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Australian Volunteers

History of international volunteering in Australia

International volunteering has a long history in Australia, originating in the 1950s as a means of fostering cultural understanding between Australian and Indonesian students.

On 16 June 1951, Herb Feith set sail from Port Melbourne to volunteer as a translator in the English language division with the Ministry of Information in Jakarta. Several other young Australians followed in his footsteps and the Volunteer Graduate Scheme was established in 1951.

It was under the auspices of the Volunteer Graduate Scheme that the volunteer agency, the Overseas Service Bureau, was established in 1961. This later became Australian Volunteers International (in 1999).

Australian Government support for international volunteers commenced in 1963 through the provision of funding to the Overseas Service Bureau for a newly launched program called Australian Volunteers Abroad. In 1963 the first 14 Australian Volunteers Abroad were selected, and departed the following year for Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tanzania and Nigeria.

Between 1963 and 1996 the Australian aid program provided core funding to selected Australian non-government organisations for their volunteer programs.

The Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development program was introduced in 1997.

In 2005, the government procured services for all volunteer programs through a competitive tender process. The successful tenderers under the Australian Government Volunteer Program were Australian Volunteers International, Australian Business Volunteers and Austraining International (now Scope Global).

In 2009, a review of the Australian Government Volunteer Program recommended designing a unified volunteer program. The successful tenderers for the new program were:

  • Austraining International (now Scope Global)
  • Australian Red Cross
  • Australian Volunteers International

On 26 May 2011, the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program was launched. The AVID program aimed to bring the four separate volunteer programs and different brands together into one program and under one identity, with consistent recruitment, management and allowances across the service providers.

In 2014, an independent evaluation of AVID by the Office of Development Effectiveness (ODE) was completed and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade management response was released. The evaluation found that volunteers are making an effective contribution to the Australian Government's development and public diplomacy objectives. The Department accepted the seven recommendations which focused on further improving the development effectiveness, efficiency and value-for-money of the program. This included consolidating AVID into a single volunteer program, and as a result the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development (AYAD) brand was retired from July 2014.

AVID concluded on 31 December 2017.

The Australian Volunteers Program, the current iteration of the Australian Government’s support, is a ten-year program and will conclude on 30 June 2027. The program is delivered by AVI in consortium with DT Global and Alinea International.

An independent evaluation of the Australian Volunteers Program was commissioned in late 2020 to assess its effectiveness, efficiency, and relevance, and to inform the direction of the program‘s next five-year phase. The findings of the independent evaluation, and full report can be found on the monitoring and evaluation page.

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