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November 12, 2012

"How She Does It" Recap with Caitlin Kelley

by Theresa VanderMeer, Founder of WORK+SHELTER and The Lotus Odyssey

On October 15th the NYWSE community gathered for dinner and drinks at gastropub 121 Fulton to hear about Africa Volunteer Corps (AVC) founder Caitlin Kelley’s adventures in Tanzania and beyond. Caitlin founded AVC in 2009 after a tenure in Tanzania that left her grappling with a conundrum – many Westerners came to Tanzania to volunteer but weren’t able to actually make a positive impact. Conversely, local Tanzanians with the capacity, skills, and drive to make a difference in their own communities were told they didn’t have the right “experience” to get involved.

Discussions between Caitlin and her friend, Tanzanian Jafari Msaki, resulted in the birth of the Africa Volunteer Corps. AVC’s mission is to “unite passionate, qualified African volunteers with African NGOs to deepen their impact and empower Africans to play a vital role in shaping Africa's future.” The benefits are twofold – support existing development initiatives with local volunteers, and provide the opportunity for Tanzanians to gain the “experience” other international non-profits claim the candidates are lacking.

Caitlin brought the NYWSE community her hard-fought lessons. When prompted to share advice with the group on founding our own initiative, she advised us to:

1. Listen to your stakeholders

2. Trust your instincts in order move into uncharted territory

3. Fall in love with fear - Fear is a great indication that you’re getting outside of your comfort zone, and a good sign that you are where you need to be

Additionally we learned about working in Tanzania -

Don’t rush or push – it will inhibit your ability to get anything done and will alienate people. The best thing you can do is really invest the time into building relationships with the community. Formally introduce yourself and your organization to universities or the local police office, but don’t forget the informal route as well – bringing out those police offers for drinks could end up being just as important!

And finally, Caitlin’s advice for when the going gets tough?  

Nothing is impossible - you just need to figure it out. Always remember that challenges are blessings in disguise!


About Caitlin Kelley

Caitlin Kelley’s mission is to help people live their greatest potential and to shift the paradigm of how the West interacts with Africa. After studying African history at Northwestern University, the path to facilitate justice and self-determination wherever possible took her to Tanzania where she learned Swahili and worked at a grassroots NGO. While there, she saw the world of local NGO’s from the inside out and met many passionate, educated locals hungry to find lasting ways to make a positive impact in their country. In 2009 she and partner Jafari Msaki founded Africa Volunteer Corps, a service corps for Africans to work in African-initiated development projects. Contact her at [email protected]


About Theresa VanderMeer

Theresa VanderMeer is an American professional interested in development economics, what it means to be human, and harnessing technology and innovation for social change. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan, founder of WORK+SHELTER and The Lotus Odyssey, and member of the NYWSE leadership team. She deeply identifies with the statement, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” Contact her at [email protected] 



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Listening is a powerful tool to keep one's attention. Listen to stakeholders for they will give golden advises.

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