Die Internationale Personelle Zusammenarbeit sieht sich vor enorme und andauernde Herausforderungen gestellt. Die COVID-induzierten Krisen zehren nicht nur an den Kräften der zahlreichen deutschen Fach-, Entwicklungs- und Freiwilligendienste, sondern ebenso an denen unserer internationalen Kolleg*innen und Partnern. Um das Ausmaß der Veränderungen abschätzen und die dynamischen Entwicklungen internationaler Dienste besser verstehen zu können, ist ein Blick über den deutschen Tellerrand hinaus sehr aufschlussreich. Denn überall wo die internationale Mobilität ins Stocken gerät und die Dienste nur beschränkt entsenden bzw. aufnehmen können, müssen neue Wege für die Aufrechterhaltung der Zusammenarbeit gefunden werden.
Auch wenn viele Organisationen davon ausgehen, dass ab 2021 wieder entsendet und aufgenommen werden kann, so werden sich die Dienste durch die gemachten Erfahrungen verändern. Es ist anzunehmen, dass ein Teil der Anpassungsmaßnahmen und den damit verbundenen Veränderungen in der Kooperation, welche die Organisationen als Reaktion auf COVID-19 in die Wege geleitet haben, langfristiger Natur sein werden. Viele der Entwicklungshelfer*innen und Fachkräfte, die vor Ort geblieben sind, bedienen sich neuer innovativer und teilweise sehr kreativer Arbeits- und Umgangsmethoden, die der neuen Situation angepasst sind und den Kernaufgaben ihrer Arbeit mit den Partnern und Zielgruppen weiterhin gerecht werden. Dabei haben sich bereits einige „aus der Not geborene“ neue Ansätze bewährt. Auch Freiwilligendienste beweisen viel Ingeniösität und Flexibilität, um zusammen mit den Freiwilligen neue und sinnvolle Formen der Freiwilligenarbeit zu entwickeln.
Das bestätigt auch das Internationale Forum für Freiwilligenarbeit in der Entwicklung (Forum) - das umfassendste globale Netzwerk von Organisationen der Internationalen Freiwilligenzusammenarbeit (IVCO) –, dessen Mitglieder zu Beginn von COVID-19 noch davon ausgingen, dass Maßnahmen wie die Umstellung auf Online-Arbeit kurzfristig seien, um die Pandemie bis zur Rückkehr zum „normalen“ Dienst zu überbrücken. Aus heutiger Sicht ist anzunehmen, dass selbst dann, wenn ein Impfstoff gefunden wird und Reiseblasen entstehen, es in absehbarer Zukunft weiterhin zu fluktuierenden Reisebeschränkungen kommt. Im Gespräch mit James O’Brien (Leitender Koordinator beim Forum) wurde deutlich, dass sich unsere gegenwärtige Realität als Branche verändert hat und die Notwendigkeit besteht, die verschiedenen Arbeitsweisen der Fach-, Entwicklungs- und Freiwilligenarbeit neu auszutarieren. Online-Freiwilligenarbeit und andere Ansätze, wie z.B. eine Verstärkung der lokalen Freiwilligenarbeit, könnten zu gängigen Modalitäten werden, die dauerhaft in die Programme verankert werden. Welche neuen Ansätze sich jedoch auch langfristig durchsetzen werden, weil sie eine deutliche Bereicherung darstellen, wird sich erst noch herausstellen.
Das International Forum for Volunteering in Development (Forum) wurde 1964 in Straßburg unter der Schirmherrschaft des Europarates gegründet. Seit 2000 fungiert es als „virtuelles“ Netzwerk, in dem weltweit internationale Fach- und Freiwilligendienste zusammengeschlossen sind - darunter auch der AKLHÜ. Das Forum hat zum Ziel, Informationsaustausch unter den Mitgliedern zu fördern, Entwicklung von Good Practices voranzutreiben und die Zusammenarbeit in den Bereichen internationale Freiwilligenarbeit und Entwicklung zu verbessern. Durch die aktuelle Situation und den dadurch begünstigten Digitalisierungsschub, nimmt die Arbeit des Forums einen scheinbar noch wichtigeren Stellenwert ein, indem es den so notwendigen Austausch zwischen den Mitgliedern ermöglicht und durch die Moderation diverser Arbeitsgruppen zur Entwicklung von Lösungen beiträgt. Durch zahlreiche Online-Angebote, Studien und die im Oktober stattfindende virtuelle IVCO-Konferenz, bietet das Forum eine mittlerweile unverzichtbare Plattform.
Unser Referent für Personelle Zusammenarbeit Wanja Amling interviewte James O’Brien, Koordinator beim Forum (The International Forum for Volunteering in Development) zu denHerausforderungen und Chancen, welche die pandemiebedingten Veränderungen mit sich bringen. Das Interview wurde per Videokonferenz auf Englisch geführt.
AKLHÜ: Who are volunteers according to Forums understanding and what social groups are they comprised of?
James O’Brien: Forum’s focus is on volunteering for development. So, traditionally we focused on international volunteering and then more recently that is broadened out to volunteering for development. We would agree broadly with the UNV definition of volunteering or volunteering for development – that are the people who give up their own time and are not motivated primarily by personal gain to contribute in some way or the other to the achievement of the SDGs. That is how we understand volunteering. Forum members support a broad range of volunteers, from different backgrounds and areas of expertise, and their volunteers take on a range of placement types from short-term to two years or more.
I think in terms of social groups it is incredibly diverse. Volunteers come from a range of backgrounds. Volunteering at the local and the national level represents an even broader range of social groups than international volunteering, although there are some very positive efforts to broaden access to international volunteering opportunities. But it is one of those things that is universal, it happens everywhere, but it is often perhaps not as visible as we tend to think. UN estimates speak about a total of one billion volunteers across the world – 70 percent of which takes place informally.
AKLHÜ: To what extent and how does the work of the Forum and its members relate to the Plan of Action to integrate volunteering into the 2030 Agenda?
James O’Brien: Our work is about creating spaces for Forum members to exchange information and good practice, and to improve their practice. In doing this, we are aligned with the aim of the Plan of Action to maximize the contribution of volunteerism to the SDGs.
Our Research, Practice, Policy and Learning (RPPL) Working Group also looks at measuring and communicating the impact of volunteering, for example through an annual survey of our members. This includes asking our members which of the SDGs their work is contributing to. We were involved in the work to get recognition of volunteering within the 2030 Agenda. I think the work of the majority of our members, or the work of all our members really, is centered around the SDGs and a lot of our members are also involved in promoting volunteering at a national level in their own context. So, some of our members have been successful in getting a national level of volunteering policies and volunteering laws or in ensuring that volunteering is reflected within national level SDG implementation plans and voluntary national reviews (to the High Level Political Forum) and the SDGs.
AKLHÜ: What are the key challenges at the moment affecting Forum and its members?
James O’Brien: My answer to this would have probably been a little different six months ago, but certainly COVID-19. I think that has had two effects. Firstly, it really stopped our ability to deploy volunteers internationally and causes to rethink what we do and how we do it as a sector. There has also been an increase of demand for volunteering at a local level and an increased interest in volunteering of new people around the world. So, a lot of our focus over the last six months has been, in the initial stages, trying to coordinate and share information between organization that were responding in the first few weeks to COVID, deciding whether and how to bring volunteers home or leave them in placement and support them and keep them safe. And now we have moved more into the phase where we are thinking about where do we go from here and in what way can we safely begin to re-deploy volunteers internationally and what is the longer term impact of COVID going to be – what we do and how we do it as a sector.
So, we have launched a research project on COVID, that is looking a little bit backwards at how we responded and what lessons that can teach us for future shocks and how we can respond to similar situations in the future. But it is mostly looking forward, looking at the types of models that volunteering organizations have adopted in recent months – mostly online volunteering, more focused on local community and national level volunteering that can be supported. And considering those from the perspective of the organizations and the communities that they are serving and how impactful and how responsible those approaches have been. But also looking at the bigger question of where we go from here and what does the new normal look like for volunteering for development organizations.
AKLHÜ: Where does the Forum see chances and opportunities stemming from the current crisis – if any?
James O’Brien: I think it has forced us to think about different ways of doing things. So, I think there is certainly an opportunity around online volunteering and that is something that some of our members were very involved in and that many of our members are looking at as a way of supporting their programs at the moment. I think it was sort of seen as an extra, an optional extra, until recently and now it is seen as maybe being the core of organizations operations going forward. It thus presents opportunities in practical ways to engage with volunteers that might not have had the opportunity to volunteer internationally. For people with mobility issues or disabilities who might not have been able to travel to the global South and volunteer. But also, to be able to engage with partner organizations in the global South in different ways that leverage technology and the way you interact in smaller ways rather than making a long-term engagement with an oversee partner.
So, I think it forces us to rethink what we do in online volunteering, and also what the capability of that is for what we will call volunteering for development – or the type of a long-term change that we want to bring about through our volunteer work. The move to online volunteering presents challenges for organizations. How the intercultural exchange and understanding that happens with international volunteering be replicated through an online experience? How can volunteers develop a deep understanding of the needs and concerns of the communities they work with. For many international volunteers, that understanding comes as much from everyday interaction with people in the community as it does from training and induction. One approach has been to design ‘blended’ programs that mix different volunteer types, for example local volunteers working alongside online international volunteers.
I think that all the change and local support as well have been interesting and that potentially also presents opportunities. It might lead us to think more about how we can support volunteers at the local level rather than international volunteers necessarily. Some organizations have been working in this way for many years, moving from mostly international volunteers from the Global North to support national and local volunteering, as well as South-South modes of volunteering. We are seeing an increase in this type of work as a result of COVID, as well as programs that bring together different types of volunteers working together (like local volunteers working with online international volunteers). This also presents new opportunities for how we design programs, and for how we engage with volunteers.
AKLHÜ: A question that we have been asking ourselves is to what extent online volunteering will also remain in a post-COVID era. Do you think it will go back to only physical exchanges or do you see elements of online volunteering being integrated in the future of volunteering, or do you perhaps even see volunteering as becoming foremost digital?
James O’Brien: I think initially the online volunteering, even in the last few months, was seen as an interim solution to maintain support for partner organizations and that we are coming back fairly quickly to deploying international volunteers. And that thinking has changed.
I think what is interesting is the kind of hybrid models that exist within some organizations, or that are emerging. For example, organization are linking up volunteers - who were due to be deployed internationally, but have not been deployed because of COVID – to support organizations before their placements begins. There is so much that happens informally for a long time. International volunteers do a placement, come home and then continue to stay in contact with the organization they worked with. This is my experience as well (as a former volunteer) over messenger or doing occasional Skype calls. I think that is what we are seeing being formalized: return volunteers having a longer-term relationship online with partner organizations and that being a part of program design. So, I think going forward there we will see that sort of hybrid model of elements of in-person and elements of online being more popular or more prevalent in the sector.
AKLHÜ: What kind of support by the Forum do you consider to be most important for your members during this time?
James O’Brien: I already talked of some of the activities. I think the main role we have is around creating spaces for organizations to exchange on how they are being impacted and on how they are responding and I think that has taken the form of the digital workshops, the Head of Agency meetings, the research we have launched. The main thing we can do is to help give our members the information that they need to face the challenges of COVID and make the decisions that it has presented us with. That information does not come from Forum itself, but from organizations learning from each other.
We have also an annual conference, IVCO, at the end of October and the theme this year is volunteering for climate action. We have also decided to have one day about COVID. So, we will have presentations on the research we are doing and workshops around COVID response and hopefully that will be of value to our members as well.
AKLHÜ: Have you come across best practices or common adaptation strategies amongst Forum members deployed for coping with the COVID repercussions?
James O’Brien: I think in the first phase there was a lot of exchange around how repatriation of volunteering was happening and there was some conversation as well around doing that risk assessment of how you decide which volunteers stay in place – based on the roles they are doing, the locations they are in and their own preferences and your understanding of duty of care within your organization. So, some of that kind emerged, but organization did take different approaches to that phase.
One of the great things about Forum is that the organizations that have more experience in certain areas are very open to sharing with the organizations with less experience. So, around things like managing online volunteers we have seen that some of those organizations that are more established and have a better sense of what they consider best practice are happy to share that with other organizations in the network, which has been really positive.
In terms of best practice or good practice we have the Global Standard for Volunteering for Development, which we launched last year and that has sort of been an encapsulation of good practice. So, over the last few months we have also been trialing that with two organizations on their online volunteering program and with a number of organizations that are doing volunteering at a local level. We try to figure out how the principles of good practice that we set out as a standard, apply to different volunteering modalities. And so far, this seems to be like a lot of the basic principles around volunteer management and program development and design, duty of care as well as measuring impact. A lot of the principles of good practice that apply to in-person volunteering internationally are applying equally to local or national volunteering and to online volunteering. A lot of that does not change even though the modality changes.
AKLHÜ: How do Forum members prepare for a post-COVID era? We are seeing reactions on how organizations are responding to the crisis, but are there also increasingly measures, plans, strategies in place for a post-COVID era?
James O’Brien: I think there is a focus on diversifying the volunteering offering and members making themselves less dependent on international travel in order to support their programs and provide volunteers with opportunities to volunteer. We see organizations thinking about how they can diversify and be less reliant on the need to travel overseas.
I think the research is also going to produce some advice or recommendations for organizations in the longer term. Like I was saying earlier, even post-COVID there is going to be lots of uncertainty or unpredictability in our ability to send volunteers internationally. And even as we see countries opening up again it is very possible that borders will close again or it will become more difficult to secure visas and work permits for volunteers to work in certain countries. So, one of the strategies that we are considering is how we collect information, country by country, about the restrictions or the openness to volunteers and share that with our members in a real time way.
Thinking about things like medical screening, security screening and preparation for volunteers – those are being reconsidered within organizations and also the way that volunteers do their jobs. So, for a lot of volunteers the ability to go and meet people, to hold workshops, to travel within the country they are working in has been compromised and volunteers, even once they are in country, have had to find new ways of continuing to do their jobs without being able to bring people together or have those kind of gatherings. So, again that has moved online and the way that volunteers do their job once they are in placement will also have to change - even post-COVID.
AKLHÜ: Thank you very much!
Wanja Amling (Referent für Personelle Zusammenarbeit beim AKLHÜ)