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Research report: Valuing Volunteering

Cover of the Valuing Volunteering report

Our research conducted with the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) reveals how and why volunteering interventions impact upon poverty.

 ‘The role of volunteering in sustainable development.’ [PDF]

The report summarises findings from the global action research project, ‘Valuing Volunteering’ which explores how and why volunteering contributes to poverty reduction and sustainable positive change, and the factors which prevent it from doing so. It looks at both the intended and unintended impacts of volunteering interventions.

Whilst a wealth of research has explored how volunteering affects volunteers themselves; there has been very little research exploring how volunteering actually brings about change for communities on the ground. Valuing Volunteering seeks to address this gap.

How and why does volunteering impact on poverty?

The findings from the research demonstrate that volunteering contributes to sustainable development in the following ways:

  • Inclusion: extends the reach of public services to the poorest and most marginalised
  • Innovation: creates new forms of collaboration that lead to social innovation
  • Ownership: strengthens local ownership of development processes
  • Participation: creates a pathway to people’s participation and active citizenship
  • Inspiration: exposes communities to different cultural norms and ideas

Download the research summary [PDF] to learn more about the findings and their implications.

About the research

Valuing Volunteering research was conducted over a two-year period (2012–2014) in four countries: Kenya, Mozambique, Nepal and The Philippines.

Led by four VSO volunteer researchers and drawing on participatory action research methodologies, the research engaged more than 3,700 people, including local volunteer groups, community leaders, young people, teachers, health practitioners, community leaders, government officials and staff and volunteers from local, national and international NGOs.

This digital story from Tulsa, a community volunteer in Nepal, is an example of some of the participatory approaches that were used to enable volunteers and community members to tell their stories.

In January 2014, the Valuing Volunteering Nepal researcher facilitated a six day digital storytelling workshop in the Far West of Nepal, with local volunteers and early child development facilitators who had been part of a long-term project, delivered by VSO and Aasaman Nepal, promoting quality and inclusive Education.

Although the project was commissioned by VSO, its aim is to inform learning and practice across the development sector.

Four of the 12 case studies that inform the research relate specifically to VSO projects. Between them they cover a range of volunteer interventions; from self-help and community volunteering through to formal national and international volunteering programmes supported by different organisations and institutions.

The case studies explore the contribution of volunteering across different contexts and issues including; access to education and health, governance, and the environment.

You can download a copy of the full report, ‘The role of volunteering in sustainable development’ [PDF]

Summary report [PDF]

The Valuing Volunteering publication series

In addition to the synthesis report the Valuing Volunteering series includes the following published case studies and literature review. For any enquiries, please contact Miriam Karim at

Literature review - Valuing Volunteering [PDF]

Kenya (Author: Simon Lewis)

Mozambique (Author: Alexandrea Picken)

Nepal (Author: Elizabeth Hacker)

The Philippines (Author: Jody Aked)