How did COVID19 impact volunteers?
In May 2020 the Australian Volunteers Program surveyed all volunteers who were directly impacted by COVID19: those who were on assignment or in the process of being mobilised. We wanted to understand the impact of COVID19 on them, and their feedback on the repatriation process.
The below key highlights are based on an interim report of their responses (as at July 2020). The full report will be shared publicly once available.
Over 500 people were invited to participate in the survey – volunteers who were repatriated to Australia due to COVID19, and those that had their mobilisation suspended. A total of 316 people responded to the survey.
Of the 500 invited to participate, 77% were on assignment and 23% were about to depart on assignment.
The repatriation process
Repatriated volunteers were asked how satisfied they were with communication around the response to COVID19, which included information from the program about COVID19 prior to repatriation, information on the rationale for repatriation, and correspondence with Australian Volunteers Program staff in-country and in Australia. Seventy-eight per cent of volunteers stated they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the communications provided.
They were also asked about the repatriation process. Seventy three percent were satisfied or very satisfied with the overall logistical arrangements, which included flights, finalising in-country living arrangements like paying bills and claiming rent deposits, and transit accommodation.
Repatriation support package
The Australian Volunteers Program committed to providing a repatriation support package of $10,080, with a 25% loading for approved accompanying dependents. When asked, 85% of repatriated volunteers stated they were satisfied or very satisfied with the support package.
This package was intended to provide volunteers with adequate funds for suitable accommodation for self-isolation in Australia. Of repatriated volunteers, 94% were able to make suitable arrangements for self-isolation on return to Australia.
Volunteers were able to access psychological support from Response Psychological, and 11% of repatriated volunteers contacted their team for advice relating to repatriation. Of those that contacted Response Psychological, 69% were satisfied or very satisfied with the service they provided.
Providing ongoing support to partner organisations
Repatriated volunteers were asked if they had any plans to support their partner organisation in the short-term, acknowledging that their assignment had ended and that providing any ongoing support was not expected. A total of 74% of repatriated volunteers planned on continuing to provide remote support to their partner organisation.
While acknowledging that it is an uncertain time globally, repatriated volunteers were asked to respond to a number of statements about their hopes for future engagement with the Australian Volunteers Program. A total of 59% agreed that they would like to continue with a similar assignment with the same partner organisation in the future, and 41% hoped to wait out the current crisis and go on assignment as soon as it is over. Thirty-seven per cent also hoped to do a remote assignment with the Australian Volunteers Program.
Feedback from volunteers who were about to go on assignment, but could not
People that were in the process of being mobilised to complete a volunteer assignment and due to start by 30 April 2020 were surveyed on their experiences.
Of these, 72% were satisfied or very satisfied with the overall communication they received from the Australian Volunteers Program.
These people were also supported with a mobilisation support package of $10,080, with a 25% loading for approved accompanying dependents, and the settlement allowance applicable to their assignment. A total of 87% were either satisfied or very satisfied with this financial support package.
The safety and wellbeing of Australian Volunteers Program participants and staff is our highest priority.
Due to the unprecedented impact of COVID-19, the Australian Volunteers Program made the decision to repatriate Australian volunteers. This commenced on Monday 16 March, and all program participants that required repatriation have now safely returned to Australia.
We have also temporarily suspended sending Australians overseas as skilled volunteers.
These decisions were difficult, but have been driven by our duty of care to our volunteers, our valued partner organisations, and our staff.
The decision to repatriate participants and suspend mobilisation is consistent with the Australian Government’s ban on Australians travelling overseas (effective from 25 March 2020).
We understand that this is a challenging and uncertain time for individuals, organisations and communities, and it is important for us all to work together and support each other.
We are currently reviewing our recruitment processes, and are focused on finding ways to support people who want to volunteer overseas.
We will continue to work closely with our partners and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and we look forward to resuming sending skilled Australian volunteers overseas as soon as it is safe and appropriate to do so.
3 April 2020
The Australian Volunteers Program, on behalf of DFAT, engaged an independent contractor, Mercer Consulting, to undertake a comprehensive review of the allowances provided to volunteers on the Australian Volunteers Program. The review aimed to:
- Review all allowances currently provided to volunteers in all countries in which the program is operating
- Benchmark allowances with other global volunteering programs and against current cost of living data for every country
- Consider whether additional allowances should be provided
- Make recommendations regarding any changes to current allowances
More than 1,000 current and returned volunteers were surveyed, and DFAT staff, Australian Volunteers Program staff and representatives from other organisations delivering international volunteering programs were interviewed to inform the review.
The review recommended that some living and/or accommodation allowances in some countries/locations be increased. Where the allowances were found to be fair and reasonable, no increases were recommended. The review did not recommend any reductions to allowances. The new allowance structure is effective from 1 October 2019.
Learn more about the program’s living and accommodation allowances.
Open volunteering: a model for short-term international volunteering
In the following Q&A, the Australian Volunteers Program’s Innovation Coordinator, Ellie Munari, discusses a recent innovation project into the possibilities of short-term volunteering.
The Australian Volunteers Program is constantly exploring new and better ways to support volunteers, and our partner organisations overseas. The current chapter of the program has an Innovation Fund, which is dedicated to finding new ways of working.
One of the first projects on the list for the Innovation Fund is to road-test options for short-term volunteering that could open the door for the volunteers unable to commit to long periods overseas without sacrificing the impact on our partner organisations.
What is Open Volunteering?
Open Volunteering is the name we’ve given to our current short-term volunteering prototype. It’s a two-phased, mixed-mode approach. In the first phase, volunteers spend time in-country working face-to-face with one of our partner organisations, and in the second phase they then volunteer remotely with that same organisation from back home in Australia.
We are currently testing a prototype using recently returned volunteers. The volunteers go back to their partner organisation for two to four weeks to work on a specific project, and then return to Australia and continue to support the project via emails, Skype, and online project management tools for up to three months.
We chose 28 recently returned volunteers to support their former partner organisations in 12 countries across the Asia-Pacific region. All of these have now returned to Australia, and are currently in the second phase of their assignment - providing remote volunteer support from Australia.
What do you mean by ‘prototype’?
A prototype is a specific type of learning tool that helps test aspects of a design and engage stakeholders in the design process. Prototypes can be structured in many different ways, for example a mock-up or a basic working model. By choosing a live prototype model, we have been able to learn as we go, and to test systems and structures on the fly.
This Open Volunteering prototype has been designed with certain characteristics that allow us to test the most critical questions we had about how this sort of model could work in the future. It differs from a pilot because we once we’ve answered those questions, we may design a new version to run quite differently. For a pilot, you are running it in the way you think it will run in the future.
Why did you choose returned volunteers when testing Open Volunteering?
Choosing returned volunteers was important when designing the prototype, as it allowed us to narrow in on specific questions we had about Open Volunteering and removed some of the variables.
Returned volunteers know two things really well: the Australian Volunteers Program, and their partner organisations. As such they’ve been able to hit the ground running and allow us to focus on whether our current systems and processes are able to support volunteers on very short assignments, and if this structure works effectively for both partner organisations and volunteers.
What have you learned from the Open Volunteering prototype?
Lots! We’ve developed shorter, more streamlined processes for getting volunteers into country and orientating them once they’re there. In part this was achieved by moving many of the processes online, a learning which we’ve already been able to feed back into the standard program assignments.
We’ve also learnt that it’s really helpful for volunteers on shorter assignments to get some runs on the board before arriving in-country. Around one-in-three of our volunteers made contact with their partner organisations and did some work before they arrived, which made it easier for both them and their partner organisations to get started on their project once they arrived in-country.
Why are you trying to develop Open Volunteering?
We think a model of short-term volunteering can offer great value for both partner organisations and volunteers.
For volunteers, a longer-term assignment doesn’t always work for everyone’s life, career, family. Open Volunteering could be a way for people who would love to volunteer overseas, but face barriers, to become involved.
And that’s beneficial for partner organisations too, allowing them to access a broad range of volunteers who might not have previously been able to take part, and who potentially could offer higher-level technical or specialist experience.
What happens next?
In the near future we’ll be using what we’ve learned to build and test a new prototype for Open Volunteering. This will test another set of questions we have about how we can support volunteers and partners to create useful working relationships in a shorter period of time. At the moment we need to keep gathering feedback from the current prototype, to determine what changes we need to make, before starting our second prototype.
Partnerships for Impact
Fostering strong and productive partnerships is a key focus for the Australian Volunteers Program.
With this principle firmly front of mind, program staff and Australian partners came together in Melbourne in May to forge new friendships and identify ways of working. Around 30 organisations from the private sector, not-for-profits and INGOs, joined with program staff from each of our 23 country offices for a presentation and short Q&A panel discussion at two separate events.
Hosted at Charcoal Lane, a social enterprise that provides guidance to young Aboriginal people, the events provided a unique chance for Australian organisations to meet and collaborate directly with in-country program staff. The events were a huge success with the restaurant buzzing with vibrant discussion and learning.
The events were part of week-long 'Partnerships for Impact' workshops held at the Melbourne office, which brought staff from right across all of our offices together to develop and review the program's partnership planning process.
Both the workshops and the networking events will strengthen the program's approach to partnerships for years to come. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.