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Just how much of an impact do volunteers have on the communities they help?

A new study has looked at this in detail.

Volunteers join together and plant young tree in deep mud in mangrove reforestation project on September 16, 2014 in Samutsakorn, Thailand.
Volunteers join together and plant young tree in deep mud in mangrove reforestation project on September 16, 2014 in Samutsakorn, Thailand.
Image: Shutterstock/Sura Nualpradid

NEW RESEARCH HAS suggested that volunteering plays a vital role in putting the foundations in place for the sustainable development of communities.

A study interviewed some 3,700 people across Kenya, Mozambique, Nepal and the Philippines, ranging from government officials to teachers to the volunteers themselves, to examine the impact volunteering has on the fighting poverty.

“There has been a lot of research in recent years on the impact that volunteering has on the volunteer, but very little on the impact that volunteers have on the lives of the people and communities they work with,” Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) executive director Megan Munsell said.

We have undertaken this research to enable both VSO and the wider development community, to understand the intrinsic role of volunteers in helping communities and our partners archive their development goals.

The research shows, the VSO said, that volunteer work enables communities to collaborate better, which in turn will lead to social innovation.

Examples of this contained in the report due to be published later today range from:

“Inclusion: extends the reach of public services to the poorest and most marginalised”

The report, co-authored by the Institute of Development Studies, said volunteers act as a bridge between communities and formal service provision, by strengthening existing capacity and pinpointing gaps.

“Inspiration: modelling different norms”

This area is focused on embedding two different cultures with each other, prompting ‘reflection’ on social norms.

“The thinking changes,” one pre-school teacher from Nepal said.

Someone from another country is here and she is living alone. You think if you are well educated then you can go anywhere. Why does our culture stop our daughters from being free to do things?

“Participation: creates a pathway to people’s participation and active citizenship”

While volunteers may benefit communities while they are there, many will only be a temporary addition to the area. However, the report found that by working with locals it allowed them to take on more responsibilities resulting in a greater feeling of ownership in their local society.

The report will be published in full later today.

About the author:

Nicky Ryan

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