Mature volunteers have plenty to offer Ireland’s development policy
Retired public servants have a lot to offer developing countries
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Eamonn Gilmore with Nora Owens Irish aid expert advisory group chairwoman and Joe Costello TD at the publication earlier this year of Ireland’s new policy for international development. Photograph: David Sleator
Volunteering for service overseas is a time-honoured tradition in Ireland that has left a rich legacy throughout the developing world, particularly on the continent of Africa, and one of which we can be rightly proud.
Beginning with members of missionary congregations and charities, and joined in recent decades by representatives of non-governmental organisations, thousands of Irish volunteers have travelled from Ireland to use their skills in the service of others. Today volunteering is a central feature of development co-operation and is underpinned by principles such as partnership, skill-sharing and mutual learning.
Last year during a trip to west Africa, I was privileged to witness the results of volunteer development work when I visited St Joseph’s School in Makeni in northern Sierra Leone.
St Joseph’s provides high quality primary, secondary and vocational education for hearing and visually impaired children of all faiths from all over Sierra Leone.
The school has benefited from the support of volunteers drawn from Voluntary Services Overseas, the Peace Corps, the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny and their local community.
The school is an excellent example of the impact that can be achieved as a result of long- term development interventions which have benefited from volunteerism. Through working with local resources, building local people’s capacity and strengthening local systems, the impact of the volunteering approach has been maximised and sustainability assured.
Every year, Irish Aid holds a volunteering fair and this year, it will take place in Dublin on Saturday, October 12th.
This fair will be different from previous years because our new international development policy, One World, One Future, envisages a new focus on volunteering, which includes drawing from a new cohort of more mature volunteers.
In the last three years, over 30,000 Irish civil and public servants availed of the various schemes for early retirement offered by the Government. These retirees are people with professional and managerial expertise.
They represent many of the best and most experienced from national and local government. They have a unique range of skills, which could prove essential in supporting state building and national and local administrations.
One World, One Future has a whole-of-Government approach that envisages each Government department participating in capacity building and development overseas within the parameters of its portfolio. We need to consider with these departments how best to harness the skills and expertise of recent retirees as well as the trade union movement.
Ireland’s new international development policy signals an intention to increase our focus on situations of fragility.
“Fragile states” explicitly implies countries where the national government cannot, or will not, deliver core functions to the majority of its people. Ireland will work in partnership with these countries in building capacity to construct robust structures that can provide good governance.
Solidarity amongst Irish people with communities in developing countries remains high, with people maintaining a strong desire to make a personal contribution to alleviating the poverty and hardship facing millions of people across our world.
Recent retirees form a unique group of potential volunteers whose professional and managerial skills can make a major contribution to building capacity in the developing world, particularly in Africa.
I urge this cohort to consider making their valuable experience available – even online. I look forward to engaging with this group at our Irish Aid Volunteering Fair on October 12th.
Joe Costello is Minister of State for Trade and Development.
The Irish Aid Volunteering Fair takes place in the Irish Aid Volunteering and Information Centre, O’Connell St, Dublin 1.