Alumna shines as volunteer abroad

Earlier this year, recent alumna Hannah Partington (2013, Neuroscience) spent three months volunteering abroad in Ghana as part of the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme, an overseas volunteering initiative funded by the UK Government. She caught up with CatzEye to tell us all about her experience.

What inspired you to take part in a volunteering initiative such as this?

After graduating last year I still did not know what I wanted to do. I had friends who were going to work in the City and others staying on and doing Masters’ or PhDs – all of which I knew were not for me. At Oxford I enjoyed the volunteering I did and I have always had the desire to travel so when I heard about ICS it seemed too good an opportunity to let pass me by.

What did you do on a day to day basis?

I was working for Balloon Ventures, a charity which works with aspiring entrepreneurs in Kenya, Uganda and Ghana. I was placed in Ho, Ghana, a small town in one of the poorest regions of the country.

I worked with 4 entrepreneurs during my placement, meeting them all individually several times a week. As well as giving sessions on finance, and helping the entrepreneurs to develop and document their business model, I spent time trying to innovate their business ideas to ensure that the business would exploit a gap in the market and not copy another business that already existed.  We also performed market research and at the end of the programme created prototypes to test their ideas.

Our entrepreneur Michael was full of energy and enthusiasm, making him great fun to work with. His business idea was cassava distribution. This idea has huge potential as large companies in Ghana find it hard to acquire the volume of cassava they require as farms tend to be small scale and produce is sold locally. At the end of the programme we succeeded in securing Michael a contract with Caltech Ventures Ltd, a biofuel company.

What was the most enjoyable part of your experience? And the most challenging?

Living in Ghana definitely had its challenges. The heat was exhausting, the food was unappetising and Ghana Man Time (their tendency to arrive an hour after the arranged time) was frustrating! However, ICS was an experience I will never forget. Some of my favourite memories include my baby host-sister’s outdooring ceremony, helping out at a friend’s nursery during my free time and seeing the success of the prototype testing carried out towards the end.