At responsible-volunteering.com one of our goals is to promote alternatives to conventionally organised volunteer travel experiences. This is why we presented earlier this year the ideas behind the weltwärts reverse program, in which volunteers from the global south travel to Germany to volunteer in local social projects.
Another program, which is also financially supported by the German government, just as the weltwärts reverse programme is the “Weltdienst 30+”, which could be somehow translated as “world service 30+”.
The programme is the little brother of the German “Senior Expert Service”, a service that connects local enterprises to German pensioners who are willing to pass on their knowledge on a voluntary basis – therefore it can rely on a strong record of exchanging professional knowledge.
The programme picked up one of the most prominent critics of international volunteering – the fact that volunteers are usually not qualified enough to carry out the tasks assigned to them. This is why Weltdienst 30+ applicants must prove having at least 8 years of professional experience in their intended field of work. In addition to that, volunteers must be legally employed in Germany during their time volunteering, to avoid that the programme serves as some kind of gap filler between two jobs or during an re-orientation phase. People must be really committed to do this and negotiate a leave with their employers.
Considering the high entrance levels of Weltdienst 30+ , one could even start arguing, whether the Weltdienst 30+ is a real volunteer programme or not. The programme excludes most potential volunteers already by its formal criteria. But this fact should be seen as a strong indicator for the need-based approach of the program. The Weltdienst 30+ is emphasizing the requirements but also the responsibilities of the placements The programme is free of charge, whereas the hosting organizations that requests volunteers through the programme are required to contribute at least costs that occur during the time abroad.
So, when taking a closer look, we are happy to see that the programme meets most of the quality standards set up by responsible-volunteering.com and even exceeds some of them by far. One of the best aspects in this programme is the strong emphasis on the matching process of the volunteer and the local placement. Placements are not “sourced” by the programme but are required to apply. Direct applications of volunteers to a specific placement are not possible. The “Weltdienst 30+” selects volunteers from a pool of general applicants and forwards their profile to the placements who can decide on the person. As a potential volunteer, this can be seen as a lack of transparency and shows that the needs of the volunteer are secondary Giving the final word and decision on the application to the placements is not only exemplary but absolutely necessary if taking the needs-based approach seriously. A second pillar of this approach is the fact, that for each secondment individual goals are defined and will be monitored after the return of the volunteer.
While the strengths of the Weltdienst 30+ areis the matching process of the qualified volunteers and the needs-based approach, it is a pity that the programme does not focus on learning potentials on the volunteer side. Although a basic orientation is given, topics related to “Global Learning”, such as postcolonial theories, critical whiteness or Sustainable Development Goals are not part of the program. Including subjects like these could be a great opportunity to educate the volunteers but could also to increase the efficiency of their work. By ignoring these subjects the programme is missing the chance of enforcing a long term engagement of the volunteers in their home society. Especially for skilled volunteers we see a great need to reflect their own situation and position when working in the global south to not reproduce clichés and stereotypes such as “there is no skilled labour in Africa”.
To sum it up, the Weltdienst 30+ is taking the local needs seriously and requires a high level of qualification from its volunteers. The programme avoids most of the prominent pitfalls of the volunteering industry.Volunteers do not travel overseas to have fun but to work. And most important, the needs of the local communities and organizations come first! Beside some small weaknesses, the Weltdienst 30+ raises the bar for other high quality volunteering programs.