Many young people are interested in supporting development cooperation projects in foreign countries. Therefore, in 2008, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) created a publicly funded volunteers service – “weltwärts” (a German name that translates as “world-wards”). Each year more than 3,000 young adults between the ages of 18 and 28 take part in voluntary activities organised through the weltwärts programme. They spend six to twenty-four months working in a development project in Africa, Asia, Latin America or South Eastern Europe. Mutual learning and intercultural exchange are essential aspects of the volunteers service.
After their return, the volunteers continue to be involved in development policy work. They are thus able to share what they have learned and experienced with the rest of society, thereby making a further personal contribution – in addition to their stint abroad – towards a more just world.
The BMZ provides the overall framework and sets the regulations for the volunteers service. The practical arrangements for implementing the programme – which includes sending the volunteers and mentoring them – are taken care of by German aid organisations that are involved in development cooperation. Around 180 non-profit organisations and foundations are currently taking part in the programme. In 2012, the weltwärts secretariat was integrated into Engagement Global (Germany’s Service for Development Initiatives).
In 2013, the programme was expanded to give young people from partner countries the opportunity to work as development volunteers in Germany. This South-North component, as it is called, is helping to foster equal exchange between the partner organisations, and deepen and intensify existing partnerships.
weltwärts is helping to form the next generation of professionals in the field of development policy. During the course of their volunteer assignments the young volunteers learn about intercultural communication and acquire social skills, both of which are increasingly important in a globalised world. The volunteer service helps many volunteers find out what they want to do in the future, for example, many of them decide subsequently to pursue a course of studies in an area that is related to development policy.
The places of assignment benefit from the experiences and views that young people with an interest in development policy topics and cultural exchange can contribute to their projects. Many volunteers continue to support the projects they worked on after they return home, for example by getting involved in information campaigns or by encouraging people to make donations.
The costs of the volunteer service are borne by the BMZ and the sending organisation. This means that young people from low-income families also have a chance to do volunteer work abroad.