Cuso International

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"CUSO" redirects here. For other uses, see CUSO (disambiguation).

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.[1]


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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4]

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."[5]

Perhaps it was less of a surprise when in 2013, on the day of the new budget announcement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that CIDA will amalgamate with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, thereby ceasing to be an agency devoted to international development.[6] For many years "'CUSO'" and "'Cuso International'" were dependent on CIDA for support, but it had been increasingly apparent that this Canadian government was not a fan of International Development.[7][8]

   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.

Cuso International's Goals & Activities[9][edit]

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. 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 2013-2014, 74 volunteers worked with 43 partner organizations delivering community projects in 13 countries.


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.

Priorities include

   Maternal, newborn and child health
   Quality health services

In 2013-2014, 50 volunteers worked with 32 partner groups in 8 countries to support health initiatives.


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 2013-2014, 281 volunteers worked with 143 partner organizations to improve their livelihoods programs in 25 countries.[10]

Latest News[edit]

In 2014 Cuso International was evaluated by Charity Intelligence [11] 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.[12]

In January 2015 the Board of Directors of Cuso International announced the appointment of a new CEO, Evelyne Guindon.[13] 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.


External links[edit]

  • [1] Cuso International website
  • [2] Cuso International website for Spanish speaking locations in Central & South America & Jamaica
  • [3] Cuso International Blog or Blogue
  • [4] VolunteerMatch website for volunteering at home or overseas
  • [5] Cuso International Website offering individual placements overseas
  • [6] My Experience as a Cuso Volunteer by Adrien Friesen
  • [7] 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

{[Category:Worldwide trends in Volunteering and Volunteerism]}