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Voluntary Service Overseas

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Alec Dickson

"A world without poverty"



Number of volunteers

Voluntary Service Overseas httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediacommonsaa

International development charity

"A world without poverty"


Philip Goodwin (Mar 2015–)

"Bringing people together to fight poverty"

Cuso International, ChildFund, Christian Aid, Handicap International, ActionAid


Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) is an international development charity with a vision for a "world without poverty" and a mission to "bring people together to fight poverty". 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. As of 2015 VSO worked in 23 countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific.


Working areas

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:

  • Gender
  • Climate Change
  • Disability
  • Structure and Governance

    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.

    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.

    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.


    VSO was founded in 1958 by Alec and Moira Dickson through a bishop's letter to the London paper, 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 graduate volunteers.

    By 1980, the unskilled volunteers had been completely phased out and the length of service had been extended to two years. 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 43.

    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). 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. 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).

    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- to 25-year-olds. The group, funded by the Department for International Development DFID, now includes Raleigh International and Tearfund and will work with 3,000 volunteers annually across 60 countries.

    VSO today

    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 by recruitment partners in: China, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Kenya, the Netherlands, the Philippines, southern Africa and the UK.
  • 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).
  • VSO also acts as a 'knowledge broker', bringing local grassroots organisations together to share learning and best practice, for example through the Regional AIDS Initiative of Southern Africa, with a network of partners in seven southern African countries.
  • Advocacy and campaigns

    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, and Randstad.

    Sharing good practice

    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.


    Voluntary Service Overseas Wikipedia

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