As this phase of International Citizen Service draws to a close, what can evaluation tell us about its impact?
Read on for five lessons from the latest evidence on the power of responsible youth volunteering in three areas: sustainable development, personal development, and active citizenship.
1. Relationships are central to creating change
ICS volunteers live in the local community, staying in host homes and working closely with community members. The relationships that volunteers build with community members are crucial for sustainable change because they encourage diverse groups of community members to engage and participate across placement locations. These relationships also help increase the feeling of volunteer connectedness to, and responsibility for, local and global communities.
It’s not just a benefit to volunteers, who often rate living in a host home as one of their favourite parts of placement. Host families too love giving ICS volunteers a temporary home:
“They have done many awareness raising activities in the community, so I am very happy to see the good coordination within the team. In this short period, they became our family member… We will always love to welcome them.” Santa Shrestha, host mum, Dhading, Nepal.
2. ICS volunteers work effectively with groups who are traditionally marginalised
ICS puts inclusion at the heart of everything we do. We ensure a diverse mix of young people is supported to overcome barriers to enable them to volunteer. We also focus on inclusion within the communities in which we work through joining with groups of people who are traditionally marginalised, such as women, youth, children and people with disabilities.
For example, in Bangladesh, ICS volunteers worked with community youth groups to improve awareness around the harmful traditional practice of child marriage, as well as menstruation taboos. In Kenya, ICS volunteers worked with Deaf people to increase the availability of Kenyan Sign Language interpretation.
This support can be life changing for members of marginalised communities, like Mumma Giddian, a member of Entarara Disability Group in Loitoktok, Kenya:
“I am very thankful to the volunteers for training me in soap making. This has enabled me to make an income from my home whilst caring for my disabled son. This has improved our lives and enhanced the support I can give to him.”
3. ICS volunteers facilitate information and knowledge sharing, and link communities with vital services
ICS volunteers help improve levels of knowledge in the community about a range of topics such as health, education and livelihoods, as well as social issues like gender equality, early child marriage and disability rights. In 2019 alone, almost 3,000 young people took part in advocacy and awareness raising around these issues.
ICS volunteers are also great at connecting individuals and groups across communities with vital services such as savings groups, inclusive schooling and community health services.
Over recent months, as COVID-19 has disrupted communities, ICS volunteers like Eunice in Uganda have played a vital role in connecting people not only to services but also to information in a way that is accessible and understandable to them.
“We hear all these messages in English as if it’s only those that speak English that will suffer COVID,” said Eunice. “No one had thought about those other members that may not understand English. I feel happy that I have supported many people of my community to understand [in their local language] how to keep safe from COVID.”
4. ICS volunteers are more confident, resilient and adaptable after their placements, and develop key skills for the next stage of their lives
ICS is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that pushes young people out of their comfort zones to learn and participate in community development.
Through the programme, ICS volunteers gain key personal and professional development skills such as cross-cultural working, teamwork and leadership. Volunteers gain crucial experience in resilience, adaptability and confidence which prepares them for the world of work, as well as developing a deeper understanding of poverty and global development.
For ICS alumnus Kennedy Mmari, who last year was named as one of the 100 Most Influential Young Africans, his ICS experience was key:
“I’ll always be grateful to ICS. Before I volunteered, I could hardly speak in public, let alone lead meetings or a pitch. These are real world private sector skills that I just didn’t have or knew I needed.”
Recognising how ICS helped him progress to the next stage of his life as a business entrepreneur, Kennedy is committed to helping other young people by employing youth and empowering them to set up their own businesses to be his future competition.
5. ICS volunteers become active citizens in their own communities following their placement
ICS volunteers have varied levels of volunteering experience before starting their ICS journey. After placement, the amount of volunteering increases as ICS alumni continue to give back to their communities and interact with a wide range of organisations to make a positive impact.
Through ICS innovations such as the National Youth Engagement Networks, alumni can come together to work on joint projects in their home countries, such as online sessions discussing what young people can do to influence climate action.
Other volunteers go on to run amazing projects using the skills and confidence they gained on placement. ICS volunteer Molly Bufton Stear’s ‘Molly’s Meals’ programme not only supported vulnerable people receive a hot meal during lockdown in the UK, but also led to Molly being award a Points of Light award by the British Prime Minister.
Through the In-Country Volunteer Alumni Grant, ICS offers funding to alumni to invest in further community projects. This demonstrates how we remain committed to supporting ICS alumni globally to be lifelong active citizens who bring positive change to the issues that matter most to youth.