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Cuso International, is a non-profit development organization, whose goal is to work alongside local people in other countries, to improve the lives of people living with poverty and inequality. Each year the organization mobilizes hundreds of volunteer professionals who work with local partners to create positive, lasting change. Established in 1961, Cuso International is a registered charity in Canada and the United States. There have been numerous changes in Cuso International's mission statement and activities since 1961. Cuso International volunteers come from many professional and personal backgrounds, from many ages, and from across Canada and the United States, as well as from many of the Southern countries in which they work.
Cuso International works in inclusive partnerships to eradicate poverty through equitable and sustainable development.
CUSO was launched in 1961, built on the foundation of early university-based initiatives including Canadian Overseas Volunteers (COV), Canadian Voluntary Commonwealth Service (CVCS) and Le Mouvement Universitaire National pour le Developpement Outre-Mer. Originally known as Canadian University Service Overseas (and in French, SUCO – Service universitaire canadien outre-mer), the organization eventually moved beyond university students, and in 1981 its name changed to "CUSO".
In the 1980s and early 1990s CUSO realized that a tremendous need for social justice work exists in the countries where CUSO had been sending volunteers. It was decided to prepare CUSO cooperants (as they then came to be known to do more than provide service. Cooperants would also be expected to prepare to work in humble solidarity with local people, forming relationships as foundations for the work that needed to be done with the local organization. Volunteers would share their knowledge and skills with local counterpart(s), while learning about the local NGO, local cultural values and recommended practices. Such knowledge provided reciprocal value. The volunteer usually becomes more relaxed and better in the role after learning the local language and cultural values. Social alliances provide positive benefits for the local people too, while providing psychological stability and a safety net for the volunteer.
VSO Canada (whose mother organization was VSO UK) and CUSO made the decision to unite in 2008. They decided to call themselves "'CUSO-VSO'". In 2011 CUSO-VSO adopted another name change. "'CUSO-VSO'" became "'Cuso International'". Also in 2011, "'Cuso International'" recognized and celebrated a 50-year anniversary for the organization's roots in CUSO. The marriage of the two organizations has had its growing pains, but ultimately the new organization is apparently benefiting from the union.
In 2011 Cuso International became concerned, along with other Canadian organizations, at the apparent decision by CIDA (the Canadian International Development Agency) to terminate funding support to the CCIC (Canadian Council for International Cooperation). At the time Derek Evans, the Executive Director, said: "CCIC... has consistently helped Canadian NGOs be more efficient and effective partners in delivering on Canada’s commitment to international development. We will all continue to need the CCIC, and the CCIC will continue to need the support of all Canadians."
On the day of the 2013 budget announcement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that CIDA wwould amalgamate with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, meaning there would no longer be an agency devoted specifically to international development. For many years "'CUSO'" and "'Cuso International'" were dependent on CIDA for support, but the perception had increased that Harper's government was not supportive of international development.
1958 – VSO is founded in the UK.
1960 – Canadian Overseas Volunteers (COV) and Canadian Voluntary Commonwealth Service (CVCS) are created, and other university-based programs are in development.
1961 (June 6) – The new volunteer movement spreads to other Canadian universities, and a national body is needed to coordinate the program. Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO) is founded in Canada at McGill University in Montreal. Many university presidents attend, along with representatives of 21 organizations including COV, CVCS, WUSC, UNESCO and the Student Christian Movement.
1961 (Summer) - The first 15 COV volunteers leave for one-year postings in India, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Sarawak (now an autonomous state of the federation of Malaysia). That same year, the first CVCS short-term volunteers leave for Jamaica.
1963 - COV unites with CUSO/SUCO (as does CVCS a year later). Nearly 100 volunteers depart under the banner of CUSO for placements in 15 countries.
1965 – The Canadian government begins offering direct financial assistance to CUSO; support continues to today through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
1979 – CUSO's Quebec operations (SUCO – Service universitaire canadien outre-mer) separate from the organization. SUCO exists to today as an independent NGO. Note: our count of 15,000 returned volunteers includes the SUCO volunteers recruited prior to the '81 CUSO-SUCO separation.
1981 – Canadian University Service Overseas becomes just CUSO as many volunteers were now professionals with a wide variety of skills and experiences.
1984 – CUSO begins formal linkage projects between groups with similar interests in Canada and the developing world.
1985 – CUSO begins supporting developing world volunteers, not just Canadian volunteers. Starting in the 1990s, southern volunteers are also posted to other developing nations.
1995 – VSO Canada is launched.
2001 – VSO launches national volunteering, its in-country volunteering program.
2008 – CUSO and VSO Canada merge to become CUSO-VSO.
2011 – CUSO-VSO evolves its name to Cuso International, and turns 50.
Building a more just and sustainable world together...
Cuso International’s work is driven by authentic engagement with and accountability to the people and communities involved. In 2014–2015, 289 Cuso International volunteers worked with 172 local partners in 26 developing countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America to reduce poverty and inequality for more than 400,000 people. The three areas of focus are:
Cuso International believes that in order for communities to thrive, children need to be protected, and men and women must enjoy the same human rights and be given the same opportunities to participate in decisions that affect their lives. Priorities include:
- Access to justice
- Accountability and transparency
- Citizen participation
- Gender equality
In 2014-2015 there were 100,915 Community beneficiaries.
Healthy people are better able to work, learn, take care of their families and participate in their community’s development. But access to health care remains a challenge for people living in poverty, in remote communities, or excluded because of race, gender or class. Cuso International volunteers and partners work together to improve access to basic services.
- Maternal, newborn and child health
- Quality health services and mental health
In 2014-2015 there were 80,522 beneficiaries from the health projects.
Global economic challenges, such as food security and employment, ecological risks like climate change, and discrimination based on gender, disproportionately affect men, women and children who live in poverty.
But Cuso International sends skilled volunteers to work in collaborative partnerships in the south, working to help people and the communities in which they live become able to take care of each other and resilient to the forces of change. Priorities include:
- Education and skills training to improve employability
- Enterprise development and financing
- Entrepreneurship support and training
- Sustainable agriculture
- Sustainable natural resource management and climate change adaptation
- Value chains
In 2014-2015 there were 225,718 livelihood beneficiaries.
In 2014 Cuso International was evaluated by Charity Intelligence  for its transparency, accountability and the validity of the organization's work. A four star status was awarded to Cuso International. The relevance of the four star rating extends to donors and potential donors who want to verify that their contributions are truly going overseas to do good work.
In January 2015 the Board of Directors of Cuso International announced the appointment of a new CEO, Evelyne Guindon. Cuso International continues to be proud of its volunteers and the work that they do, 'with' more than 'for' the people of southern countries and partner organizations.
- "Making Change Happen: Strategy 2015-2020" (PDF). Cuso International.
- "Whither North-South Solidarity and the Role of Development Agencies - A Case Study of CUSO, Canada, in Latin America by Ruth Mayne".
- "Carley's Story -- Carley Granger, Cuso International Community Health Volunteer".
- "CUSO and VSO Canada merger". Cuso Internacional.
- "CIDA stops supporting the CCIC". Cuso Internacional.
- "Federal Government Moves CIDA Inside of Department of Foreign Affairs". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
- "Editor's letter: CIDA was long dead. Harper only buried it ...". Globe&Mail.
- "Key dates in History of Cuso International :". Cuso International.
- "FOCUS AREAS". Cuso International.
- "Cuso International 2014-2015 Annual Report" (PDF).
- "Charity Intelligence". Charity Intelligence.
- "Accountability". Cuso International.
- "Cuso International announces new CEO". GlobeNewswire.
- Peace Corps
- United States Cultural Exchange Programs
- British Romanian Educational Exchange
- EU Aid Volunteers
- European Voluntary Service
- International Voluntary Services
- United Nations Volunteers
- Voluntary Service Overseas
-  Cuso International website
-  Cuso International website for Spanish speaking locations in Central & South America & Jamaica
-  Cuso International Blog or Blogue
-  VolunteerMatch website for volunteering at home or overseas
-  Cuso International Website offering individual placements overseas
-  My Experience as a Cuso Volunteer by Adrien Friesen
-  My experience as a Cuso Volunteer by Marian
Ruth Mayne:"Whither North-South Solidarity and the Role of Development Agencies: A Case Study of CUSO, Canada, in Latin America" Community Dev J (1994) 29 (4): 369-379 doi:10.1093/cdj/29.4.369