User Stories

User Story: From Startup Life to Peace Corps Volunteer

In this user story, we talk with Chelsea Gaylord, a Peace Corps volunteer making waves in Uganda. We discuss how Chelsea became involved with the Peace Corps, her work with local business owners and entrepreneurs, and how making information beautiful helps her spread important messages in her village.

By 26, Chelsea Gaylord knew she thrived at the intersection of public health and innovation. She had pitched a nutrition education business to American investors, and her work with US-based startups to bring health programs to the masses had made a real impact.


Even with all the hustle and bustle of working with startups and building health and marketing campaigns in the US, this health coach and social entrepreneur knew her career path wasn’t where she wanted to go.

For a change of pace, she started volunteering with Partners in Health (PIH), a global health organization working together with international communities to provide access to health care for the underserved.

“Working with PIH was my introduction to development, community capacity building, and some of the greatest health challenges faced in our world today,” she said.

“I recognized that I not only sought meaningful work but wanted to be at the grassroots level, investing in and working with a community to tackle some of those health challenges. I wasn’t out to save the world, I just wanted to learn from it.”

In 2015, Chelsea took a leap of faith and began a two year journey of living, working, and immersing herself in a community and culture in East Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. She currently serves as a Community Health Extension Volunteer in the West Nile region of Uganda. And her work today keeps her quite busy!

“I am partnered with a government health center. I have worked on projects focused on HIV and AIDS prevention, maternal and child health promotion, sanitation and hygiene improvement, malaria prevention, and youth reproductive health,” she said.

“I have also been able to share my entrepreneurship experience by launching a nationwide business camp and pitch competition initiative for youth, known as StartUp Uganda, and working with Ugandan entrepreneurs throughout multiple business trainings.”

Sharing the Power of Visual Communication

Each day, Chelsea finds herself working in communities with low literacy levels. And since Uganda is home to over 50 different languages, communicating has proven to be a real challenge.

“When I work with other facilitators, one of the things we talk about is different learning styles,” she said. “We know visual information is important to aid in learning. A picture can help break language and literacy barriers.”

To help a local grassroots organization add health campaign materials to their toolbox, Chelsea turned to creating visuals.

“I have used Piktochart to create demonstration posters for a training on how to develop visual content and information for local audiences with low literacy levels,” she said. “The examples I shared helped the organization creatively design their own materials using more graphics and fewer words.”

Launching StartUp Uganda

Chelsea’s entrepreneurial and startup fire has only grown through her experience with the Peace Corps.

[clickToTweet tweet=”It is estimated that every year, 400,000 graduates enter the workforce to compete for 9,000 jobs in Uganda.” quote=”It is estimated that every year, 400,000 graduates enter the workforce to compete for 9,000 jobs in Uganda.”]

With over 80 percent of youth under the age of 30 unemployed or underemployed, Chelsea recognized that young people in the community had business ideas to employ themselves but did not have opportunities nor resources to turn those ideas into reality.

She attended a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) camp for girls and saw local girls learning how to build apps designed to solve problems in their communities.

peacecorps3-1807939Her time at the camp sparked inspiration to approach Peace Corps about an idea she had.  Shortly after the meeting with Peace Corps, Chelsea launched a nationwide initiative called StartUp Uganda, which promotes creativity and entrepreneurship for current and aspiring Ugandan youth business owners.

Through camps, mentorship, and a series of regional and national business plan competitions, youth are given an opportunity to develop practical business skills, potentially find startup funding for their innovative ideas, and network with experienced Ugandan entrepreneurs.

It turns out that Uganda is the perfect place for Chelsea to share her knowledge and previous experiences with others.

The GEM 2014 Global Report ranked Uganda among of the world’s most entrepreneurial countries in the world.

In its first year, StartUp Uganda trained 120 youth in total, which included 65 youth business mentors. 24 youth from the Regional Business Plan Competitions were provided with resources for their business ideas, and 6 winners from the National Competition had their ideas funded.

When it came time to share the concept of StartUp Uganda and demonstrate its powerful impact after only one year, Chelsea turned to making an infographic.

“I designed an infographic that simplifies the many stages of the initiative,” she said. “This infographic has been used and modified throughout the program from concept note to monitoring and evaluation reporting. It has been distributed to Peace Corps Uganda staff, which allowed staff who were unfamiliar with the program to quickly digest what we were building so they could better support volunteers.”

Chelsea’s visual has even been presented and distributed to attendees at the Global Food Security Summit. Using visual communication, Chelsea could clearly highlight how the program is empowering entrepreneurs and tackling issues of food security in Uganda at the same time.peacecorps2-8356701

Chelsea Reflects on Peace Corps

As Chelsea’s time volunteering with Peace Corps comes to an end this year, she reflects on her experience with the agency.

“Too often we do not leave the familiar and our realities are constructed by a small view of the world. This view is frequently tinted with fear, bias, and judgement of the things – and people – that are outside,” she said.

“Peace Corps is an opportunity to expand your worldview and shed light on a reality outside the familiar. It’s an opportunity to build bridges of understanding and cultural exchange while doing meaningful work and taking a different approach to development.”

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