Building a Business on the Spirit of Volunteerism

Nada Rochevska led language services during the run-up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. She has been a part of many Olympics, both Winter, and Summer, since her first experience at the Lillehammer Youth Olympics in 2016.

Her vast knowledge of the volunteer experience and mega sporting events combined with her love of sport has led her to create Sports Volunteering Solutions, a German-based consulting firm that helps host cities, international federations, and countries to coordinate the roles, training, and work of volunteers.

Winning volunteer experiences are a key to successful events, as they foster memorable and lasting contributions. These sports legacies are what Nada is dedicated to creating.


A Star Athlete
Nada’s story of how she became a world leader in the volunteer movement is quite interesting. Her name means Hope, and that is really central to what she is doing today. She worked on a large-scale project for the parliament of Macedonia and played basketball in Macedonia’s national basketball league.

However, as with many athletes, serious injuries forced her to retire early. This was initially devastating for a girl that grew up with basketball, and whose life was centered around the sport.


Basketball helped me to be confident in life. It also provided me a way to be free and get the best out of myself on the field.


In university, she studied law and was looking for a way to involve herself in sport as a profession, but there were not really many opportunities beyond part-time coaching. So, she decided to move to Germany to seek out new opportunities.


Even though she had been a lawyer in her home country, she was unable to transfer her law background to work in the EU. So she needed to reinvent her career path. This led her to the field of sports management.


As I worked with sports at the highest level, my mind was opened to other possibilities and I came across sport management. This opened my mind to setting up a new profession and interests. I decided to leave law, that was a very difficult decision. I started from zero and went back to school. I won an internship with HC Vardar in the Management Department of the Club. That was the start of my sport management career.


Participating as a volunteer and being hungry to build up herself, her knowledge, and network has led to countless opportunities for Nada. 

Experiencing the thrill of participating in international events makes us hungry for more. That eventually became a calling for me. It also provided a way for me to grow as a person.

Initially, I liked the environment and being part of something different as a volunteer. These experiences led me to the realization that whatever I do in life, I must enjoy it. When I can enjoy, I can do things at the highest level.


First International Competition Experiences
Nada’s first international volunteer experience came at the European Beach Handball Championship Lloret de Mar 2015 in Spain. When she arrived for her assignment, they told her that she would be charged with managing a group of volunteers. Shocked by this role, she diligently spent the first few nights studying about the volunteer experience.

She didn’t really know anything about her role or the work her team was to perform. In the end, she succeeded in contributing to the making of a spectacular event.

“It was so amazing,” she explained, “that I felt I needed to do it again.”


That led to her first Olympic volunteer experience at the 2016 Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer. She left her suitcase in Spain and went all-in on the experience. Her first impressions were that the people were really warm, and the weather was really cold. This was a bit of a shock for someone from the warm climate of southern Europe.


Nevertheless, she threw herself in the deep end and really taught herself how to not only survive but to thrive.

Initially, the cold weather and a minor illness had me thinking about taking the next plane home, but I considered deeply that I was there for a reason, and decided to keep going.


Transformed
After Lillehammer, Nada thought about how to be part of something as monumental as the Olympics again.

I love research, so I thought I need to study more and get more experience.


Initially, she Googled how to apply to volunteer at the Olympics. After applying and receiving notice of her acceptance, she was overjoyed. As she describes it, “I ran up and down the street jumping for joy.”


Going through these experiences, she learned that she was stronger than she thought. Not only that, but her volunteer activities allowed her to meet all kinds of people, both locally and internationally. She learned about how to make the volunteer experience memorable.

That was the key to where she and her company are today.

As a manager of volunteers, you have responsibility for the people and you consciously need to leave a positive mark on them and their volunteer experience. Will they volunteer again? Part of that is decided by their experience this time around. That is a big responsibility.

When a country or a city wins the bid for a big event and initially they are really excited. Once that joy wears off, the event organizers wonder what to do next. The answer is call Nada. She will help you to have a successful event.

Volunteering is a kind of job and it is very challenging for the managers because they need to motivate their people to do the job cheerfully and for free. Unlike a position where money is a motivator.

I worked in Rio and was assigned to assist the Macedonian team and got a full credential. I was able to attend meetings and really be a part of the team and the Olympics themselves. I would say, this experience was similar to getting a Ph.D. in sports management.

Nada ended her Olympic experience in Rio by carrying the Macedonian flag in the closing ceremonies. This was an honor given to her by the team for her outstanding contributions. “It has to be one of the best experiences of my life,” she explained when recollecting the story.

From Volunteer to Creating Volunteer Systems
After Rio, Nada wanted to find a way to be part of the Olympic world. So, she looked for gaps in her knowledge and skillsets. Then, sat in on classes at German Sport University Cologne (One of the leading universities in the world for Olympic Studies). One term she audited a class on Olympic history. In the class, they were having a discussion on the 1936 games and when they started to discuss some of the issues surrounding the infamous Nazi Games games, she came to understand that she was the one who had really done the homework. This caught the professor’s, an IOC member at the time, attention, and he offered her enrollment into the Olympics Masters Studies curriculum. She was stunned because the program is only open to people with experience in the Olympics. “These benefits are all because of my determination, dedication, and love of the games.”

In 2018, Nada applied for an Olympic legacy program in Japan to discuss sports management and Olympic experiences. “There were two of us delegates from Europe. We met so many people and shared our expertise about how to support volunteers.” Through this experience, her love of the volunteer side of sport was solidified.

Taking part in that program really got her thinking about the value of managing and organizing volunteers in the most effective way. This led to the topic of her thesis, applying behavioral science and management philosophy to find new and better ways of managing volunteers, their duties, and their loyalty to events.

So in my business, we combine science and research with sport management to create a memorable experience. When done right, everyone grows from the volunteer experience.

Through working both the volunteer and management sides of mega sports events, Nada came to comprehend deeply that participation in volunteer activities needs to be appreciated much more than one would expect to receive in a job. There really needs to be an assessment of people’s skills and what is the best role for them. It’s about more than just how many times one has volunteered.

One challenge is that at these events almost everyone is new on the job, not just the front-line volunteers.

Developmental programs help to ensure that everyone has an understanding of their roles before starting work. This orientation and training are extremely important. The Japanese Olympic Committee has been able to create a system that includes an attention to detail that helps create a personal level of responsibility for volunteers to complete the training modules and be ready for their duties.

Working with professionals who are volunteering provides an opportunity to harvest the individual’s skills in a new area that is connected to sport. The Olympics are so huge that creating momentum is easier than it would be in regional or national events. So matching people to suitable roles is even more important the more events are scaled-down.

As a consultant, you need to combine knowledge from the field with management strategies that you would use in any professional organization.

My idea is to create a high-performance volunteering team that can morph to the needs of the client. We consult and offer advice, design programs, develop training, manage the volunteers and run the events.

We can work with the client from the beginning of the process, providing advice on how to effectively set up and maintain their systems, or run the entire operation. For example, we can dispatch a group of experts that can manage several thousand locally recruited volunteers.

Reaching Further Than She Imagined
When a country or a city wins the bid for a big event and initially they are really excited. Once that joy wears off, the event organizers wonder what to do next. The answer is call Nada. She will help you to have a successful event.

If you want the volunteers to come back to you and to create a group of people you can depend on to help make successful events, again and again, the most important thing is to know your volunteers. Understand their motivations, expectations, and experience (both professionally and as a volunteer), this will help you to select the best position for each volunteer. If you can give them roles that pique their interests, then they will be successful.


If the system is done right, most people will want to volunteer again. The organizers need to give some view of what happens backstage. That makes people feel valuable. Additionally, when volunteers feel that their work contributes to the success of the event, they will be happy to do what is asked of them and want to do it again.


Not only do the games leave a mark on the city, but the volunteers have a direct hand in the impression that remains after the event is over. That is very impactful. To leave that legacy is beautiful.

Reaching Further Than She Imagined
When a country or a city wins the bid for a big event and initially they are really excited. Once that joy wears off, the event organizers wonder what to do next. The answer is call Nada. She will help you to have a successful event.

If you want the volunteers to come back to you and to create a group of people you can depend on to help make successful events, again and again, the most important thing is to know your volunteers. Understand their motivations, expectations, and experience (both professionally and as a volunteer), this will help you to select the best position for each volunteer. If you can give them roles that pique their interests, then they will be successful.


If the system is done right, most people will want to volunteer again. The organizers need to give some view of what happens backstage. That makes people feel valuable. Additionally, when volunteers feel that their work contributes to the success of the event, they will be happy to do what is asked of them and want to do it again.


Not only do the games leave a mark on the city, but the volunteers have a direct hand in the impression that remains after the event is over. That is very impactful. To leave that legacy is beautiful.

When you have no expectations, you are open to so much learning about yourself, the community, the place, and the sport/event.

Contrarily, when volunteers arrive to work and they have nothing to do, that is the worst thing that can happen. Volunteers have made an investment in being there. They have given their most valuable asset their time, and using them to the best of their abilities is how to make an excellent event.

The volunteers are the organizing committee’s tools and these tools need to be used correctly. If the volunteers are not doing their jobs properly, the manager will be held accountable, not the organizers.

Sports Volunteering Solutions is really a pioneer in this area. When she presents what she does, the people she meets are really excited and say, “Oh Nada! This is what we need.” That is exciting. The results her company is achieving show that they are really going in the right direction. Her vision is becoming a reality and the work they do consistently inspires people inside and outside the organization. When volunteers are managed effectively, revenue comes in from a wider variety of sources, including the volunteers themselves.

At the Sydney Games, the value of the volunteers to the Olympics and the city of Sydney itself was in the millions of Australian dollars. That kind of success is only a dream when initially preparing a bid for a large-scale sporting event.

A Message for Volunteers
When you volunteer, there are lots of opportunities that come your way. They may be indirect, like meeting your partner, making new friends, or seeing how big events are managed. There are so many benefits that people get for their service that go beyond money or event memorabilia.

Volunteering provides the opportunity to expand your network, develop new skills, and meet people from other walks of life you would have never met otherwise. Beyond that, as you volunteer at more and more events, you will start to see the same people and you will have a bond with them. Organizers and managers will see you again and give you more important roles because they are familiar with you. It is through these experiences that opportunities come.

What makes the experience beneficial for your personal development is learning how to be flexible and accept the assignments you are given, then do them to the best of your ability. When you volunteer it is a good idea to know about the culture and language, at least a little bit, to show respect to the host. That respect is reciprocated. Also, make an effort to learn the language, at least some common expressions. That will make it easier to interact with the locals. Finally, clear your mind of all expectations. When you have no expectations, you are open to so much learning about yourself, the community, the place, and the sport/event.

Enjoy the differences, our differences are our strengths. Then every moment you will be learning something.

In closing, I would like to say that whether you manage volunteers or work as one, if you can touch one person and make a positive impact on their perspective, that would be quite inspiring.

This story was originally published on Medium.com

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