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 Sustainability & volunteering

Sustainability – a word with growing power and meaning. Relevant in our daily lives, environmental preservation, and planet protection sustainability – it finds its place in the realm of development projects as well.

The definition of “sustainability” is a tricky one. In our thinking, a sustainable society is one where people enjoy a clean healthy environment, a satisfactory level of economic well-being, and a robust level of social fulfilment.

 

Sustainability also reflects the ability to continue a defined behaviour indefinitely, because it makes sure that all factors involved – environmental, social and economic – are in balance.

 

 

So, what is a “sustainable project”?

Sustainability is the ability of an organisation to continue its mission or programme far into the future. All projects have to end eventually, but the impact of the project should be substantial, positive, equitable and long-lived.  For this to happen, many different aspects need to be considered:

The projects need to be long-term and therefore have people in the lead who are dedicated to making it happen, even when the going gets tough.

The projects need to be based on the needs of a community who have knowledge about the problem and who also understand what solutions would work. For a community to function well, the rights of individual persons need to be respected as well.

The projects need to take the environmental limitations and possibilities into account. We cannot negotiate with nature. We need to implement solutions that will work together with and not in contradiction to nature.

Thus, all projects need to be in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals as set out by the United Nations.

 

How can international volunteers ensure the sustainability of a project?

You cannot. But you can look for projects that bear the hallmarks of a sustinable project.

As stated above, you can choose to volunteer with an organisation which has long-term aims, and has projects that are deeply rooted in the communities they set out to serve. (You can also check for other “Signs of Quality” as set out in this article.)

This doesn’t necessarily mean you, as an international volunteer, need to be there for the long haul. It simply means that you are there for a limited time to join in with already functioning activities or programmes. When you, as an international volunteer, leave – the project goes on as before.

 

Long-term and short-term roles

Defining the correct role for you as an international volunteer is key. How you think about your role and how you talk about it also matters.

For instance, if you are volunteering at an Early Childhood Development Centre that provides day-care and activities for young children, they already have long-term care givers and kindergarten teachers who form relationships with the children.

It wouldn’t be profitable for the children to have short-term volunteers who come and go in and endless stream to play with them. In fact, it could be detrimental to their emotional development. Being abandoned time and again is not what children need.

So, if care givers who are indeed there for the long haul take care of the social and educational needs of the children – what is then your role as an international volunteer? What can you do?

 

A positive addition

As an international volunteer you can support the Educational Development Centres by doing tasks that the busy care givers cannot manage.  For example, you could contribute by building a playground with local materials, together with the parents and local community. That would be a contribution to the project that would be “on top” of what they can manage in their daily life.

In short: The presence of an international volunteer should be a positive addition to an already functioning long-term project that will continue to succeed, after they have left.

 

Some things to think about

It is important to address local workforce gaps when you embark on a volunteer project and be extra careful not to affect the local economy. It sounds drastic but think about it: If you go to a foreign country and you start doing volunteer work in areas where members of the community could be employed – are you doing good or bad? Would it be more sustainable for the community if the local bricklayer did the job instead of you?

Responsible volunteers aim to assist communities who are already bettering their situation by organising themselves and taking action. Collaborative planning is thus important aspect to add to the tools you can use to make this happen. Consult the local community and work in cooperation with them to address issues which they have a hard time solving on their own. Remember, you can add a valuable dimension on top of the long-haul efforts of the project.

 

Measuring success

The same goes for establishing goals and measuring success – if you do not involve the community how can you be sure what you are focusing on will have any benefit for them? It is easy to get lost into creating goals before you are familiar with the situation and reality.  Avoid measuring your effectiveness and satisfaction by false parameters. Again, it is the long-term effects of the project that will determine whether it is sustainable or not. Accept that your contribution might be “a drop in the ocean” – and find other ways to measure success.

 

Blood, sweat and tears

In the end, sustainability in development work and international volunteering is not about anyone’s individual fulfilment and personal success. It is about long-term, step-by-step, communal efforts that over time will bring positive and lasting results.

Enjoy the journey with all its ups and downs, and cherish the experiences you get along the way – it’s an exciting and rewarding life!

A Farmers' Market in Zambia

Sustainability reflects the ability tocontinue a defined behaviour
– like a development project –
indefinitely, because it makes sure that all factors involved:
environmental, social and economic – are in balance

Sustainable Developmnt Goals 2030
Sustainability and International volunteering
DAPP Zambia
HPP India
Sustainability and International Volunteering

Sustainability – a word with growing power and meaning. Relevant in our daily lives, environmental preservation, and planet protection sustainability – it finds its place in the realm of development projects as well.

The definition of “sustainability” is a tricky one. In our thinking, a sustainable society is one where people enjoy a clean healthy environment, a satisfactory level of economic well-being, and a robust level of social fulfilment.

 

Sustainability also reflects the ability to continue a defined behaviour indefinitely, because it makes sure that all factors involved – environmental, social and economic – are in balance.

Farmers' Market in Zambia

So, what is a “sustainable project”?

Sustainability is the ability of an organisation to continue its mission or programme far into the future. All projects have to end eventually, but the impact of the project should be substantial, positive, equitable and long-lived.  For this to happen, many different aspects need to be considered:

The projects need to be long-term and therefore have people in the lead who are dedicated to making it happen, even when the going gets tough.

Sustainability reflects the ability tocontinue a defined behaviour
– like a development project –
indefinitely, because it makes sure that all factors involved:
environmental, social and economic – are in balance

The projects need to be based on the needs of a community who have knowledge about the problem and who also understand what solutions would work. For a community to function well, the rights of individual persons need to be respected as well.

The projects need to take the environmental limitations and possibilities into account. We cannot negotiate with nature. We need to implement solutions that will work together with and not in contradiction to nature.

Thus, all projects need to be in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals as set out by the United Nations.

 

Sustainable Development Goals 2030

How can international volunteers ensure the sustainability of a project?

You cannot. But you can look for projects that bear the hallmarks of a sustinable project.

As stated above, you can choose to volunteer with an organisation which has long-term aims, and hs projects that are deeply rooted in the communities they set out to serve. (You can also check for other “Signs of Quality” as set out in this article.)

This doesn’t necessarily mean you, as an international volunteer, need to be there for the long haul. It simply means that you are there for a limited time to join in with already functioning activities or programmes. When you, as an international volunteer, leave – the project goes on as before.

 

Painting Action

Long-term and short-term roles

Defining the correct role for you as an international volunteer is key. How you think about your role and how you talk about it also matters.

For instance, if you are volunteering at an Early Childhood Development Centre that provides day-care and activities for young children, they already have long-term care givers and kindergarten teachers who form relationships with the children.

It wouldn’t be profitable for the children to have short-term volunteers who come and go in and endless stream to play with them. In fact, it could be detrimental to their emotional development. Being abandoned time and again is not what children need.

So, if care givers who are indeed there for the long haul take care of the social and educational needs of the children – what is then your role as an international volunteer? What can you do?

 

Playground for Preschools

A positive addition

As an international volunteer you can support the Educational Development Centres by doing tasks that the busy care givers cannot manage.  For example, you could contribute by building a playground with local materials, together with the parents and local community. That would be a contribution to the project that would be “on top” of what they can manage in their daily life.

In short: The presence of an international volunteer should be a positive addition to an already functioning long-term project that will continue to succeed, after they have left.

 

Volunteer work in Zambia

Some things to think about

It is important to address local workforce gaps when you embark on a volunteer project and be extra careful not to affect the local economy. It sounds drastic but think about it: If you go to a foreign country and you start doing volunteer work in areas where members of the community could be employed – are you doing good or bad? Would it be more sustainable for the community if the local bricklayer did the job instead of you?

Responsible volunteers aim to assist communities who are already bettering their situation by organising themselves and taking action. Collaborative planning is thus important aspect to add to the tools you can use to make this happen. Consult the local community and work in cooperation with them to address issues which they have a hard time solving on their own. Remember, you can add a valuable dimension on top of the long-haul efforts of the project.

 

Students in India

Measuring success

The same goes for establishing goals and measuring success – if you do not involve the community how can you be sure what you are focusing on will have any benefit for them? It is easy to get lost into creating goals before you are familiar with the situation and reality.  Avoid measuring your effectiveness and satisfaction by false parameters. Again, it is the long-term effects of the project that will determine whether it is sustainable or not. Accept that your contribution might be “a drop in the ocean” – and find other ways to measure success.

 

Practical Action

Blood, sweat and tears

In the end, sustainability in development work and international volunteering is not about anyone’s individual fulfilment and personal success. It is about long-term, step-by-step, communal efforts that over time will bring positive and lasting results.

Enjoy the journey with all its ups and downs, and cherish the experiences you get along the way – it’s an exciting and rewarding life!

DAPP Malawi
HPP India

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