August 31, 2001: Headlines: COS - Czech Republic: Business: Washington Business Journal: Czech Republic RPCV Dan Jenkin finds volunteer experience was the perfect education and background for business ventures

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Czech Republic: The Peace Corps in the Czech Republic: August 31, 2001: Headlines: COS - Czech Republic: Business: Washington Business Journal: Czech Republic RPCV Dan Jenkin finds volunteer experience was the perfect education and background for business ventures

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Czech Republic RPCV Dan Jenkin finds volunteer experience was the perfect education and background for business ventures

Czech Republic RPCV Dan Jenkin finds volunteer experience was the perfect education and background for business ventures

Corps values

For a growing group of Peace Corps veterans like Dan Jenkin, their volunteer experience was the perfect education and background for business ventures
John Sherry Contributing Writer

Dan Jenkin knew he didn't have all of the answers when he left business school. So instead of setting himself adrift in the corporate world, Jenkin headed overseas to teach business development in the Czech Republic for the Peace Corps.

"People don't really know that about me unless they read my bio," says Jenkin, president and owner of IS Group, a Washington-based software company.

Although old Peace Corps stories might not be the ideal icebreaker when meeting with a group of venture capitalists, Jenkin, now 34, can't see how he would be where he is today without the two years he spent teaching business students in Brno, Czech Republic, from 1995 to 1997.

"It builds your confidence so much," Jenkin says of his Peace Corps background. "You put so many more things into perspective."

But Jenkin found more than a confidence booster awaiting him in Eastern Europe. He found the connections that would ultimately allow him to create IS Group.

"You really have the opportunity to do some cutting-edge stuff [in the Czech Republic] that you would not get to do in the United States," Jenkin says.

The Czech connection

IS Group, a company that creates customized software for businesses, asserts in its mission statement that its goal is more than delivering products. It's about forming long-term -- and long-distance -- business relationships. Apropos, since a long-term business relationship is how the IS Group got started in the first place.

While in Brno, Jenkin met his business partner, Lubos Hanak, a student in one of his business marketing classes. Hanak was a bright student, Jenkin says, who demonstrated tremendous business savvy and always seemed to have the right solutions for the case studies he was teaching.

After his Peace Corps tour of duty ended and he came back to the states, Jenkin decided to return to Brno to bolster some real economic development by applying the abstract business models discussed in his class to actual situations. His mission wasn't totally selfless: He figured the business would be as profitable for him as his Czech colleagues. So he went back later that year and met with Hanak, and the two became business partners.

"This kind of business is all about trust. If you don't trust the person completely, you need to let it go," Jenkin says.

Jenkin returned to the United States, and Hanak stayed in Brno to establish the company's laboratory. Jenkin works the business end of things from his three-person office on 17th and Columbia Road NW, and Hanak manages the company's eight-man software programming center in Brno.

Essentially, there's 12 employees and two offices, but IS Groups is still an international company. Jenkin doesn't think he would have the same success with this sort of a business model if it wasn't for his time in the Peace Corps.

"It is very difficult, and I think a lot of people have tried it," he says.

The two offices communicate throughout the day using ICQ, a popular text-messaging system, instead of telephones, which Jenkin says helps to cut down on costs. He added that once enough bandwidth becomes available the addition of Web phones will help to facilitate office management.

"We use the phone when it is really necessary to hear someone's voice on the other end," Jenkin says. "The technology keeps playing to our business model."

From public service to private sector

Since 1961, 163,000 volunteers have served in the Peace Corps in 135 countries. The Returned Volunteer service headquarters in Washington helps Returned Peace Corps Volunteers -- RPCV's in the organization's lingo -- find job opportunities after finishing their two-year commitment.

Each year, the Volunteer service center assists the nearly 3,500 RPCV's who return from overseas in finding jobs.

Ellen Field, a Peace Corps spokesperson, says after volunteers complete their assignments they are permitted to travel in the country where they volunteered for 30 days. Volunteers are also given $6,075 when they are finished in order to keep them afloat until they find employment.

"We have a pretty extensive return process," she says. "Another interesting benefit from serving with Peace Corps is there is preferred placement with government jobs. It is a non-compete in many cases."

Good capitalists

While many people talk about the influence of Peace Corps volunteers on the government and nongovernment organizations, Jenkin says people don't really discuss the impact a Peace Corps volunteer can have in the business world.

Jenkin helped coordinate and sponsored a symposium June 22 for RPCVs about their feelings on how their experiences helped mold their job path in the private sector.

"I try to get involved in Peace Corps as much as I can," Jenkin says. "Nobody goes out and says what are returned volunteers doing who went right into the private sector."

The symposium, which was held in conjunction with the National Peace Corps Association, featured a series of panel and table talk discussions with RPCVs. Topics included the impact of nongovernment organizations on small business development abroad and the assets of businesses hiring Peace Corps volunteers.

"It isn't a business training program," Jenkin says. "Peace Corps is a way for you to extend your own values in a way that you are qualified to do."Roslyn Docktor, a co-founder of Washington-based McConnell International, says her Peace Corps experience taught her the key philosphies that drive her business today.

Docktor went to Zambia as a volunteer in 1994. She was assigned to a village where she instructed the villagers about methods of transporting clean water to their community.

Docktor says she is very upfront about her Peace Corps experience when she deals with people. It is important for them to know that this helped to shape her business mentality, she says.

"I learned as a Peace Corps volunteer understanding the needs of my villagers is the same thing as understanding the needs of my clients," Docktor says. "They think they need to enter five markets or to pitch their product in one way -- if we understand what their true goal is then we can find a way to reach that goal."

John Sherry is A Washington-based freelance writer.

When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:

This Month's Issue: August 2004 This Month's Issue: August 2004
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Story Source: Washington Business Journal

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