Australian Volunteers Program

The Australian Volunteers Program (AVP) matches skilled Australians with partner organisations in the Indo-Pacific region to support them to achieve their own development goals.

We were initially engaged to support the design of the program’s Innovation Hub, and have since become the Hub’s Innovation Partner.

What is the Australian Volunteers Program?

The Australian Volunteers Program (AVP) matches a broad range of skilled Australians with partner organisations in 26 countries across the Indo-Pacific region. The role of the AVP is to support partners to achieve their own development goals. The program uses international volunteering as a people-centred approach to capability development.

Image 1: The Australian Volunteers Program in Mongolia
Image 2: The Australian Volunteers Program in Mongolia
Image 3: Innovation Associate Training in Cambodia

Our role

In 2017, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) allocated funds to innovation in volunteering. They wanted to find new ways to better meet the development needs of organisations and volunteers who are part of the Australian Volunteers Program. Out of this process the Innovation Hub (formerly the Innovation Fund) was born.

The aim of the Innovation Hub is to create a portfolio of innovation investments that leverage or enhance volunteering for international development and increase the impact of the Australian Volunteers Program. The Hub defines a good innovation as something that is new to context and creates better outcomes, or better outcomes at scale. 

The aim of the Innovation Hub is to create a portfolio of innovation investments that leverage or enhance volunteering for international development and increase the impact of the Australian Volunteers Program. The Hub defines a good innovation as something that is new to context and creates better outcomes, or better outcomes at scale. 

TACSI was initially engaged to support the design and development of the Innovation Hub. Since then, we’ve become the Hub’s Innovation Partner, supporting them to design and test new ideas to increase the impact of the program and to build their innovation capability.

Anna Trahair, AVP’s innovation manager (centre, front row) at an idea generation workshop in Mongolia, related to networked volunteering, with partner organisations from across Asia working in inclusive development.
Anna Trahair, AVP’s innovation manager (centre, front row) at an idea generation workshop in Mongolia, related to networked volunteering, with partner organisations from across Asia working in inclusive development. Photographer: Teagan Glenane

Our impact (so far)

The Innovation Hub played a critical and instrumental role in the Australian Volunteers Program’s Covid pivot. When the pandemic first hit in March 2020, over 400 skilled volunteers were swiftly repatriated back to Australia from 22 countries across six regions. 

Suddenly borders were shut, and AVP’s traditional model (and only model) of sending Australian volunteers overseas was untenable. Within the Program, the Innovation Hub team was in a valuable  position to respond to the changing volunteering environment as they already had:

  • A rigorous innovation process embedded into their way of working

  • An understanding of how to implement innovations into the Australian Volunteers Program

  • Experience and knowledge from testing new volunteer models, including testing online volunteer opportunities

  • A team with the ability to respond quickly and efficiently

  • Experience connecting with key stakeholders and navigating the current system

  • Insight into the different mindsets for change and potential roadblocks

 

As a result, the Hub was able to design, develop and implement a new form of volunteering in a very short period of time: Remote Volunteering. This change meant that the program, and, more importantly, Australian volunteers, could continue to support partner organisations across the Indo-Pacific region despite a pandemic. Without the Hub, the program would not have been able to respond as quickly as they did, especially with the new model of volunteering up and running in only a few short months.

The impact of the pandemic also shifted the focus area of DFAT and the Program to localisation initiatives. In this context, localisation means recruiting people for volunteering in their own country, as another approach to contributing to development goals. 

As such, the Innovation Hub, together with TACSI, have responded by exploring alternative models of volunteering that are locally led, align with current local needs and are focussed on the value of volunteering.

What the future looks like

We’ll continue to work in partnership with the Australian Volunteers Program’s Innovation Hub, pushing the boundaries of innovation, building innovation capability and initiatives more broadly across the Program, and supporting the growing team to further their reach and maturity around innovation practice.

 
A group of volunteers cheering
Innovation Associate Training in Cambodia

“TACSI works closely with the Australian Volunteers Program to help us take a structured approach to innovation. Their understanding of social innovation fits with the program’s values of taking a locally-led and strengths-based approach to our work.”

Anna Trahair, Innovation Hub Manager

Our commitment to First Nations First

First Nations First takes on a range of meanings working in an international development context. 

In Australia, we acknowledge First Nations as we begin each meeting, and open space for others to acknowledge the cultures and First Nations that might be relevant for them. We also acknowledge colonialism and the harm that has been done here in Australia and around the world. 

In a development context, this means talking about how we decolonise development. The localisation initiatives are a critical aspect of decolonising development, building the culture, capacity and processes for local volunteerism. It includes building the belief in countries that local volunteers have significant value to bring. There is much work yet to be done here, in how we navigate the intersection of volunteerism, decolonising development and international diplomacy.

Read more

Meet the Australian Volunteers Program team

If you’d like to learn more, get involved, or talk to the AVP team about innovation partnerships, we’d love to hear from you

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