Voluntary Service Overseas

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Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO)
VSO logo image
Formation 1958
Founder Alec and Moira Dickson
Type International development charity
  • Worldwide
Slogan "World without poverty"
Mission "Bring people together to fight poverty"
Website www.vso.org.uk

Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) is an international development charity[1] with a vision for a "world without poverty" and a mission to "bring people together to fight poverty".[2] VSO recruits professionals to work as volunteers, living and working alongside local populations in developing countries. Founded in 1958, VSO has sent over 50,000 volunteers to over 140 developing countries. As of 2014 VSO currently works in 35 countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific.[3]

Working areas[edit]

VSO currently works in the following areas:

  • Education
  • Health and HIV & AIDs
  • Participation and governance
  • Secure livelihoods

And has three cross cutting themes that are relevant to all the areas:

Structure and Governance[edit]

Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) is a company limited by guarantee. VSO has three wholly owned subsidiaries: "VSO Trading Limited" (England and Wales), "British Executive Service Overseas" (England and Wales) and "Beijing VSO Consulting Company Limited", a Chinese-registered, wholly foreign-owned enterprise.[3]

VSO’s governing body is the International Board, currently comprising 10 trustees. The day-to-day management of VSO is carried out by the Global Leadership Team. The Global Leadership Team has operational oversight of VSO’s global work. Each Global Leadership team member is responsible for an area of VSO’s global operations, including finance, human resources and organisational development, and geographical management of Africa Group and Asia and Pacific Group.[3]

VSO is part of the "VSO Federation", an international network of organisations that share VSO’s vision of a world without poverty, in which people work together to fulfil their potential. The VSO Federation comprises VSO (operating as both VSO International and VSO UK), VSO Ireland, VSO Jitolee (Kenya), VSO Netherlands and VSO Bahaginan (Philippines). Each VSO federation member is a self-governing, not-for-profit legal entity. Each federation member (and VSO UK) has nominated a representative to the VSO Federation Council, an advisory body created to advise the International Board on matters relevant to the VSO Federation.[3]


VSO was founded in 1958 by Alec and Moira Dickson through a bishop's letter to the London paper,[4] The Sunday Times, as an educational experience overseas for school-leavers, initially only male, before starting university. Volunteers offered unskilled help in return for basic accommodation and pocket money. In 1962, the practice changed to using university graduates volunteers.[5]

By 1980, the unskilled volunteers had been completely phased out and the length of service had been extended to two years.[6] Active volunteer numbers initially dropped to about 750, but by 2003 had returned to about 1,400. Since December 2004, applications to volunteer have been accepted from those between ages 20 and 75, who also must have at least two years' experience in their field. The average age of current volunteers is 38.[7]

In the early 1990s, in order to meet growing demand for highly specialised and skilled volunteers from its partners in developing countries, VSO established partner agencies in Canada, the Netherlands, Kenya/Uganda (VSO Jitolee), and the Philippines (VSO Bahaginan).[8] In 2004, VSO launched a partnership called iVolunteer Overseas (iVO) in India with iVolunteer, an existing volunteering program of MITRA, an Indian NGO. VSO's structure evolved to become an international federation which now includes Ireland, China and India as well as the above named countries.[9] International volunteers are recruited through all of these bases, and they can be placed in any one of VSO's programmes (e.g. an Irish volunteer working in Nepal, or a Ugandan volunteer working in Tajikistan).[10]

In 2011 VSO, in partnership with Lattitude Global Volunteering, Restless Development, Skillshare International, Progressio, International Service and Tropical Health Education Trust (THET) launched International Citizen Service ICS to provide volunteer placements for 18-25 year-olds. The group, funded by the Department for International Development DFID, now includes Raleigh International and Tearfund[11] and will work with 3,000 volunteers annually across 60 countries.[12]

VSO today[edit]

Highlights of Voluntary Service Overseas today include:

  • VSO recruits and trains experienced, professional volunteers aged between 18-75 to live and work in the heart of local communities. International volunteers can be from any country and are recruited through by recruitment partners in: China, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Kenya, the Netherlands, the Philippines, southern Africa and the UK.[3]
  • VSO offers some short-term consultancy-style volunteer placements, to complement their traditional long-term (two year) placements.
  • VSO supports more than 100 national volunteering programmes in over 20 countries (including schemes in India, Ghana and Kenya).[13]
  • VSO also acts as a 'knowledge broker', bringing local grassroots organisations[14] together to share learning and best practice, for example through the Regional AIDS Initiative of Southern Africa,[15] with a network of partners in seven southern African countries.[16]

Advocacy and campaigns[edit]

VSO undertakes advocacy locally, nationally and internationally to bring about positive change to policies and practices. VSO campaigns for global justice to help raise awareness of important development issues.


VSO works with local partners in the communities they work with, placing volunteers with these partners to help increase their impact and effectiveness. VSO also works with corporate partners, such as Accenture,[17] and Randstad.[18]

Sharing good practice[edit]

LINKS (Learning through International Networking and Knowledge Sharing) activities give VSO partners the chance to go to another country to learn and share good practice by visiting or working with agencies there.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Gap yah volunteers not all bad, says new report". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  2. ^ "People first strategy 2010" (PDF). www.vso.org.uk. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Annual Report and Financial statement 2013-14 for VSO International" (PDF). www.vso.org.uk. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  4. ^ Critical Perspectives on Service-Learning in Higher Education. p. 16. ISBN 9781137383259. 
  5. ^ "Volunteering". University of Bradford. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  6. ^ "Good to meet you… Tom Jackson". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  7. ^ "Voluntary Service Overseas information". World Heritage Encyclopedia. 
  8. ^ "Putting children first: transforming education in Cambodia". VSO Bahaginan. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  9. ^ "Dublin doctor helping Africans most in need". The Irish Times. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  10. ^ "History Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO)". Official website. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  11. ^ "Tearfund International Learning Zone" (PDF). Tearfund. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  12. ^ Weeden, Clare. Responsible and Ethical Tourist Behaviour. Routledge. p. 44. ISBN 9781136996283. 
  13. ^ "VSO Volunteers". Official website. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  14. ^ VSO LINKS - promoting volunteering to fight poverty and disadvantage
  15. ^ "RAISA - Our programme initiatives - About VSO". www.vso.org.uk. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  16. ^ "I chose to have my twins at 50". ParentDish. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  17. ^ "VSO Business Partnership Program". Accenture. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  18. ^ "VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas)". Randstad Holding. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  19. ^ "What we do". www.vsointernational.org. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]