Dana Dutcher is an international development specialist based in Washington, D.C., and a first-time volunteer with ACDI/VOCA. She supported USAID Laos Microenterprise, a five-year project implemented by ACDI/VOCA and funded by USAID in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic aimed at making agricultural microenterprises more competitive. Read our Q&A with Dana below and learn more about how to volunteer with ACDI/VOCA.

Why Did You Decide to Volunteer with ACDI/VOCA?

International development specialist and volunteer Dana Dutcher

For the past three months, I have been working with ACDI/VOCA as a program management volunteer with USAID Laos Microenterprise. This volunteer opportunity came at a good moment for me as I was looking for a new career opportunity, was new to Washington, D.C., and was looking to gain more experience within Asia. I had been working in international development for a few years but did not have experience with large government donors and was hoping to learn more about their processes and what implementing a large-scale agricultural project entailed. USAID Laos Microenterprise seemed to have everything I was looking for, and I thought I would benefit from this volunteer opportunity as much as the project would benefit from having me.

What Was It Like Volunteering Remotely During the Pandemic?

While this position was supposed to be in the Xiengkhouang Province of Laos, given the host government’s COVID-19 protocols, it was instead based remotely in Washington, D.C. Despite the geographical distance, I have grown close with the staff I worked with and learned a lot about the context of Laos. 

My assignment was to help develop and implement processes that would allow the administrative pieces of this project to function more efficiently. Not being physically present made identifying gaps and weaknesses challenging but encouraged me to listen to staff closely and to learn what the project was about, and how the team operated. Through late night calls, WhatsApp messages, and emails, I learned about the project’s implementation, challenges and areas where staff needed additional support.

Tell Us More About How You Helped Improve Project Operations. 

I worked alongside the operations manager to learn her job function and what her role was within the project to ensure it operated smoothly. We worked together to find efficiencies that could streamline the work. We also created more transparent processes and ensured the work could be conducted within the allotted time. By creating processes and streamlining the work, we noticed that more work could get done in a shorter period, therefore ensuring that procurements and reimbursements happened quickly, and staff had drivers available to them for travel. We worked well together and became friends quickly, despite having never met one another. To me, that shows what great people ACDI/VOCA attracts and has working for them: friendly, confident, and capable partners.

What Was Unique About This Experience?

Given the unique nature of this volunteer position, and the fact that it was remote in its entirety, I also spent a lot of time working alongside and learning from ACDI/VOCA’s home office staff. The D.C.-based staff taught me ACDI/VOCA’s policies and practices, helped answer technical questions, and gave me the background knowledge to conduct this volunteer position well. I felt well resourced, supported, and encouraged throughout my time, which then allowed me to support USAID Laos Microenterprise in the ways they needed to be supported. 

“I cannot recommend my volunteer opportunity enough. For people who have spare time and want to learn more about government funding, agricultural programs, or a specific country, ACDI/VOCA’s volunteer opportunities are a great place to gain that knowledge.”

–Dana Dutcher, international development specialist and volunteer

Dana Dutcher is an international development specialist based in Washington, D.C., who specializes in project management. She began volunteering with ACDI/VOCA’s Volunteer Programs in March 2021, completing her first assignment remotely supporting agricultural activities in Laos. She holds an MS in international public service from DePaul University and a certificate in Mandarin Chinese and cultural interpretation from Zhejiang University- Hangzhou (China).

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