On Friday 25th March we welcomed Dr. Alok Rath, Global Head of Knowledge, Evidence, and Learning at VSO International, onto campus and he hosted a discussion about the role of volunteering in development outcomes.
Through local and global partnerships, VSO International works with people from most marginalised and vulnerable backgrounds to empower individuals and communities to take action in their own development by bringing communities and volunteers together to share knowledge, experience, and skills, leading to long term sustainable change.
Alok dwelled on the three main domains of volunteering; the community in which the volunteer works, the volunteer themselves, and the community the volunteer comes from. All three of these groups interconnect and therefore thinking about the relationships between each gives us an insight into how volunteering can most effectively contribute towards international as well as human development. VSO’s research on Valuing Volunteering was a seminal insight in to how volunteering works in a relational manner.
The relationship between the volunteer and the community they’re working in is quite straightforward. The community they’re working with gains knowledge and expertise, leading to social action for positive change. For the volunteer they gain intricate knowledge around political economy from the lived experiences of communities, contributing to their own personal development skills. However, how has their home community/workspace been impacted by their volunteering experience? This is one area in which VSO are extending their research on in order to gain further understanding of how sustainable international development can occur through the ecosystem of volunteers.
Alok went on to link relevance and importance of volunteering to three global crises: inequality crisis, climate crisis and governance crisis, that the world is currently facing. More than being a ‘feel good and do good’ factor, VSO’s volunteering purpose is deeply rooted in addressing underlying causes to those global crises and others that increase marginalisation and vulnerability of communities around the world. VSO call it their ‘volunteering for development’ (VfD) methodology. A large focus of Alok’s recent work has been how Covid-19 has contributed to a worsening global inequality. Following a difficult few years for communities across the world many community groups are now losing resilience and consequently are losing power to make lasting change. VSO is applying a blended volunteering model in which local, national, international volunteers complement their skills, knowledge, and expertise to help communities build inclusive collectives and rebuild their resilience through a global network of volunteers. The blended volunteering and the global network allows for more effective communication to enable community collectives to influence policies and practices, including their own.
It is possible since around 1 billion people across the world volunteer 1, 70% of which is informal volunteering, through informal engagement between individuals. This is a large, powerful resource which VSO believe can be facilitated to help contribute towards achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) when supported with more knowledge and understanding of the development contexts and changes that can be implemented.
- 1. UN Volunteers (2018): ‘The Thread that binds: Volunteerism & Community Resilience State of the World’s Volunteerism Report’.