Atlas Corps – Overseas Fellowships

  • Atlas Corps turns all previous international volunteerism models on their heads by reversing the flow of volunteers through a one-year fellowship programme that brings rising non-profit sector leaders from the global South (starting with India and Colombia) to volunteer at US non-profit sector organizations. Atlas Corps strives to build the capacity of the non-profit sector both in the United States and around the world through this exchange.
  • Countries from around the world send rising non-profit leaders to the United States to volunteer, learn skills, share knowledge, and come home to strengthen their domestic non-profit sectors. 
  • Atlas Corps believes that talent is equally distributed throughout the world, but opportunity is not.
The problem addressed by the campaign: 
  • Atlas Corps seizes the opportunity created by a market failure – the inability of individuals from overseas to volunteer in the United States due to visa restrictions and limited resources.
  • There are thousands of experienced and talented international leaders who would be happy to volunteer a year of their life in the United States, but they lack the money or the opportunity to give of their time and talent.
  • Atlas Corps engages leaders committed to the non-profit sector in 12 to 18 month professional fellowships at organizations to learn best practices, build organizational capacity, and return home to create a network of global changemakers ready to address the world’s most critical social issues.
  • The Atlas Corps network of Fellows includes 100 individuals from 30 countries.
  • One-hundred Fellows; 30 countries; and 50 host organizations; including Fellows from countries such as Pakistan, Colombia, Nigeria and Zimbabwe have all received their visas and returned home, demonstrating that multilateral service is possible and effective.
  • In 2011, 2,000 candidates from 150 countries applied for 50 positions.
  • In less than five years, a 233% increase in the number of Fellows and a 700% increase in the number of countries were achieved.
  • Fellows serving in Colombia have achieved US$ 1.5 million in funding for their host organizations.
Why has it worked?: 
  • Atlas Corps creates value by leveraging the experienced efforts of skilled non-profit professionals in volunteer placements overseas.
  • Rather than just place Fellows at US non-profit organizations as an expensive international exchange programme, Atlas Corps charges a cost share to US non-profit host organizations based on the AmeriCorps VISTA model. 
  • With AmeriCorps VISTA, it is common for host organizations to pay a cost share to the US government for each volunteer. These VISTA Members are full-time, year-long volunteers, usually right out of college. 
  • The Atlas Corps cost share is less than the cost of an entry-level employee (about US$ 29,500, depending on the city), but our Fellows are easily worth well above US$ 50,000 based on what the market would pay for the typical profile of Atlas Corps Fellows (29 years old, with five years of experience, the majority with a masters degree, bilingual with international perspectives).
Conclusions and Recommendations: 
  • As the cost share approaches the per-fellow expenses, Atlas Corps will quickly scale to involve thousands of Fellows from countries around the world volunteering in cities all around the world. 
  • Eventually, Atlas Corps will achieve the systems changing impact when the “developing world” is no longer seen as a recipient for aid, but rather as a partner in development. 
  • The global non-profit sector must leverage the skills, talent and time from inspiring individuals around the world, no matter where they were born. 
  • Only through global partnerships and cooperation can non-profits tackle global challenges.
Foundational Issues: 
Public and private constraints on mobility
Level of Collaboration: 
Level 3: Collaboration on an industry or regional level
Global (all of the above)
Economic and political context: 
  • Atlas Corps has been referred to as a reverse Peace Corps or multinational Peace Corps. “Reverse volunteering” is the process through which people from developing nations perform volunteer work in communities throughout the United States.
  • Atlas Corps arranges for professional-level volunteers from around the world (piloted with professionals from India and Colombia) to serve in US-based non-profit organizations.
About the Author(s): 

In 2006, Scott Beale developed the idea for Atlas Service Corps (“Atlas Corps”) while working for Ashoka and the US Department of State in India and Colombia. Atlas Corps is a US non-profit organization with a mission “to address critical global issues by developing leaders, strengthening organizations and promoting innovation in the non-profit sector through building an international network of skilled professional Fellows.” It was incorporated and officially recognized as a 501(c)(3) organization by the US Internal Revenue Service on October 23, 2006.