Return on Investment

Return on Investment, or RoI, is one of those financial statistics that stock brokers throw around. I never really understood it, or at least, I never really invested the time to understand it. However, since working as a Volunteer, I’ve come to truly understand it and it has an important meaning for me, and I think it is very important to all Volunteers to take it into account. Anyone wondering how I approach my work will also find it interesting.

RoI is basically the ratio of what you put in to what you get it. Not speaking in the most technical of terms, if I invest $2 in a company, and later on I get $4 back, I have a healthily positive RoI. My investment doubled. And if I owe get $1 back, well that’s negative RoI. You don’t want that. Likewise, as a Volunteer, if I put in four hours of work and one or two people become marginally better prepared at something, like managing a business, well that’s a positive RoI. I’ll take it. However, if spend three hours and 10 disadvantaged people are better trained, say at personal financial management, well that a great RoI in my book, because for relatively little effort a lot of people benefit.

This is precisely how I evaluate my projects and prioritize my work. Here’s a rundown for some of my projects:

Co-Planning & Co-Teaching

  • HUGE investment (50%+ of my time), but big potential payout with all of the students I can reach, plus the possibility that the teachers will be better prepared to teach entrepreneurship for years to come

Student Entrepreneurship Competitions

  • This one is a bit of a shaky investment. I invested massive amounts of time in August, September, and October planning the series of competitions held in León. This included fundraising, planning with the Ministry of Education, waking up at 5:00 AM to make 120 sandwiches, and multiple day-long trips to teachers in remote communities in other municipalities to invite them and help them evaluate their students. The investment paid off. The competitions were successful. However, relatively few students participated compared to the large number of students that I work with. Although as a redeeming factor, the competition is helpful, to some degree, to motivate the students.

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Teacher Trainings

  • Minimal investment (I only have to spend a few hours preparing, and then just give the training), and I think the teachers (and indirectly their students) greatly benefit from the trainings. Plus, it allows me to reach teachers that I don’t normally work with. One of my highest RoI activities.

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Mejora tu Vida! – Financial Education Sessions

  • Again, minimal investment (planning is easy because the curriculum and videos are already made, I just review them and then facilitate the class), and I think that six or so steady participants will get a lot out of the series.

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Business Advisory

  • Calculating exactly how much time I put into business advising is hard, but usually it takes the form of informal conversation. It also often requires travel to the remote locations some of my clients work in. And so far, with these informal relationships, I’ve been disappointed with the outcomes. I’ll keep trying when I can, but the RoI seems low compared to some of my other activities. In the future I may try to find some larger groups that I can give business training to, rather than the one-on-one work I have been doing so far.

And I don’t want to miss a chance to be critical. Nor do I want to miss a chance to be controversial. I know that a lot of readers of this blog have been involved in the type of activities I am about the explain. I’m suspect of youth camps, which a lot of Volunteers are planning for their communities. Planning multi-day activities (typically they last up to one week) such as a youth-camp takes an immense amount of time. In addition, the Volunteers often have to solicit funds through grants, which is in itself a time consuming process and really does ratchet up the financial stakes of evaluating the investment. The feedback from the participants is usually excellent, and sometimes there are as many as 60 participants, which is great. In the past few months my peers have planned a ton of camps:

  • Youth Leadership Camp
  • Health Lifestyles Camp
  • Retreat for Youth Living with HIV
  • Girls Empowerment (known as Camp GLOW)
  • Boys Empowerment (currently in the planning and execution stage)

But given the amount of time and money put in for a few excellent days with 60 or so participants, I don’t think that these projects have a great RoI. I would personally rather plan a number  of smaller projects in my community that possibly last for longer periods of time so that I can develop a relationship with the participants and help them use the techniques that I am teaching them. I think that has a larger payout.

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