STRETCHING THE TAXPAYER DOLLAR: The Volunteer Multiplier Effect

  • IMPACT Highlights

VEGA programs stretch the U.S. development assistance budget, saving taxpayer dollars, by donating their time.


Volunteers are professionals who bring their knowhow, sometimes their own equipment and
resources, and most importantly, their goodwill to serve others. They represent America’s best, whether they are new professionals or seasoned practitioners. Available to U.S. foreign assistance programs as volunteers they save the Government money, and improve the quality of programs.

The VEGA Emerging Markets Development Advisers Program (EMDAP), implemented by VEGA member Institute of International Education, offers long-term volunteer assistance to institutions such as the American Chambers of Commerce (pictured above with EMDAP Adviser Ravi Dutta). USAID benefits from costeffective talent and hosts receive targeted technical assistance from graduates of advanced degree programs. Benefits accrue domestically as well: case studies written by EMDAP Advisers are provided to educational institutions to internationalize their curricula with the challenges and opportunities faced by entrepreneurs in emerging markets; and the U.S. business and nonprofit community gains an enlarged reservoir of employees with international experience.

The USAID Mission in Uganda designed an innovative approach to help district governments to coordinate, implement, monitor and evaluate use of donor funds within their respective districts. To be successful, it needed a full-time person dedicated to visiting each district to provide support and assistance. But USAID and its implementing partner faced a barrier – placing a long-term adviser to work in a hands-on way with 35 districts was a costly venture.

Volunteers were a hallmark of our program that leveraged USAID’s funding to bring in additional expertise not only around business development, but also specialized expertise for particular industries.”
– Jennifer Brinkerhoff, former Chief of Party of VEGA’s Sri Lanka Biz+ program. Biz+ has already leveraged over $14m in Sri Lankan Partner Investments


So USAID turned to the EMDAP program to place two successive volunteers, Reilly Ross, and Elizabeth Haffa, as long-term advisers (with one-year terms) to represent USAID and strengthen coordination. Shortly after Reilly arrived, USAID had to close its Northern field office, which shifted her scope to focus on the 19 northern districts and made her presence there all the more critical.

The two volunteers traveled throughout northern Uganda to help district governments facilitate planning, monitor and evaluate projects, and report progress. They have ensured that all voices at planning meetings – often in remote areas far from USAID’s office in Kampala – are heard, and reported back to USAID leadership so that development programs account for local voices and needs, and are coordinated with the government of Uganda and other donors.

Their work has helped create a collaborative atmosphere between USAID, other donors active in the region and local government. District governments have enthusiastically approached the process, and they have become empowered to lead development initiatives.


After 26 years of conflict and the 2004 tsunami, many Sri Lankans had lost productive assets and access to financial services. BIZ+, a USAID funded program implemented by VEGA member Land O’ Lakes International Development, has created 5,000 new livelihood opportunities through a small grants program paired with business advisory services that cover everything from financial recordkeeping to energy efficiency. BIZ+ has stretched its USAID funding by providing over $50,000 worth of skilled expertise through volunteers who, as business owners in similar industries, bring an added measure of insight and credibility. Entrepreneurs receive step-by-step assistance from people who understand the industry, whether it’s tourism, agroprocessing, construction, manufacturing or running a bakery, as they develop their plans.

“If we were to hire all of those experts to come on site without the use of a VEGA mechanism, there is no way that we would be able to work with that variety of companies,” states USAID/ Sri Lanka’s Acting Mission Director Kimberley Bell. “At the end of the day what we are really doing in the VEGA alliance with USAID is transforming lives. In Sri Lanka, …the areas where we have chosen to work are those areas most severely affected by the 26-year civil war. …These volunteers are coming in and serving as a catalytic force changing the lives of people who are now able to get a job, feed their families and send their kids to school.”

“The volunteers who came had very wide knowledge of the market and were able to guide us. We now have almost 500 customers. VEGA Biz+ made our dreams come true.”
– Durairaj Jeyakumar (pictured), Owner, Kings Ice Manufacturers