Overseas volunteering: the value to young people

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Return on investment from youth volunteering programme

For every £1 the government spends on International Citizen Service (ICS) – its overseas youth volunteering programme – the scheme generates over £4 in social value, finds a report by NEF Consulting commissioned by VSO.

Overall the ICS programme, which sends 18 to 25-year-olds to work in developing countries for three months, creates benefits for its UK volunteers worth an estimated £176.9 million from a total cost of £38.1 million.

Most benefit felt by female volunteers and those from poorer background

The report, International Citizen Service: a social return on investment evaluation, showed that the key benefits – increased confidence at work and better personal and professional contacts– were felt most strongly by female volunteers and those from poorer households.

For every pound invested into ICS, volunteers enjoyed benefits worth on average an estimated £4.64. For female volunteers the benefits increased to £4.99 and for volunteers from a low-income family it was £5.68.

Over 80% of ICS volunteers said their placement had improved their confidence “a lot” or “to some extent.”

An improved ability to work in a multicultural environment

The report also found that the skills and experience gained through volunteering resulted in an improved ability to work in a multicultural environment.

One ICS volunteer, Fletch Williams, 30, volunteered with ICS in 2014, volunteering with young people in Lesotho. She had been working in retail before ICS, struggling to get graduate-level work due to a lack of relevant experience. Within six weeks of returning to the UK Fletch started working at an international not-for-profit, a role which included management responsibilities and travel to Geneva and New York to do advocacy work at the United Nations. She said, “ICS turned my life around…I know the jobs I got afterwards were because employers liked my experience with ICS.” She later became Political Advisor for the Irish Mission to the UN in New York working on development issues, and in 2017 started a PhD at the London School of Economics.

Within 12 months after participation in ICS, 81% of volunteers are in higher education, employment or training. In addition, ICS volunteers are much more likely to become active citizens upon returning to the UK.

Getting young people actively involved in changing things that matter

Elizabeth Cox, Director, NEF Consulting said:

“The report clearly demonstrates the value of volunteering to young people in the UK, a finding that is supported by other studies we have conducted.”

“Importantly this report identified that young people involved in ICS are more likely to continue to volunteer after their placement either in their own community, or as part of wider civic engagement.  This is great news as we need young people to get more actively involved in changing things that matter to them.”

Felicity Morgan, Director of ICS, added:

“I’m delighted that this report manages to put a quantifiable value on the improved work skills, confidence and relationships I constantly see in our ICS volunteers when they come back to the UK.”


Find more information on the report here.

Download the report here.

Find out more about ICS here.