Questions for programs sending volunteers to developing countries

For a research project I’m working on with various EU-based NGOs through February 2014 or so, I’m gathering info on three related areas:

  • Volunteer-to-volunteer support online. How organizations that send volunteers to developing countries do, or do NOT, support these volunteers to interact with each other, or returned volunteers / alumni, online. I’m looking for strategies, procedures and policies, as well as assessments, formal or informal, about what’s working and what’s not.
  • Alumni networks. How these organizations set up and manage their alumni programs for returned volunteers – or if they don’t, why not, and if they don’t, would they be interested in such. Again, I’m looking for strategies, procedures and policies, as well as assessments, formal or informal, about what’s working and what’s not. For instance, there is a long-established alumni network for returned Peace Corps members, National Peace Corps Association, that is independently run from the actual Peace Corps program.
  • Online volunteering support. How these organizations support connections between volunteers currently serving in the field and online volunteers that have the expertise these volunteers to support them in their work – or if they don’t, if volunteers are engaging with such online volunteers on their own. For instance, Cuso International has a formal program, E-Connect, an e-volunteering pilot program that “welcomes new and returning volunteers to work with our in-country program partners remotely.” By contrast, the UNV program encourages currently-serving UN Volunteers to use its Online Volunteering service to recruit online volunteers to support them in their field work, but does not have a formal program to track or support this specific engagement.

It’s a challenging project because: 

  • So many organizations do not track these activities at their own organizations. For instance, when I worked at the United Nations Volunteers program from 2001-2005, I knew of program officers, each with a responsibility for a particular country or region, that had set up YahooGroups for the UN Volunteers they worked with in a specific region – yet, if you asked senior staff if online communities existed for currently-serving UN Volunteers, for peer-to-peer support, they would say no, because these activities weren’t well-communicated.
  • Language. If I say, “Do you have an online community that allows your volunteers to support each other?”, many staff will say no. But if I say, “Are you a part of any GoogleGroups or YahooGroups or Facebook Groups?” they will say yes, and if you ask “What are the groups”, you will find out that, indeed, such groups are for currently-serving volunteers and/or volunteer alumni.
  • No one person knows it all. There’s rarely one person at the organization that knows all of the online activities or alumni activities in which different staff is engaged. If you talk to one staff person at an organization, they may give you entirely different answers to your questions about online communities and alumni associations than another staff person.
  • A lot of online peer-to-peer support of volunteers in the field may not happen through an online community specifically for volunteers but, rather, through a subject-based online community for anyone, volunteer or paid, full-time employee / consultant, such as those engaged in evaluation activities using ALNAP’s Humanitarian Evaluation Community of Practice, or those engaged in water and sanitation programs.

That said, if you have info for me,  please email me at (remove OINKMOO from the email address).

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