Director’s Presentations

Strategic issues arising from international youth programmes

Christina Jenkins, FORUM Coordinator, Former SPW Australia Director

Based on a question posed by Dennis Altman (international activist-academic), ‘What kind of change do we seek?’, Christina Jenkins posed the question to IVCOs, ‘What kind of volunteering models do we seek?’ She summarised a key theme around values that linked many of the previous presentations together.

“The Minister spoke about ‘people to people experiences’ and need for ‘humbleness and openness’ in this kind of work and in the way that we relate as human beings. The power of this value should not be understated.”

Based on her experience as a volunteer and as the former SPW Australia Director, Christina cited Students Partnership Worldwide (SPW) as a good practice example of an International Youth Program. In the SPW model, young people are valued and seen as integral in achieving development goals. SPW’s aims are linked with Millennium Development Goals as well as National Strategies within each country. At the same time, SPW works with multiple partners at a local level including local organisations, local communities and between the volunteers themselves (where there is often a mix of local, national and international volunteers). The mechanism for achieving the development goals is through mobilising volunteers and this is done in partnership on a number of levels, local, national and international. One of the strategic issues that Christina raised was that the peer education model can not work in isolation, rather, it has to be supported on a number of levels, “Supported particularly by the local community and what exists within that community and the linkage with health services, schools, local organisations and people, national partners, national strategies, etc. SPW provides an example of this interconnected and supported peer education approach.”

Brian Rockcliffe, Director of the VSO Federation

In his presentation, Brian Rockcliffe re-enforced the message that there is a need to invest in and value young people. Volunteer Services Overseas (VSO) broadened their programme to include young people in development work. There were two main reasons behind this shift. Firstly, by looking at developing countries, there was a realisation that the future of the countries is on the shoulders of the youth. With most of the population under 35, there is a need to develop skills and leadership. Secondly, by looking at the situation in the UK itself. The average age of volunteers was 41, and VSO wanted to re-engage young people in development work.

“There is a power and authority in young people, for instance someone like Hugh Evans can say he is part of the first generation that can eradicate poverty.”

The idea of programmes for young people was controversial at VSO and challenged the purpose that VSO wasn’t in the business of working with young people. “What we realised is that at centre of our work is people to people work and relationships between organisations.”

With that in mind, VSO developed four principles that underpin their youth programmes:

1. Relationships – programmes where people work as equals
2. Supportive learning – respectful / positive learning experience (need to be supported in learning)
3. Real jobs to do – engaging with the community / need to have a useful job to do
4. Accessible – need to be open to everyone, not just those who can afford it etc

VSO now have two programmes for youth, ‘Youth 4 Development’ and their ‘Global Xchange’ programme. Brian highlighted one of the issues arising from the British-based ‘Global Xchange’ programme, a six-month exchange programme where volunteers of mixed nationality work in teams, spending three months working in their own country and then in a reciprocal arrangement with a host country. The issue of accessibility is problematic and different perceptions of what the groups of volunteers want from the experience is sometimes unequal and can create tensions. Another reflection is that it is an expensive programme.

Dimity Fifer, CEO of Australian Volunteers International and Forum Executive

Continuing on the theme of ‘Strategic Issues Arising from International Youth Programmes’, Dimity Fifer spoke about a new initiative between AVI and Macquarie University in Australia.

The ‘Global Futures Programme’, which will commence in 2010 in conjunction with the university’s new curriculum, is the first of its kind in the Australian tertiary sector. Macquarie is the first university to partner with an NGO on this type of programme.

Its aim is to develop partnerships, both local and international, which make valuable contributions to communities and which are mutually beneficial. Programmes will be developed in conjunction with local community groups, regional and remote councils, indigenous groups and nations throughout the South Pacific and South East Asia. It is the first of its kind.

Based on the values of mutuality, reciprocity and taking a whole-of-university approach, the programme is inclusive – bigger than just 10 or 15 students going on overseas projects, it will instead be opened up to the student population and staff alike. A system will be developed that gives participants an accreditation or credits for their involvement. “It is a move from an import model and infusion model to developing graduates that can solve problems in different settings, it involves the discovery and transcendence of difference through authentic experiences of cross-cultural interaction that involves real tasks, and emotional as well as intellectual participation.” The ‘Global Futures Programme’ has already begun working with students to look at ways to change development thinking and language, asking them to rethink the development paradigm.