The Impact of Volunteering – proposed Marie Curie Individual Fellowship Research

The Impact of Volunteering

VMM are seeking a researcher funded by Horizon 2020 Marie Curie Individual Fellowshops. For information on the role and to apply, click here.


What is the impact of international volunteering on the host institution, the volunteers’ health, wellbeing and professional development, and on the volunteers’ home community? There are reasons to think that international volunteering could have both negative and positive impact.

Much recent attention has been paid to the effects of increasingly popular ‘voluntourism’ sector, where volunteers combine shot term volunteering with a vacation. As ‘voluntourist’ contributions are often brief and the work that they do is usually low-skilled, the sector risks undermining local workers and exploiting the victims of poverty (Richer and Norman 2010).

While this kind of volunteering is in many cases clearly irresponsible and serve as a reminder to credible volunteering sending organisations how not to proceed, this extreme form of volunteering is not typically undertaken by established and

VMM Volunteer and Centre Director Clare Edwards, along with colleagues from the Faraja Palotti Physiotherapy Centre carry out a practical session with demonstrations of handling and facilitation techniques in therapy management of children with cerebral palsy

credible volunteer sending development organisations.

An additional concern is that in today’s globalised society, most technical competencies are available in the host country or near region. Volunteer sending organisations sending technical staff are therefore faced with the question whether the development sector should continue to send oversees volunteers.

This line of thought assumes that volunteers and regional professionals compete for the same positions. However, at least some volunteers work at projects that no regional professional would consider, typically due to one or more of the following factors: low salary, geographical remoteness, risk of conflict and stigma associated with work. There is also the benefit of knowing that a volunteer has a limited length contract, and they are intentionally working themselves ‘out of a job’ by developing the skills of those they work in.

Consistent feedback from grassroots organisations shows that international volunteers offer valuable and irreplaceable capacity development support, and offer huge additional benefits such as an intercultural perspective, and linking small organisations with the wider world.

It is therefore worthwhile to consider the extent to which international volunteering is beneficial to each major stakeholder: the host of the oversees project, the volunteer, and the volunteers’ home community.

While there is an emerging body of research supporting the view that international volunteering is beneficial to the volunteers own health and wellbeing (Schech and Mundkur 2016), such an outcome is not the main remit of development work. At the core of international development is the outcome and impact on the beneficiaries of the development project. Here further research is required (Sherraden 2008). Further, since the UN General Assembly’s acceptance of the Sustainable Development Goals, the geographical dimension of development is now fully global. Therefore, as research has indicated that international volunteering is beneficial for the volunteers’ professional networks and skills (Fitzmaurice 2013, Lough 2014), it also merits research to measure the impact of international volunteering on the volunteers’ home community.


VMM International have been sending volunteers overseas for close to 50 years. In our experience, in speaking to returning volunteers and to partner organisations, international volunteering has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on all major stakeholder. With the proposed research project VMM International seek to determine if the conclusion borne out of this anecdotal evidence can be backed up by rigorous empirical research, and if so, how, why, and to what extent.


The proposed research project will investigate the impact on each major stakeholder of international volunteering, with particular focus on the impact of the host community and the volunteers home community. The project will investigate this topic by making use of VMM International’s international volunteer activities involving over 3000 volunteers over a 50-year time span and will determine the long term effects of international volunteering on these communities.

Empirical data will be gathered through a mixed-method approach including participatory workshops (with volunteers and with host organizations), questioner surveys (for host organizations, pre-departure volunteers, and returned volunteers), and semi-structured interviews (with host organisation staff, in country volunteers, returned volunteers, and other stakeholders).


MS Sherraden, B Loughm AM McBride ‘Effects of International Volunteering and Service: Individual and Institutional Predictors’ Voluntas (2008) 19:395–421.

Richer and Norman ‘AIDS orphan tourism: A threat to young children in residential care’ Vulnerable Children and Youth Studies: An International Interdisciplinary Journal for Research, Policy and Care (5)3: 217-229 (2010).

P Fitzmaurice ‘The impact of an international volunteering experience on individual career development’ Educational Provocations (2013) 97-111.

BJ Lough, MS Sherraden, AM McBride, X Xiang “The impact of international service on the development of volunteers’ intercultural relations” Social science research (2014) 46:48-58.

S Schech and A Mundkur ‘The Impacts of International Volunteering: Summary of the Findings’ Cosmopolitan Development: The Impacts of International Volunteering Project Findings Part 4 (2016) 1-29.

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