Youth volunteering and emergent transnationalism training for global professional work
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Youth Volunteering and ‘Emergent Transnationalism : training for global (professional) work?. ESRC ‘Activism, Volunteering & Citizenship Seminar Series’ Processes of Professionalization Northumbria University, 9 December 2009. Andrew Jones Birkbeck College, University of London.

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Youth volunteering and emergent transnationalism training for global professional work

Youth Volunteering and ‘Emergent Transnationalism: training for global (professional) work?

ESRC ‘Activism, Volunteering & Citizenship Seminar Series’

Processes of Professionalization

Northumbria University, 9 December 2009

Andrew Jones

Birkbeck College,

University of London


1 introduction
1) Introduction

  • Growing numbers of international youth volunteers from West working overseas

  • Contentious debate: Judith Brodie (Director, VSO) – ‘overseas volunteering projects a waste of time’ (2007)

  • Better off backpacking than expensive ‘voluntourism’

  • Press coverage: anecdotes of ‘gappers’ with bad experiences

  • Accusation for poor provision: replicated projects, little impact, anti-developmental…

  • Or evidence of provision growth & professionalization?

  • Little research & attention to theoretical implications of mass participation by (mainly young) westerners

  • Argue: much of the popular debate is empirically & theoretically ill-conceived

  • Overseas gap year phenomenon has much wider implications for the global economy, professional labour markets, development & debates about globalization


  • Today - address this issue:

    • 1) Provide brief background on recent trends in international youth voluntary work

    • 2) Propose theoretical framework: ‘global work’ & ‘more than human’ (ANT) approach

    • 3) Argue: intimately related to needs of TNCs, global economy, & development of transnational professional labour markets

    • 4) Present research: international youth volunteers & corporate recruiters

    • 5) Conclusion: opens up significant questions about theory, policy & practice


2 unpacking international youth volunteering
2) Unpacking International Youth Volunteering

  • International Voluntary work/ service:

    “an organised period of engagement and contribution to society by volunteers who work across an international border, in another country or countries’”(Sherradenet al 2008)

  • Can be public or private organization provided but volunteers receive little or no monetary compensation

  • All ages, but growing numbers of young people in UK, US, Canada, Australia, Japan, W. Europe

  • UK: significant growth in overseas volunteer placements:

    • 2003: up to 12 000 ‘overseas placements’ (Jones 2004)

    • 2006: 20 000+ (Power 2007)

  • Voluntary work, teaching English, environmental projects but also summer camps, sports instruction

  • BUT complex phenomenon as much diversity in what is covered by this concept


Three trends last decade
Three Trends (last Decade)

  • 1) Growth of ‘Gap Year’ phenomenon

    • ‘period of time out between 3 & 24 months involving work ‘out’ of formal education, employment or training (Jones 2004)’

    • ‘Gap year’ is even more so a fuzzy term, 100 000s in UK

    • IYV only a small fraction

  • 2) Changing nature of IYV provision offered

    • Commercialisation: older charitable / Third sector provision increasingly overtaken by for-profit providers

    • Shorter overseas placements (less a year, more a month!)

    • Rise of ‘voluntourism’

  • 3) Policy Validation of Voluntary Work

    • Valuation of voluntary work: facilitate global civil society; personal career development; community cohesion; corporate social responsibility

    • Public policy aimed to promote it: UK Volunteering for All (2006)

    • Social science evidence : reintegration of the socially excluded

    • KEY: building transferable skills: ‘soft’ & leadership skills; interpersonal & communication; time management


A iyv a waste of time
a) IYV: A Waste of Time?

  • Three strands of criticism:

    • 1) Negative impacts outweigh positive

      • Environmental; LDC economy effects

    • 2) Little Social Capital / Educational Value

      • Volunteers with no language, no context to learn (Simpson 2004)

    • 3) Reinforces Neo-imperialist & Neoliberal values

      • ‘needy communities’ in global South

      • Econoliberalism – neoliberalising nature (c.f. Castree / Harvey)


B the limits to current critiques
b) The Limits to Current Critiques

  • Some validity, but 3 counter propositions:

    • 1) Social science & policy definition of IYV highly problematic

      • Huge diversity of practices

    • 2) Little objective primary research

      • Too much ‘policy’ research, little primary data

      • VSO etc hardly impartial

    • 3) Simplistic theoretical framing

      • Lacks historical & material context, distanciated social relations, enduring impacts


3 iyv as global work
3) IYV as ‘Global Work’

  • Need to conceptualise IYV year differently

  • Key proposition:

    • “IYV as a multi-dimensional globalized work practice that is constituted through a complex array of socio-material relations in time and space” (!)

    • Draws on ANT, concept of the assemblage (c.f. Latour 2005; Ong & Collier 2005)

  • What implications?

    • IYV practice bound into multiple distanciated relations, organizational networks, informational flows, worker mobilities

    • Many linkages in space and time between the voluntary worker & the work placement AND other places and times…

    • Part of wider globalization…knowledge transfer, knowledge exchange, global consciousness, life trajectories

    • Experience of volunteers: needs to be understood in wider context


4 iyv training for global professional work
4) IYV: training for global professional work?

  • Present research into IYV placements & their outcomes

  • 2 strands of data

  • 1) Focus groups (15), qualitative interviews (150+) with 5 types of IYV projects (& secondary sources)

  • 7 countries from late 2004 to 2008, volunteer projects:

    • e.g. Teaching English as a Foreign Language (Vietnam, Tanzania, Guatemala, Japan)

    • Environmental Projects (Tanzania, Australia, Belize)

    • Children Summer Camps (US, Germany, Australia)

    • Community Projects (Vietnam, Mexico, Tanzania, Guatemala)

  • Important: graduate track volunteers embedded in UG degree

  • 2) HR managers & corporate recruiters

    • Mainly London-based blue chip firms in range of sectors

    • Interviews discussed value of gap year & voluntary work

    • Also secondary sources: corporate reports & graduate recruitment literature


Argument iyv global professional labour markets
Argument: IYV & Global Professional Labour Markets

  • Research covers range of issue, but will focus today on professional labour market aspects (some bits not in written paper)

  • Key arguments:

    • 1) IYV cannot be reduced to any of the stereotypes currently in circulation

    • 2) Whilst negatives exist, evidence suggests a transformative experience that shapes sense of knowledge, intercultural understanding, skills, global consciousness & career choices

    • 3) IYV bound into complex rationales by young people about future life (work) choices

    • 4) Employer v aware of this, esp. in context of ongoing corporate globalization & need for ‘global professionals’


Dimension i knowledge cultural understanding
Dimension I: Knowledge & Cultural Understanding

  • Employers value the broad range of experiential knowledge:

    • I think the advantage that an applicant with that kind of experience [IYV] has is knowledge of what it is like to work in a foreign environment, a foreign country, and all the lessons that that entails…the little things like how to deal with everyday life when you don’t speak the language, or know what to do about medical services, or that you need to behave in a certain way in a foreign country when meeting work colleagues…”

      (Recruitment Manager, EU Pharmaceutical Company)

  • Young volunteers were forced to learn in an unfamiliar, ad hoc and unprepared way:

    • “The fact these young people have coped abroad, perhaps in Africa or somewhere challenging is important…. My impression, if I’m honest, is many of these work experiences are pretty disorganised…I know the outfits that do those kind of things would probably resent that kind of statement, but I think it is true…. But the point is as graduates, we know the people who have been able to adapt from that, to learn things from that disorganization if you like…you know, a lot of working life is like that if you are someone who has to travel…” (Graduate Recruiter, EU Company3)


Dimension ii corporate skills capacities
Dimension II: ‘Corporate Skills & Capacities’

  • Overseas volunteers gained many skills employer’s value but which universities struggle to teach:

    • “A good gap year experience is invaluable…where people have been challenged, taken out of the comfort zone…they learn a lot of intangibles – getting on with people, organising themselves, self-discipline” (Manager, Human Resources, UK Company1)

    • “the main thing is confidence in being so far from home, in different country…at school I would say I wasn’t that kind of person [confident], and spending 9 months in Tanzania had to deal with people…loads of problems, it is hard to describe how much that has changed what I feel I can do…I definitely think that’s relevant to when I eventually want to get a job”

      (Jo, 19, Teaching Placement, Tanzania)

  • Capacities related to cultural sensitivity are particularly valued:

    • “It is about being able to apply knowledge, if you boil it down…my view is that, definitely, it is about knowing how to engage with another culture…realising that not only do you have to work differently, take account of another culture’s values, but also adapt whatever it is the job entails to that context…so having these experiences [international volunteering] we think is invaluable in beginning that learning”[HR Manager, UK Retail Company (Apparel)]



C dimension iii global consciousness values identity
C) Dimension III: ‘Global Consciousness, Values & Identity

  • Evidence suggest many volunteers have transformed perspective & ‘loose global consciousness’:

    • “I have learnt loads about the people here, and a lot about what teaching involves…but, the culture is so different, and it when we first got here, we had all these stereotypes…they’re like…completely gone. I know so much now I would have no idea about if I hadn’t done this.” (Paul, 22, School Placement, Tanzania)

  • Enhanced understanding of the host country context:

    • “Definitely important is some sense in them [graduate recruits] that the mission of the company is of wider general benefit…, not like we’re saving the world, of course…but I mean in terms of internationalising the business, we bring products, contribute to rising living standards and so on… they don’t have to be zealots or anything, but if they’ve been overseas… I think they will understand and have some sympathy…” [HR Manager, EU Food Products firm [paraphrased], London]

  • Sense of ability / desire to intervene:

    “Being here has…changed my whole view of the world, I think…you just see things differently…understand how the local here see thing from Mexico, from Central America. I feel part of a bigger community I guess …” (Alex, 19, Community Project, Mexico) [paraphrased]


  • Also a sense of ‘global citizenship’:

    • “Being here has…changed my whole view of the world, I think…you just see things differently…understand how the local here see thing from Mexico, from Central America. I feel part of a bigger community I guess [paraphrased](Alex, 19, Community Project, Mexico)

  • Corporate recruiters placed value on this, loosely defined:

    “A sense of being – and I know this sounds a bit clichéd – but a globally-minded person, is one of the things we would certainly be looking for…someone who is going to be able to identify themselves as part of a global firm, rather than just an employee of [name of firm] in London.”

    (Partner, UK Legal Service firm, London)


D dimension iv global career choices
D) Dimension IV: ‘Global Career Choices

  • Volunteering experience is formative in relation to career:

    • “I am thinking about working for a charity or in development now. I always used to think I wanted to be in fashion…”

    • (Ali, [F] 19, Community Project, Belize)

  • Awareness of international career relevance:

    • “Definitely I think this will help with a job…although I have no idea yet, maybe in business, or law or something. I think the travel gives you something companies want” (Sarah, 21, Teaching assistant, Summer Camp, Australia)

  • International dimension important, but many in professional contexts:

    • It has changed my view. I would definitely want to work abroad after Uni, maybe in Africa” (Anna, 20, Environmental Project, Tanzania)

    • “I know from this placement I don’t want to teach… it’s not me. But have I have enjoyed being in Asia, and I would absolutely like to work here properly some time in the future.” (Jack, 19, Teaching Placement, N Vietnam)

  • Argue: likely many will end up in professional jobs


5 conclusion onwards to global professional work
5) Conclusion: Onwards to ‘global professional work’…

  • TNCs, Government or 3rd Sector increasingly need ‘globally minded’ employees willing to travel & able to cope abroad

  • Not all will form part of transnational business class (but fair number)

  • Not all these dimensions relevant to all volunteers / projects

  • BUT more significant: role these IYV experiences play in wider proecess of global transnational professional class development

  • Volunteers gain enormous skills, capacities & knowledge which TNCs and other employers need

  • Symptomatic of highly mobile 21st century generation

  • Elite tier of global economy needs these workers

  • BUT also reinforces (class) exclusion of western young people who can’t access this

  • Transnational training for ‘global work’ reinforces life changes of more affluent (middle-class?) westerners

  • So not to argue IYV all positive or unproblematic, BUT much more to it than ‘voluntourism’


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