400,000 Years of Service
By Jonathan Pearson on Thursday, October 14th, 2010
The University of Michigan Symposium panelists who spoke on the impact of international service agreed on two key points.
First, when it comes to winning continued support from Congress and others for Peace Corps funding (and advancing the goals of the Service World initiative), volunteer programs need to be able to point to impacts and demonstrate that the investment is worth funding.
But they also agreed that measuring that impact can be very challenging.
Peace Corps Deputy Director and Samoa RPCV Carrie Hessler-Radelet pointed to one raw figure that is known and is impressive: Taken together, Peace Corps volunteers have contributed nearly 400,000 years of service to advancing global development and a more peaceful world. But there is more to be done. Recent research of those being served in 13 Peace Corps countries points to the fact that “frequent contact led to greater knowledge and understanding of Americans, led to more open-mindedness and improved opinions of the U.S.”
Beyond Peace Corps, the Center for Social Development at Washington University has been leading the way in efforts to measure the impacts of overseas volunteer service. Research Director Amanda McBride says studies to date confirm results that one might anticipate: the longer one serves, placement in communities requesting services and higher levels of language proficiency are all key indicators of positive relationships between volunteers and the people who they serve.
McBride says the relationships formed by global volunteers transcend the term of service, and longer-term research is underway to better assess the longevity of those relationships. Hessler-Radelet concurred, adding that Peace Corps is beginning to turn more research attention to measuring the returned volunteer community and the impacts that bringing the world home has on RPCVs and the communities – both here at home and overseas – they continue to serve.
The panelists also agreed that while facts and figures are necessary to demonstrate success, many of the harder to measure individual anecdotes are also vital in making the case for continued support. “When we think of measuring impact, so much of it starts from what the individual volunteers experience in the field,” says Roopal Shah, Executive Director and Co-founder of Indicorps.
For the Peace Corps community, anecdotes provide an every day reminder of individual impacts. Hessler-Radelet spoke of her recent trip to Liberia, where she met with the country’s current vice president who spoke of “my Peace Corps volunteer”, the one who tutored him late at night, helped him pass exams many years ago, and helped him achieve his current position of leadership. She also noted the recent success of Peace Corps volunteers in one state in Senegal, who helped mobilize an effort that resulted in every household in the state being provided with bednets to prevent malaria.
Hessler-Radelet says “people aren’t always swayed by numbers. What really grabs them is the stories. We always have to raise the stories because that’s what creates the passion.”