Volunteer Perspectives on the Impacts of International Development Volunteering: Cosmopolitan Development: The Impacts of International Volunteering Project Findings Part 3

Susanne Schech, Anuradha Mundkur

Research output: Other contribution

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The impacts of international development volunteering are multidimensional. They touch host organisations and volunteers, range from skills building and organisational change to employability and life experience, and can change participants’ world views, their understanding of development and aid, and their attitude to volunteering. In this report we focus on the volunteer perspectives on volunteering as a form of development assistance, and on three important areas of impact: capacity development, relationship building, and cosmopolitan orientations. Development volunteering. According to research participants, volunteering can be distinguished from other forms of development work by a stronger focus on the host organisation’s priorities and on developing collaborative relationships. Less pressure to produce outputs creates more opportunity for sharing knowledge and experience with local colleagues. This can make the impacts of volunteering more sustainable, but also less predictable. Capacity development. All volunteers hope to contribute positively to the capacity of their host organisation. They learn that capacity cannot be developed unilaterally through their own efforts but with the active engagement of their host organisation colleagues. When volunteers understand this and have succeeded in establishing a solid collaborative learning space, they find that they are able to work towards significant changes in the host organisation’s ability to mobilise and attract resources, plan and operate strategically, improve the quality of service and performance, and broaden its network of partnerships. In working with host organisations, volunteers also develop their own capacity to translate their skills to a different context, work with cultural difference and diverse knowledges, and understand their host country’s economic and political systems, development challenges, and cultural norms and values. Relationship building impacts. Most volunteers see relationship building as an important means of capacity development and as a valued outcome of volunteering. As a means, building relationships with host organisation staff is a pre-requisite to achieving the above-mentioned capacity development outcomes. Volunteers achieve much more if they work as a member of a team in their host organisation, rather than as a lone capacity builder working to a pre-established program. The host organisation, too, must invest in the relationship and find how and where the volunteer’s skills and knowledge can be most effectively used. Time, a shared language, cultural confidence, experience with managing volunteers in the organisation and clarity about where the volunteer’s accountability lies, are all necessary ingredients for building productive and equitable relationships. Public diplomacy impacts. Volunteers see the people-to-people relationships they build in host organisations and beyond as a significant outcome of volunteering. The personal friendships and bonds with people from their host country facilitated information exchange which increased the knowledge stock on both sides and laid the foundations for a better, deeper, mutual understanding. Many volunteers found that host organisations and communities made them feel welcome, but they also encountered stereotypes of Westerners (both positive and negative), and questioned some of their own taken-for-granted assumptions about their host country and Australia. Volunteering gives participants the opportunity to act on their sense of solidarity and shared humanity with others, while at the same time gaining a deeper understanding of cultural difference and the importance of context
Original languageEnglish
Typeresearch report
PublisherFlinders University
Number of pages31
Place of PublicationBedford Park
ISBN (Print)978-1-925562-04-0
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Copyright © Flinders University 2016. This report is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/


  • volunteering, international Development, Australia, volunteers
  • 2013-2015


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