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What’s your Global Vision?

When was the last time something turned your world view upside-down?

Maybe it happened during a meal with a homestay family or while talking to a stranger amidst luggage and chickens on a packed local bus. Maybe it happened in the middle of a moving documentary, when you glimpsed an animal in its last remaining habitat, or when you exchanged glances with a child on the outskirts of a slum.

As Director of Programs with Global Vision International (GVI), Daniel Ponce-Taylor helps create those world-rattling, eye-opening, life-changing moments every day.

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Global vision, local ownership 

GVI’s mission is simple: to work with local partners to create real change on the ground, while giving international participants the opportunity to grow personally and professionally. As GVI puts it, their programs change lives and their alumni change the world.

Each sustainable development project is directed by a local partner such as a community centre, local NGO, government or university. That partner decides the needs and objectives, GVI provides the resources, expertise and/or participant’s power, and together they create real, lasting impacts for people and planet.

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So far the social enterprise has combined sustainable development, volunteer travel and education so effectively, it has run 450 programs and inspired more than 25,000 participants (i.e. potential sustainability ambassadors) in 18 years.

Finding your ‘why’ 

Ponce-Taylor’s world view was first rattled when he joined a community-led leatherback turtle conservation project in Costa Rica and realised that conservation impacts cannot happen without community leadership or the engagement of non-specialists.

A few years later, GVI tracked the oceanography graduate down for a job. “GVI’s aim is to build a global network of passionate people who want to make a change. That really resonates with me because I’ve been trying to share my knowledge, experience and passion with a bigger network so that everyone can make an impact on their own world. Some of those impacts might be small, some of them bigger, but everyone can do a little bit.”

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As Director of Programs, Danny now oversees all programs across GVI’s 16 locations globally, managing a team of 150 people. He ensures that all current projects are contributing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and achieving their locally set objectives – whether that’s increasing English literacy or creating new marine protected areas – and works with local partners to help develop new projects.

It’s a varied role that allows Ponce-Taylor to work towards many different objectives, from water harvesting to marine conservation, wildlife conservation and education. “If I had stayed in marine biology I would have loved it, but my vision of sustainable development would have been limited to that path. This allows me to really put things in perspective, look at things from many different angles and have a much broader impact.”

Jump-starting your career through volunteering

Being successful in conservation often comes down to everything but ‘traditional’ skills.

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For example, when Ponce-Taylor looks to hire a new recruit, flexibility and adaptability are worth far more than academic achievements. “I’m looking for people who are willing to learn something new, adapt to different situations and work with different cultures – people who can not only interact, but also to relate to different people and different ways of thinking.”

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The director, who grew up hiking, camping and diving in Mallorca, Spain, moved to Australia after graduating to get experience in as many marine ecosystems and environmental jobs as possible, picking up his Divemaster certification and volunteering for a state fisheries department.

Ponce-Taylor believes that participating in programs such as the ones GVI offer can solidify what you want to do, expose you to diverse experienced professionals, teach you a variety of real skills and – most importantly – give you the opportunity to get paid work in your field (70% of GVI staff come from previous participants).

Take every opportunity to widen your skillset, learn languages and become a well-rounded professional, he says. Be adventurous, get out of your comfort zone, aim high and – most importantly – trust your skills; you’ll get farther and have much more impact if you do.

Having met several successful conservationists who volunteered or worked with GVI, it’s clear that the organisation can be a great career launching pad. GVI projects give participants something that’s hard to come by as a young graduate – very high levels of responsibility – by exposing them to accounting, logistics and other skills needed to manage conservation projects.

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If cost is a barrier, GVI offers funding through some government programs (for example, check out the Australian Government-funded New Colombo Plan which funds field internships in the Indo-Pacific region for Australians) and runs a scholarship program that offers free spaces for nationals in countries where they operate. If you already have some experience and skills, you can also apply for a junior staff role, which includes a stipend, medical insurance and expenditures. You can find all GVI’s current openings at www.careersabroad.co.uk.

Once you’re in a role, Ponce-Taylor recommends not being afraid, learning from all feedback (positive and negative) focusing on the quality of your work (even when asked to multi-task), and learning from others, regardless of their experience. “Everyone brings something interesting to the table – be open to new ideas, to new suggestions, there is always something to learn from everyone.”

Training the next generation of sustainability leaders

After more than 15 years of experience and considered one of the global leaders in experiential learning and education, GVI is now also putting a lot of emphasis in shaping the mentality and awareness of the next generation of sustainability leaders. In the last three years GVI has placed 15-17 year-olds on projects to learn about global citizenship, different cultures and current environmental, health and community development issues.

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“Everyone seems to have very structured, easy lives,” explains Ponce-Taylor. “I’m excited to grab youth early on and rattle their foundations, what they have seen in the world. I want to take them out of those boundaries and get them to experience nature, communities and rough situations.”

“If we can provide some amazing, life-changing experiences and open their eyes to not only the issues that are happening globally, but also what they can do with their skills, I think we can create a network of people who really are passionate to make a change.” 

All images courtesy of Global Vision International (www.gviusa.com).

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