The ICS programme is based on the evidence that young people, who are embedded in communities and who work together in a cross-cultural context, can achieve great positive outcomes to the people in those communities and for volunteers themselves.
However, these cross-cultural relationships can also be challenging and, without careful consideration, could perpetuate negative dynamics. We therefore recognise that we have great responsibility to confront and dismantle negative power dynamics through the work that we do. We also have a responsibility to ensure that volunteers, from all backgrounds, are fully prepared and equipped to encounter differences of experience, due to their identities.
We have some long-standing practices already in place to ensure we promote positive social dynamics and outcomes in our volunteering.
Positive, cross-cultural relationships
The ICS programme is multi-layered – focusing on project impact, personal development and active citizenship. The opportunity to learn and work through cross-cultural relationships is foundational to the success of all three of these domains. Volunteers are embedded in the community they work in and make positive change in these communities through the positive relationships that they build. Six years of feedback from volunteers and community members consistently highlights the cherished relationships that are built through ICS volunteering placements. It’s only through these relationships that positive change can take place.
Different makes the difference
No one person has the same experience of ICS. Identity and culture, including gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and beliefs, are part of what makes each individual’s experience unique. Whilst there can be challenges with sharing and understanding these different perspectives toward culture and identity, we know that there is also great value and the opportunity to learn and develop from so many different world views and experiences - which is what makes ICS such a unique opportunity.
ICS projects are based on the needs, priorities and aspirations of communities where they take place, and delivered in collaboration with the community, with sustainability in mind. Rather than being dictated by a HQ in the UK, these projects are led through local community partners, who are tuned into local needs and aspirations.
Projects are designed in such a way that volunteers add real value, rather than engaging in superficial work. We do not put volunteers into contexts they are unqualified and unprepared for - or inadvertently taking away a job a local person could do.
Raising youth voices
The ICS youth engagement model aims to develop youth to be aware of, and to understand deeply their rights, entitlements, and responsibilities. Our programme aims to build young people's resilience so that they become reflective to identify their existing capabilities and their power to make change. We support youth to develop their capability so that they have agency and voice to be proactive actors in society, building the world that is fair and inclusive for them.
Inclusive programme design
Our entire programme approach acknowledges that international development and ‘working overseas’ opportunities are traditionally available to, and led by, a demographic that overwhelmingly is white, middle class, non-disabled and male. However, ICS is based on the premise that the opportunity to participate and contribute on a programme like this should be available to all, and that diversity is fundamental to its success. We are proud of our extensive work on this, and we are recognised in the sector for our achievements.
Inclusion is built into every aspect of our culture, practice and process, which has impacted directly on the make-up of our volunteer workforce. We have removed barriers for all demographics to access international volunteering opportunities, including those based on gender, ethnicity, region, socio-economic groups, disability, and sexual orientation. Our diversity targets have been met consistently. For example, 30% of ICS applications are from BAME backgrounds, and over 37% are from lower-socio-economic groups. Through its commitment to diversity, ICS aims to ensure that international development opportunities can be accessed by all.
Our commitment to anti-racism
The resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement has compelled us to look even more closely at our external and internal practices, specifically around anti-racism. We are accountable to, and being held to account by, our volunteers, and those in the communities we serve, to interrogate ourselves and our practices.
To move forward, we have identified the following areas which we commit to developing to improve our work:
- Creating youth-led platforms that ensure that we are designing each phase of the programme in participation with the diversity of young people we represent, to make sure our practices reflect your experience.
- Promoting ICS through diverse recruitment channels and outreach activities to ensure the opportunity continues to be available to all.
- Educating volunteers on the history of the countries they are volunteering in, including the colonial history and the impact of that history.
- Providing learning and training about the difference between being an ‘ally’ and a ‘saviour’.
- Ensuring volunteers have the platforms and voice to lead and tackle systemic level barriers and discriminatory practices.
- Ensuring volunteers are fully equipped and prepared for their experience, and the difference they may encounter due to their visible identity.
- Sharing volunteer stories and experiences to other volunteers to support this preparedness.
- Building reflection throughout the journey so volunteers can discuss their experiences openly, identify negative dynamics and dismantle them.
- Looking internally at our own recruitment practices, our staff training and processes to mitigate unconscious bias and ensure diversity and inclusion of our staff force.