Dot-Com's Dirge Is Peace Corps' Jubilation

The Peace Corps has found gold in the dot-com bust. Displaced IT workers are a prime source of new volunteers.
What has been a depressing time for IT workers in the dot-com sector has been exactly the opposite for the Peace Corps. Although the governmental volunteer organization doesn't have any statistics yet on the impact the flood of displaced dot-commers is having on volunteerism, it reports that applications and phone calls from prospects are up significantly.

Nowhere is the interest rising more than in the areas around Boston, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., all of which have two things in common: a large IT industry presence and a Peace Corps office.

The San Francisco office has been running its own ad campaign targeting displaced dot-commers for the past few months. Press director Ellen Field says out-of-work Internet workers represent a logical target for the Peace Corps, which typically relies most heavily on educated people in their twenties to fill its volunteer ranks. Young, single professionals are most likely to be willing to live in remote locations for two years, which is the Corps' minimum time commitment.

According to Field, the dot-com bust has helped to lift the Peace Corps out of a volunteering slump that began 20 years ago. The volunteer count--nearly 7,500--is at its highest level since the early 1970s. Field admits that one of the primary drivers of displaced IT professionals' interest in volunteering may be disillusionment after seeing riches come and go so quickly. "Perhaps working for the dollar doesn't have as much meaning," she says.

But for those who aren't willing to give up two years or would prefer to work on IT projects rather than teach English or dig irrigation ditches, there are other options, such as the 18-month-old Geekcorps. The brainchild of dot-com veteran Ethan Zuckerman, Geekcorps--which on Monday merged with the 36-year-old International Executive Service Corps--offers techies the chance to volunteer for IT projects in developing countries for as little as three months. Zuckerman, former VP of R&D for Tripod Inc. before it was acquired by Lycos Inc., says Geekcorps was founded as a reaction to the Peace Corps and its lengthy commitment requirement, which can come with a price. Says Zuckerman, "By the end of two years, your skills are out of date."