Most volunteers who take their time to go abroad and work in a local volunteering project are probably driven by curiosity, adventure or maybe just a little boredom. But there is one central motivation almost everyone claims to have: The idea to make a real difference. Or to quote Gandhi: to be the change that you wish to see in the world.
Most former volunteers will notice: That is not an easy thing to do. When leaving the project, usually the very same beneficiaries will attend the project as on the first day of arrival.
This challenge is not only limited to development project working with volunteers, it is an issue to almost all projects related to development work. And this is where the theory of change comes in. Explained in simple words it is about thinking projects from the very end: The impact that is intended to be generated by the project. Starting with the impact, you can deduct the outputs, the outcomes, the activities necessary and the inputs required to achieve the project aim. This may sound to be an easy thing to do, but if well done it assures the generation of a final impact that ought to be created by the project.
Since the Paris declaration in 2005, an impact driven project design has been implemented all over the world to make it easier to identify high quality projects and to distribute the limited resources to projects with significant impacts. Today, it is the most used methodology to describe impacts in social projects, not only limited to the development world. It is required by almost every major donor worldwide when applying for funds.
Many projects receiving volunteers are not necessarily conceptualized this way. Their aim is to offer volunteers a steady working environment so they can rely on volunteers for a long time without having always too much trouble finding new tasks or risking bored volunteers. As volunteers are often used for project income generation, this is basically not too bad. But in this case, the volunteers are not there to make a change. Their main reason to be is to sustain the project financially. What is important is that volunteers are aware of this. If you are promised to make a major change, we’d recommend you to be skeptical.
For this reason, we encourage every (potential) volunteer to get in touch with their (potential) projects and ask for the impact chain, the project goals and aims and to reflect if they – as volunteers – can contribute to this plan. Ask why the project is receiving volunteers and make sure that you receive a satisfying answer. Good projects will be able to do so.