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Sioban O’Brien Green Reflects On Her Time With Comhlámh.

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Pictured: Sioban O’Brien Green, with Minister of State Sean Sherlock and Comhlámh’s Head Mark Cumming.

As the year 2015 begins and the role of Research and Policy Officer in Comhlámh comes to a close, Siobán O’Brien Green reflects on some of her work highlights during 2014.

As the year 2014 began work was underway with the EUAV (European Union Aid Volunteers) research project commissioned and funded by the European Commission’s European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO). Comhlámh was part of the research consortium undertaking the project which included Bioforce Institute, People In Aid and France Volontaires. Our research in Comhlámh focussed initially on alumni networks for returned volunteers however, the research focus subsequently extended to encompass all networks related to volunteering as the project developed.

It was a great chance to examine how we work in Comhlámh as a network and member led organisation and to learn about other successful networks of returned volunteers like CUSO in Canada, the NOHA network and the Peace Corps in the USA. Two expert seminars took place in the European Commission in Brussels to inform the overall research and Comhlámh participated in both seminars.

I was fortunate enough to facilitate one of the sessions in the European Commission in February, examining what makes for successful alumni networks and the role of online volunteering and online networks. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet all the research consortium partners in person and other organisations from around the world and a stimulating start to 2014. I hope the contacts and colleagues generated through this research consortium will continue to collaborate in the years ahead.

A major part of my work in 2014 was to build on the Comhlámh survey research from 2012 “New Evidence on Overseas Volunteering from Ireland” by Dr Pat McCloughan and to conduct this quantitative survey research again to capture pertinent data relating to both volunteers and VSAs. My work began in earnest on the survey in January 2014.

One of the main objectives of repeating the research was to establish the survey as an annual piece of data collection that would encourage VSAs to collect data internally. It would also allow Comhlámh and VSAs to have, over time, longitudinal data and information on the international volunteering sector in Ireland and volunteer demographics.

Over 120 organisations were contacted on the island of Ireland and invited to participate in the survey, many of them were not eligible due to not meeting the survey inclusion criteria of having sent volunteers overseas in 2013.

The survey was completed with data from 49 VSAs which was analysed and written up over the summer of 2014. Growth in the number of respondents to online VSA survey between 2013 and 2014 was particularly important.

The launch of the survey report took place in October with global pioneer of online or virtual volunteering, Jayne Cravens, delivering a seminar as part of the launch in Chester Beatty Library.  Meeting Jayne in person was inspiring and her practical seminar emphasised the importance of trust in the volunteering and VSA relationship and described how online volunteering allowed for more people to become involved in volunteering for development.


 


 

In May 2014 the first meeting of the Research and Policy Expert Advisory Group took place in the Comhlámh Offices. The Group consists of members from; Kimmage Development Studies Centre, University of Limerick, VSO Ireland, Dublin City University and staff in Comhlámh.

I was really thrilled to have Helene Perold of Helene Perold & Associates, South Africa, formerly a founder of VOSESA, participating in the Research and Policy Expert Advisory Group. The Group met three times in 2014 with email communication and correspondence in between meetings. The expertise, inputs, suggestions and comments on the research process and publications from the Group were invaluable and greatly enhanced the outputs and research from Comhlámh in 2014.

Getting to meet COGP signatories at the peer support meetings and at events and meetings in the Comhlámh offices was a great pleasure during 2014. I found it stimulating to hear about the impressive volunteering projects globally that signatories are involved in and I was always heartened by the commitment demonstrated to good practice and sharing experiences and expertise amongst the signatories.

Being invited to join the International Forum for Volunteering in Development Research Working Group, chaired by Dr Cliff Allum of Skillshare, in May was a fantastic opportunity for Comhlámh to share our research with a much wider audience. It also allowed me to interact with experts on volunteering research and to contribute to the research planned and commissioned by Forum and its members.

I worked with my colleague James in Comhlámh on the online global launch of research on international volunteering and governance for Forum and United Nations Volunteers in October which preceded the annual Forum IVCO conference held last year in Lima, Peru.

Presenting at the Global Diaspora and Development Forum hosted by UCD Clinton Institute and Diaspora Matters held at the end of October was a fantastic experience. Speakers from around the world came to Dublin to share their learnings on engaging and working with diaspora communities and to acknowledge the positive benefits of migration.

Comhlámh launched our first discussion paper on Diaspora Volunteering at the event and I had the pleasure of presenting the paper on a panel that included colleagues from CUSO International, UCD and the UN.

On December 5th to mark International Volunteer Day (IVD) we launched the Comhlámh Online Volunteering discussion paper and supporting video which captured key elements of Jayne Craven’s excellent seminar earlier in the year. The paper continued the focus on inclusivity in international volunteering for development, which had been part of the Comhlámh research agenda in 2014.  It wrapped up a busy and productive year in my role as Research and Policy Officer in Comhlámh.

 



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