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The Value of International Volunteering

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Minister Joe Costello To Launch Two New Reports Examining The Socio-Economic Impact of Overseas Development  and Identify Emerging Trends In The Sector.

International volunteering is a key feature of the globalised world with roots going right back to the activities of missionaries looking to spread their faith. Today it’s an increasingly diverse field, with an emphasis firmly on partnership in development, intercultural learning and the empowerment of people being worked with.  Comhlámh is the Irish association of development workers and volunteers working for a just and equitable world. On August 29th, Trade and Development Minister, Joe Costello will launch two reports commissioned by the organisation and funded by Irish Aid.

The first report was carried out by Volunteer and Service Enquiry, a South African research body. They reviewed 90 international volunteering agencies and uncovered a new diversity of practice which led to several key recommendations in how agencies carry out their work.

Mark Cumming, the new head of Comhlamh said:

“Ireland is known for the contribution its people have made alongside communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America for generations.  The best of that work is exemplified by a spirit of accompaniment whereby Irish people have been in solidarity during their time overseas and on their return to Ireland.  The causes of global poverty and under-development will be tackled over a lifetime – not just during the volunteer’s term overseas but through action on issues affecting our global interdependence.”

Both reports are jammed with sample profiles and quotes from organisations exemplifying these trends. Take Progressio for example, it works towards what it calls “people powered development,” while FK Norway  promotes a reciprocal exchange of young professionals to overcome paternalistic North/South relations.  Other organisations have started to mount campaigns of recruitment in Diaspora communities to remedy some of the famous brain-drain that impacts on the Global South.

The second round of research carried out by Pat McCloughan of PMCA Economic Consulting, gives new insight into the profile of volunteering. It’s estimated 4,500 overseas volunteers in Ireland engaged in placements throughout 2012.  60% of agencies felt interest in the sector had increased in recent years with those in full time education being the most active with an even gender split.  The research estimates that the activities of overseas volunteers contributed the equivalent of about 10m Euro or 0.01% of Irish GDP in 2012.

As a former volunteer, Mark remembers his own experience 20 years ago:

“I lived and worked in a rural Kenyan village.  While I was contributing to development locally, I also grew personally and professionally learning key skills of team-working, leadership and problem-solving in an inter-cultural context. One of the goals of 21st century volunteer groups is to promote continuous engagement,  developing a sense of global citizenship and these report dips into some means through which groups do this. One agency, EIL Intercultural Learning for instance has developed a seed fund for volunteers to apply to in order to establish projects on their return under the guidance of mentors.”

At the launch, Comhlamh hopes to bring together volunteers past and present for a World Cafe style conversation about their experiences.

Minister Joe Costello will launch of Comhlámh’s new research on international volunteering, on August 29th 2013 at City Wall Space, Civic Offices, Wood Quay on Thursday August 29th, 10.00am – 12.30pm.

New Evidence on Overseas Volunteering from Ireland and its Socio-Economic Impact in Ireland undertaken by Dr Pat McCloughan, PMCA Economic Consulting (Comhlámh, 2013)
Models of International Volunteering: Trends, Innovation and Good Practice undertaken by VOSESA (Comhlámh, 2013)


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