Journal Article


What is the Unique Contribution of Volunteering to International Development?

Published on 4 September 2015

This IDS Bulletin is entirely based on the global action-research project Valuing Volunteering, commissioned by Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), a UK-based international volunteer cooperation organisation, and conducted by researchers at IDS in partnership with VSO.

The project explored how and why volunteering contributes to poverty reduction and sustainable positive change, and the factors that prevent it from doing so.

The research took a participatory and action-research approach and aimed to inform the learning and practice of both VSO and the volunteer for development (VfD) sectors on how to work effectively through volunteers to achieve sustainable change. It produced 12 rich and detailed case studies, which cover a diverse range of expressions of volunteering: from international volunteers of different kinds – from the global North and South, short-term and long-term, young adults and professionals – through to community members engaged in informal self-help and community volunteering initiatives and national volunteering schemes. This research was carried out by four international volunteer researchers who spent two years in Kenya, Mozambique, Nepal and the Philippines.

While the data reflect the views of people in communities, the voice and analysis is that of the international volunteer. The perspectives expressed here are about volunteers’ contributions and their motivation to identify what kind of approaches to working as a volunteer make a difference. The Valuing Volunteering project goes beyond the immediate issues or concerns in the setting, and enables a deeper reflection on how people, processes and the environment that they are situated within influence one another.

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Table of contents

Introduction: What is the Unique Contribution of Volunteering to International Development? Danny Burns and Jo Howard

Volunteering for Development within the New Ecosystem of International Development Jo Howard and Danny Burns

The Changing Tides of Volunteering in Development: Discourse, Knowledge and Practice Erika Lopez Franco and Thea Shahrokh

What’s Different about How Volunteers Work? Relationship Building for Wellbeing and Change Jody Aked

Using Participatory Methodologies to Achieve Change in Valuing Volunteering Elizabeth Hacker

The Impacts of Politics and Ethnicity on Volunteering Alexandrea Picken and Simon Lewis

Learning from Communities: The Local Dynamics of Formal and Informal Volunteering in Korogocho, Kenya Simon Lewis

How Participatory Practice can Help to Strengthen the Role of Volunteering in Sustainable Development: An Organisational Perspective Katie Turner


Danny Burns

Professorial Research Fellow

Joanna Howard

Research Fellow and Cluster Leader

Thea Shahrokh

Research Officer

Erika López Franco

Research Officer

Publication details

published by
Burns, D. et al.
Burns, D and Howard, J.
IDS Bulletin, volume 46, issue 5


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