The role of volunteering in sustainable development

Published on 17 March 2015

This report shares findings from the global action research project, Valuing Volunteering which explores how and why volunteering contributes to poverty reduction and sustainable positive change, and the factors which prevent it from doing so. It looks at both the intended and unintended impacts of volunteering interventions.

Whilst a wealth of research has explored how volunteering affects volunteers themselves; there has been very little research exploring how volunteering actually brings about change for communities on the ground. Valuing Volunteering seeks to address this gap.

How and why does volunteering impact on poverty?

The findings from the research demonstrate that volunteering contributes to sustainable development in the following ways:

  • Inclusion: extends the reach of public services to the poorest and most marginalised
  • Innovation: creates new forms of collaboration that lead to social innovation
  • Ownership: strengthens local ownership of development processes
  • Participation: creates a pathway to people’s participation and active citizenship
  • Inspiration: modelling different norms

About the research

Valuing Volunteering research was conducted over a two-year period (2012–2014) in Kenya, Mozambique, Nepal and the Philippines.

Led by four VSO volunteer researchers and drawing on participatory action research methodologies, the research engaged more than 3,700 people, including local volunteer groups, community leaders, young people, teachers, health practitioners, community leaders, government officials and staff and volunteers from local, national and international NGOs.


Danny Burns

Professorial Research Fellow

Erika López Franco

Research Officer


About this publication

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