United Kingdom

Valuing Volunteering in United Kingdom


VSO is the world’s leading independent international development organisation that works through volunteers to fight poverty in developing countries. VSO brings people together to share skills, build capabilities, promote international understanding and ultimately change lives to make the world a fairer place. 

VSO currently holds the contract to deliver the UK’s International Citizen Service (ICS). ICS is an international youth international volunteering programme for 18-25 year olds funded by the UK Government and led by VSO in partnership with 11 other development organisations. Young people from around the United Kingdom work in partnership with local young volunteers in developing countries on projects that make a sustainable contribution to fighting poverty. Over the last three years ICS has worked with 14,000 young people around the world. ICS is closely linked to National Citizen Service, the UK’s civic service for 16 and 17 year olds.


VSO will be participating in the IVO4All project through ICS

VSO will pioneer new ways to enable young people with traditionally fewer opportunities to access ICS, by piloting a range of measures in the pre-departure phases through the field trials, as well as leading the development of a Quality Framework for the programme. VSO’s field trials will explore the impact of additional support mechanisms such as workshops, mentoring and adapted training on the participation of young people with a low educational achievement and NEET young people in international volunteering.

VSO has a long history in innovation in volunteering and people-led development, including youth volunteering programmes. Whilst a wealth of research has explored how volunteering affects the volunteers themselves, there has been very little research exploring how volunteering actually brings about change for communities on the ground. In March 2015, in partnership with the Institute of Development Studies in the United Kingdom, VSO published their ground breaking research paper ‘Valuing Volunteering.’ 

This research explores how volunteers, both young volunteers on ICS and professional volunteers, impact community development and social change in developing countries, as well as the factors that can prevent them from doing so. The research was undertaken in Kenya, Mozambique, Nepal and the Philippines between 2012 and 2014 in the areas of health, education, governance and the environment. It engaged more than 3,700 participants, including community, national and international volunteers, government officials, young people, community leaders, teachers and health practitioners, making this the largest study of its kind to date.

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.

The research highlights that it is not just what volunteers do, but how they support change that makes their contribution unique. Volunteering has a unique role to play in contributing to sustainable development both through youth volunteers and professional volunteers.



Author: Emma HENLY, VSO