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Why volunteering?

VSO is the world's leading organisation that works through volunteers to tackle poverty and inequality.

We believe that anyone who steps forward – either as a local, national or global citizen – can be considered a volunteer. This is the way that truly sustainable change takes place.

We work to:

  1. Connect skilled volunteers to local partners to improve basic services
  2. Use volunteers who can provide new knowledge and build greater trust
  3. Use volunteers both locally and internationally to fill gaps in local services

The value of volunteering

The value of volunteering is not just the skills and knowledge a volunteer bring. It's also how they work with organisations and communities to support change. 

 Living on a similar income, in similar living conditions, often on a long-term basis, creates equal and trusting relationships with colleagues and community members. 

This trust encourages knowledge and skills sharing, idea testing and innovativion. 

By acting as intermediaries, volunteers can broker access to information, networks and resources within and beyond the community.

Creating practical outcomes

Volunteering achieves both hard and soft outcomes. These combine to change people from passive recipients to active participants in development. 

Hard outcomes from volunteering include enhanced professional skills or technical knowledge, such as:

  • more inclusive teaching practices, 
  • improved care of maternity patients or 
  • better management of crops.

 Soft outcomes reflect fundamental changes in the way individuals think and behave. For example:

  • increased morale and motivation
  • increased self-confidence
  • improved problem-solving and analytical skills, 

Types of volunteering

Nimay Biswas, national volunteer, with local farmer Panchos Ray. National volunteers are assisting farmers in adapting to climate change.

Nimay Biswas with farmer Panchos Ray in Bangladesh. National volunteers like Nimay are assisting farmers in their own countries to adapt to a changing climate

'Professional' volunteers
Volunteers bring a range of skills related to their individual training and experiences, from a range of cultures in both the global south and north. They may be international, including from those from neighbouring countries in Africa and Asia, or they may volunteer in their own countries. Since 1958, VSO has engaged over 45,000+ skilled volunteers to work in over 90 countries.

Embedded within organisations and working closely with marginalised groups on placements lasting from six months to two years, they are able to form effective relationships and build trust. They gain a deep level of understanding of local context and the pressures on the lives of the people they work with.

'Community' volunteers
Local informal volunteering includes both individuals and organised groups working for positive change. We support this kind of volunteering through our formal local partnerships.

Examples might include youth groups, parent teacher associations, lead farmers or community health, HIV and AIDS caregivers. In 2014/15, we estimate more than 18,000 community-based volunteers were engaged in our work.

Smiling ICS youth volunteers and young people gather in a team

Youth volunteer and basketball coach Asma Elbadawi during a skills training session with students from Lindi Secondary school, Tanzania. ICS supports VSO's Elimu Fursa project improving education opportunities here.

Youth volunteers
Young people volunteering both in their home countries and elsewhere bring energy and new ideas to communities. They are adept at engaging youth populations through specific skills such as peer engagement and education. 

Through our International Citizen Service (ICS) programme, young people work together in volunteer teams embedded in communities. Nine out of ten partner organisations with whom ICS volunteers are placed say they are better able to bring about positive change in the local community as a result. More than 20,000 young people from around the world have taken part in the programme to date.

Corporate volunteers
Through VSO Knowledge Exchange we engage corporate volunteers who contribute to existing programmes usually through specialised, short-term placements. They provide in-demand skills, sophisticated market knowledge and private sector perspectives that can form the basis of mutually-enriching exchanges.

Parliamentary volunteering
In the UK, VSO has a parliamentary volunteering programme that has engaged more than 40 politicians to undertake short-term, high-impact volunteer placements.

'Valuing Volunteering' research

Cover of the Valuing Volunteering report

Four volunteer researchers worked in four countries (the Philippines, Kenya, Nepal and Mozambique) used participatory action methods to determine the unique value of volunteering in international development.

Most previous studies focussed on the effect volunteering has on the volunteers themselves, there has been little documentation of the impact volunteering creates. VSO has always believed that people are the best agents of change, and this research now provides evidence for volunteers’ unique contribution to reducing poverty.

The key finding of the research was that volunteers have greater opportunity to build trust and relationships with those they serve, compared to professional development practitioners. By being embedded in a community, volunteers can be at once ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, enabling them to build a complex understanding of local people’s needs whilst having access resources and ideas from beyond that sphere.