25 Years of Global Service
Projects Abroad is the world’s leading international volunteering organisation, with headquarters in the UK and offices and projects in over 50 countries around the world. With our global reach, we offer the widest range of volunteer projects and locations, and our own dedicated staff are on hand 24/7 to make sure our volunteers make the most of their experience and leave a lasting, positive impact.
In 2017, Projects Abroad celebrates 25 years of supporting international volunteering. Since 1992, we have sent volunteers to work in 38 countries and helped over 100,000 people make a lasting impact across the globe.
We asked Dr Peter Slowe, the founder of Projects Abroad, to tell us more about his experiences with the company, and how volunteering abroad has grown over the years:
In 2016, Projects Abroad embarked on an exciting journey with the appointment of a new CEO, Greg Thomson, who has taken over the day-to-day running of Projects Abroad from our founder, Peter Slowe.
Greg is a supported by a highly experienced core team, many of whom are former volunteers themselves, and by committed and passionate project and recruitment staff in countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, North America, Australasia and the Pacific Islands. We are a multi-national organisation that works across language, cultural and geographic lines. Cultural exchange is at the heart of who we are.
We also believe in supporting long-term economic and skills development in the countries where we work, which is why we have established several support offices in developing countries, including an IT office in Romania, a design office in Mexico, a finance office in Mongolia and a volunteer support and recruitment team in South Africa.
Where it all started
In the early 1990s, some students in the UK wanted a break from their studies to do something worthwhile - what today we’d call a “gap year”, although the term wasn’t in common use then.
They approached their geography professor, Dr Peter Slowe, to help them find opportunities to travel and work in Eastern Europe, an area then just beginning the deal with the aftermath of the end of the Cold War. At the time, with Eastern Europe experiencing significant change, it was difficult to find reliable information on opportunities for these students, especially in the days before the internet! Fortunately, Peter was able to help, using contacts among fellow geographers in the region, and he arranged for the students to go and teach English in Moldova.
This is how Projects Abroad was founded in 1992. Until 1997, we were a small, family-run organisation with just a few part-time staff working with Peter Slowe to help university students to go and teach English in Eastern Europe. But as more and more people were taking time away from studies and careers to travel and work overseas, and with many developing countries in need of self-funded volunteers, there was increased demand for our organised volunteer travel programmes.
Since 1997, Projects Abroad has gone from strength to strength. We have grown from a small, family-run organisation in the UK to a team of over 600 people spread across 50 countries, with the vast majority working directly with our volunteers at our many different projects.
The evolution of our Group trips
Over the last decade, Projects Abroad began to notice the popularity of people wanting to volunteer overseas as a group. We were increasingly approached by schools, universities, groups of students, friends, families, corporations and organisations all looking to join our projects and work together towards making a positive impact. That’s when Projects Abroad Groups began.
Ian Birbeck, who was one of the original volunteers in Moldova in 1992, had been working with Projects Abroad for a number of years helping to establish new recruitment offices and opening up new destinations for our volunteers. Given his previous experience as a teacher, he decided to take on the role of creating Projects Abroad Groups and open up our volunteering opportunities to groups around the UK.
Over the following years, the Groups department went from success to success, even being awarded the Extraordinary Experience Award at the Global Youth Travel Awards following the Dunshaughlin school’s group trip to Ghana. The prestigious award was presented at the conference of World Youth Student and Educational Travel Confederation (WYSE).
We are now working in 30 countries worldwide with over 100 different placements available to groups. Whether it is conserving rare ecosytems, constructing new schools, teaching English or assisting doctors in hospitals, we have a wide range of placements that are fully flexible and can be customised to each group’s preferences. These groups can range from 5 friends travelling together to a large school or university group with in excess of 30 students.
Today, our dedicated Groups team acts as a hub for groups and recruitment offices from all corners of the world.
Looking towards the next 25 years
We’ve come a long way from our humble beginnings in 1992. Our volunteers have helped us achieve an incredible amount in the last 25 years, but there is so much more still to be done.
We’re constantly developing new projects in our existing destinations, and looking at more countries where volunteers can make a difference. 2017 has already seen the official launch of our Global Impact Database, which we are using to track and show the impact that our volunteers make across the globe.
Volunteers are needed around the world now more than ever. Find out how you can get involved, and be a part of our journey to make a difference across the world.
We took this opportunity to sit down with Greg to hear his story and experiences with Projects Abroad, and his vision for the company.
Projects Abroad in the global economy
We help to create local employment wherever we send volunteers. We employ many people directly and provide plenty of work indirectly through the services we provide for volunteers. We have also devolved various "Head Office" functions, such as management accountancy which is done in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and Design which is done in Mexico.
Our many local colleagues mean that, our extensive network of local knowledge enables us to channel the skills of our volunteers to places they are really needed.
Cultural exchange and freedom of choice
Volunteers learn from their chosen placements and from the people they meet and vice versa. Mutual learning and mutual respect is what cultural exchange is all about.
We are truly global in our outlook. We welcome approaches from potential partners – schools, centres, hospitals and so on – from across the developing world; wherever they are or whatever they do, we will try to meet their needs. And we welcome ideas from potential volunteers too; if a volunteer has an idea for a new programme or a new destination, we will do everything we can to enable them to work in their own way. We will cherish their ideas and we will meet their requirements. We believe that flexibility on our part is a necessary consequence of our respect for our partners and our respect for volunteers.
The Projects Abroad Group
Projects Abroad (UK) Ltd, Projects Abroad (Europe) Ltd and Projects Abroad Travel Ltd are all members of The Projects Abroad Group and are all companies registered in England.