Assessing impacts of volunteers abroad

susanne-schechAn international project, led by Flinders Associate Professor Susanne Schech, to measure the impacts of international development volunteering (IDV) has won $197,181 in Australian Research Council Linkage grant funding.

While IDV continues to grow worldwide, data collected for international aid funding bodies has focused until now on the number and duration of volunteer placements, rather than on volunteers’ activities and how host organisations benefit from them.

Associate Professor Schech (pictured), Director of the Centre for Development Studies in Flinders School of International Studies, said that as a result, aid bodies have an incomplete picture of the nature of volunteering, at best.

“Increasingly, any kind of development assistance funding has to be justified in terms of development effectiveness and in the last decade this has been defined in terms of Millennium Development Goals,” Associate Professor Schech said.

“Those goals relate to poverty reduction, gender equality, primary education, basic health, prevention of diseases and so on – they don’t really lend themselves to becoming criteria against which you can assess volunteering,” she said.

“Our project will find ways to assess the impact of volunteering by looking at the extent to which volunteers and their partners in host organisations contribute to making development relationships more equal, more effective and more able to respond to local needs and interests in the developing country.”

Over the next three years, Associate Professor Schech and her colleagues Associate Professor Tracey Skelton from the National University of Singapore, Professor Uma Kothari from Manchester University and Sally Brokensha and Jessica Stevens from Austraining International, will develop case studies based on the experiences of Australian development volunteers and their host organisations in Cambodia, Indonesia and the Solomon Islands.

In addition to examining conventional notions of “capacity building”, Associate Professor Schech and her team will explore how volunteering creates “cosmopolitan citizenship”.

“A lot of people are interested in development studies because they want to ‘help’. That is a very positive attitude but it is quite a limited view of development relationships,” Associate Professor Schech said.

“There is an assumption that we are the ones who give, whereas most volunteers readily admit that they gain as much, if not more, from their experience than that they have been able to contribute in a country.

“That is a very important learning from volunteering and one that should broaden the volunteer’s perspective on the relationship between a rich country like Australia and the less wealthy country in which they do the volunteering.

“We are interesting in seeing how the knowledge and experiences volunteers bring back also influence the way in which Australians think about their neighbours and their role within the region and the world.”

Cosmopolitan citizenship is not just limited to Australia and other wealthy countries, she said.

“We will also look at how encounters with volunteers shape the local partners’ views of themselves as citizens and agents in the world.”

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One thought on “Assessing impacts of volunteers abroad

  1. I have financed all of my own overseas student volunteering experiences over the years and I have to say that the opportunities that are available are very much worth the effort. I have been asked to return to one project as a staff member for next year. I’ll be giving a talk on some of my experiences at a seminar in a few weeks.

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