VEGA Findings of Volunteer Effectiveness from Nations that Incorporate Skilled Volunteers in International Development

By , Business Development Associate

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Frequently volunteer impact is conveyed through compelling stories and anecdotes—often told from the perspective of the donor or the volunteers themselves. But how do the local partners—the beneficiaries and host organizations—view the contributions of international volunteers? VEGA Business Development Associate Derek Watkins compiled the findings of several independent studies on the impact of donor-funded volunteer programs and the value volunteers bring to their developing country counterparts. His survey of these studies show that the relevance, impact and long-term value of the volunteers’ people-to-people engagement, transfer of knowledge, expertise and experience is quite high. This review is one way VEGA seeks to incorporate best practices and learning into our volunteer programs.

In 2016, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs commissioned an independent evaluation of VEGA Member PUM Netherlands Senior Experts advice to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and related organizations in approximately 70 countries.

Virtually without exception it can be concluded from the interviews with the beneficiaries that in their perception the required expertise was not available locally, and if available (also for example internationally) only at costs that the recipient SMEs could not afford.

The Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Office of Development Effectiveness, funded an evaluation in 2014 on the impact of volunteers on capacity development. Their findings included:

More than two-thirds of host organisations agreed that their Australian volunteer contributed to their organization’s ability to develop their own capacity, including helping them to think about how their work could be more effective (78 per cent) or to clarify their objectives and strategies to manage their own affairs better (67 per cent).

The UK Government, through the Department of International Development (DFID), invested in a strategic grant arrangement with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) to fight poverty and support poor and marginalized people. VSO’s volunteer programs were reviewed in a 2015 study, The Role of Volunteering in Sustainable Development, and reported the following:

It is not just what volunteers’ do but how they support change that makes their contribution unique. Volunteers’ embeddedness within communities and organizations, living and working alongside individuals in the community and their colleagues, enables them to develop a shared understanding of each other and the challenges they face.

In 2008, USAID commissioned a review of the use of volunteers in economic growth programs. Effective Use of Volunteers in USAID Economic Growth Programs, a technical brief commissioned by USAID’s EGAT Bureau and conducted by BGI, stated the following:

The focused expertise of VEGA volunteers is carefully matched to overall program goals and the specific needs of beneficiaries to ensure achievement of measurable and sustainable impacts.

This review of donor-funded volunteer programs underscores the important contribution of pro bono experts to accomplishing global development objectives – especially strengthening the capacity of a wide range of host organizations – SMEs; business serving organizations; financial service institutions; producer associations; Co-ops; and national, regional and community level civic organizations. To more systematically incorporate the perspectives of host organizations and local beneficiaries into its program design and implementation practices, VEGA rolled out a comprehensive Volunteer Value Reporting System in 2016. VEGA will continue to incorporate lessons learned and best practices to further improve on the impressive results skilled volunteer experts are having in addressing the developing world’s talent gap globally.

Download a PDF of the full report here