*International voluntary service in southern Africa: Challenges, effects and potential
Helene PeroldExecutive Director Volunteer and Service Enquiry Southern Africa (VOSESA)
Presentation to Conference at the European ParliamentInternational Volunteering: What role for Europe? 8 November 2011
International voluntary service (IVS) involving people from northern countries represents a widespread and growing phenomenon in southern Africa.On the basis of available information, more than 6 200 international volunteers served in southern Africa during the two-year period 2009 2010:61 international volunteer sending organisations sent over 2 700 volunteers to the SADC region in each year (VOSESA 2010 unpublished)weltwrts sent 417 volunteers to SADC countries in 2009 and approx the same number in 2010
*Most research to date focuses on the effects of international voluntary service (IVS) on volunteers.Very little research is available on the effects of IVS on host organisations and host communities in African countries, particularly from the host perspective.Even less research places IVS in the wider context of development and global geopolitics.For this reason, VOSESA conducted a study in Tanzania and Mozambique in 2010 to gain a better understanding of host organisation perspectives on IVS.
Context of IVS in southern AfricaCivil society organisations operate under difficult circumstances, providing services in poor communities.Despite these adverse conditions, organisations in rural areas demonstrate resilience and innovation. The organisations surveyed had been in operation between 8 and 43 years.We need to understand whether IVS can contribute to strengthening these organisations as critical players in the socio-economic context in which they operate.
Methods used in the studyExploratory qualitative using a comparative case study design in two countries: Mozambique & Tanzania3 host and 3 comparison organisations in each country Working across 6 sectors: childhood education; microfinance; vocational and skills development; rural socio-economic development; people living with HIV/AIDS; youth volunteering.Across the two countries, we conducted 18 in-depth interviews with organisation directors and/or volunteer coordinators, and held 12 focus groups with 120 community beneficiariesAll data collected by in-country researchers using local languagesQuantitative survey of 1 750 ICYE and weltwrts volunteers (outgoing in 2010, returnees from 2009 and alumnae): 26% response rate*
Assessing the contribution of IVS: theoretical considerationsWe assess the challenges, potential and effects of IVS in two ways:Its contribution to developmentIts contribution to social capital
DevelopmentInspired by the dependency theorists challenge to modernisation theoryThe underdeveloped have their own beliefs, ideas and values around how to live their lives They are not simply passive recipients of development aid and ideas, but are active agents who make decisions, pursue opportunities and live according to their own principles and guidelines (Sen, 1999; Nussbaum, 2000)Rooted in the capabilities approach to development The capacity to make and implement decisions (Martinussen, 2004)Participatory development with the involvement of communities empowered to understand and change their social reality (Gran, 1983)Capacity building necessary for sustainable development.
Therefore we explore the following questions about the contribution of IVS to development: What contribution does IVS make to the objectives of the host organisations?To what extent do the relationships generated in the IVS experience contribute to shared initiatives that build the sustainability of organisations and challenge previously held notions of dependency?
Understood in the following terms:Concrete social relationships that can give individuals access to crucial resources not otherwise available despite ample endowments of human or financial capital (Coleman, 1999)Bonding and bridging social capital (Putnam, 2000)BUT we cannot ignore the elements of power and access when considering social capital (Foley & Edwards, 1999; Lin, 2001; Bhattacharyya et al. 2004)*Social capital
Therefore we explore the following questions about IVS and social capital:To what extent does the IVS relationship lead to access to international social networks? What are the power dynamics at play? To what extent does IVS contribute to the development of bridging social capital at the individual level? *
Expectations and discourses what shapes the IVS relationship?Dominant discourses of aid and trade shape the way in which host organisations talk about their experiences of international volunteers. These trends are also evident in the expectations that comparison organisations have of international volunteers. The encounter is therefore inevitably racialised. Volunteers are approached as members of the white race, in popular jargon muzungu, and are attributed qualities and resources consistent with popular African representations of Europe. *
White people are very wealthy people; they are filthy rich and have no money problems. They are very developed and their living conditions very far removed from the way we live in poor countries. They are very powerful as nations. They are very intelligent people and capable of anything.
We all know that what we have here was left by the colonisers. This means that what we know and even what you [in-country researcher] know is because the whites taught us. So, people from other regions [meaning Europe and the Americas] are very clever and open minded. They are not jealous, just thinking in witchcraft, etc; they are very kind.
Host organisations do not challenge these beliefs, but rather reinforce them seeking to draw maximum benefit from such a sorry state of affairs.
The organisations status has increased because the general population tend to believe that where white people are involved, the organisation must be of international standard, solid and very reliable. When you promise clients that they can get solar energy facilities for instance, they easily trust you because there are white people in the organisation and therefore the organisation is trustworthy.
International volunteers also have a potential to make a difference when they go in the villages and talk to people through presentations or outreach programmes. Most people in Tanzania have a tendency to listen a person from abroad than a local person, even though both of you might carry the same message. So, when international volunteers say something, there is a great[er] possibility of people believing and acting on it than local people. That way they can influence behaviour.
Volunteers themselves might reinforce these notions of dependency:
International volunteers think there is so much potential, so many natural resources, but [think that] we are incapable of using them that we do not have ability to use the resources adequately and realise their potential. For instance there are many variations and reserves of minerals, but the country and its people are poor.
International volunteers do not always link prevailing conditions of material deprivation in host communities with historical and current injustices of the global trade and aid regime.
These strong notions exist alongside more balanced ideas of what IVS can achieve. Two comparison organisations in Mozambique had previously hosted international volunteers, but put this on hold as they considered what contribution IVS could really make to their strategic priorities. A Tanzania host organisation respondent was unequivocal about the extent to which his organisation had taught the international volunteers everything they knew about building renewable energy products: When they come, the office trains them on the products they have; they also train them about micro- finance, and specifically about the solar energy equipment product, which is an asset leasing product.
Potential of IVS to contribute to development objectivesInternational volunteers do bring needed skills and capacity to the host organisations, and this can enable organisations to improve their functioning and performance. However, the impact that individual volunteers can have is often dependent on the way in which the organisation plans to use these volunteers.*
Organisations pointed to four ways in which international volunteers contributed to their development objectives:They brought new ideas and innovative ways of enhancing the organisations strategic planningNew programme ideasNew M&E systemsKnowledge of and access to ICTContribution particularly strong if skilledThey brought human resources to the organisations, enabling some organisations to expand their reach and improve the quality of their programming
Many of the host organisations used to their advantage the stereotype perceptions that communities and donors have of white people hosting white volunteers gave them credibility withtheir beneficiariespotential donorsHost organisations felt that international volunteers were able to view situations with new eyes and with different experiences, and were thus able to contribute to technical and cultural innovation. *
IVS and development: what have we learned?There are potential benefits to organisations when involving international volunteersThis is constrained by the discourses that shape the interactions and which tend to reinforce dependencyWhere organisations are able to use volunteers strategically, the outcomes are most productive.*
While in many cases the service offered by international volunteers is valued, the IVS relationship is very much driven by the supply of volunteers rather than a demand for them. Supply is growing from northern countries, characterised increasingly by larger numbers of unskilled and young international volunteers. The expectations that host organisations have of volunteers from the North means that they may uncritically agree to host the international volunteers and only later face the challenge of considering their use value.
*Barriers to realising development potential of IVS
Relationships between sending and host organisations are inevitably structured unequally, with host organisations being in a subordinate roleOften, host organisations do not give sufficient thought to the human resources costs that they incur in managing international volunteersHost organisations lack of preparedness for hosting the international volunteers was sometimes found to be a consequence of their limited engagement in the partnership with sending organisationsInsufficient strategic planning limits the use value of volunteers from the host organisation perspective.*
Host organisations expected that the contribution of international volunteers could be carried out in the form of advocacy in their home country. When they return to their home country, their report is not biased by political interests. They give the real picture of the needs, weaknesses, and strengths of the developing countries. At the end of the day, their reports influence somehow assistance particularly technical assistance. Beyond one incident of a returned volunteer securing funding for the organisation, there is little evidence to suggest that this happens to any great degree. *Potential of IVS to contribute to social capital
Where there is a contribution to social capital development is at the individual level intercultural learning.Host organisations report that international volunteers are interested in learning about the culture of their host country.However, there is also indication that international volunteers carry a romantic view of Africa, sometimes supported by clichs of African culture demonstrated in festivals and other rituals. Volunteers have little understanding of modernised African economies with huge wealth disparities.*
Intercultural learning tends to stop at the level of the cultural facade.Little evidence to suggest that IVS experience helped volunteers to challenge their perceptions of development, to think about why certain cultural norms exist and the role they play in daily life, and to understand the ways that the historical legacy of development has impacted on local culture. *
Host organisations have high expectations of social capital development, particularly in terms of international linkages. These expectations are largely unmet, outside of a few isolated incidents.Building of social capital at the individual level is also limited. *IVS and social capital: what have we learned?
Interactions between host organisations, volunteers, sending organisations and intermediary organisations are often fraught with serious structural constraints:African intermediary organisation eliminates stress of hosts dealing with multiple sending organisations, but also eliminates the potential of connection and joint planning between host and sending organisation.Volunteers can easily bypass the rules of the host organisation by dealing directly with the sending organisation causing frustration on the part of Hos.*Barriers to realising social capital potential of IVS
The power dynamics of the host/sending organisation partnership:disallows full ownership of the relationship by the host organisation and constrains the strategic utilisation of the opportunities it can deliverIf the transparent flow of information were to be part of the expected modus operandi of placements and better managed, equal partnerships could go a long way to realising the potential that lies in the IVS experience.*
The discourses that shape the IVS relationship need to be more critically considered in future:Need to facilitate open engagements between host and sending organisations to discuss how these relationships play out Programmes need to be designed not only to increase understanding between host and sending organisations, but also open pathways for both organisations to be more instrumental in the selection, orientation and preparation of volunteers.
Host organisations need to view themselves as active agents in the IVS process and be viewed as such. Host organisations need to recognise their own power and agency in this relationship, and need to be more demanding of what they want out of the relationship. Sending organisations need to recognise that these organisations do not exist to host their international volunteers; instead, these placements offer the volunteers opportunities to gain insight into: how committed, resource-scarce, innovative entities operate in challenging circumstanceswhat sustainability really means in practical terms at grassroots level Sending organisations need to ensure that the hosting role is respected and is mutually beneficial. *
IVS holds possibilities for connecting host organisations to new resourceful social networks and for directly providing host organisations with much-needed human capital and expertise. It also demonstrates the potential of host organisations to contribute to the volunteers skills and personal development, and to build social capital that might challenge, at the micro level, the dominant global power relations. However, dominant discourses that shape the relationships and a lack of constructive engagement between host organisations and sending organisations as partners in the IVS relationship serves as a serious constraint because the reproduce existing geo-political relationships.
Communication deficits, the limited nature of intercultural learning, and the difficulties host organisations face in strategically using the volunteers are constraining the full utilisation of the possibilities embedded within international voluntary service.Research is in process to establish whether these relationships reproduce themselves in southern African regional exchanges.