially-conscious investors seeking small-scale projects or innovative social business models to invest in—the list goes on.  If we manage to monetize the provision of some of these services, this could generate a revenue stream to cross-subsidize the other basic matching services that we hope to continue providing for zero cost to all users.  At this stage it is far too early to make predictions on feasibility, but all of these ideas excite me.

To avoid ending on a note that sounds too much like oversimplified economics of supply and demand, I want to conclude by reiterating that I understand organizations like Omprakash fulfill a role that is fundamentally educational: my greatest hope is just that we can provide a meaningful avenue through which people can learn about the world we share. I welcome all critical feedback, comments and correspondence about this effort—or anything else I’ve mentioned—either on this blog or at [email protected]. Thank you!