Individual effects of development volunteering: ‘doing good’ and gaining transnational capital – a win-win-situation?
Globalisation makes the acquirement of transnational capital increasingly important. Accordingly, short-term international mobility of highly educated youth has increased in the last decades. Activities like student exchanges and international internships typically take place in the so called developed world, i.e. the Global North. Development volunteering1 forms an exception in this regard. Within this activity people from the Global North spend time in countries of the Global South, working in social or environmental projects there. Maximising one’s own profit from globalisation by helping less advantaged people, this sounds like the perfect way of contributing to global justice.
Germany is a latecomer in this endeavour which has its roots in the Anglo-Saxon regions. Programmes like the US-Peace Corps were set up with the explicit aim of building ties during the Cold War. The first large scale volunteer programme in Germany, weltwärts, launched in 2008 within the funding line of development politics, takes another stand. According to its conception, the participants are not only supposed to attain transnational capital but also contribute to local projects abroad and develop cosmopolitan views. Thus, the programme is presented as win-win-situation where the participants ‘do good’ for others but also for themselves, enhancing their career opportunities. Along the way, the returnees are assumed to spread their insights within the sending community and contribute to the development of a more equitable relation between Global North and South.
Regarding the participants’ role there is a tension between altruistic ideals and instrumentalist interest. Besides, German history offers examples of people going to the Global South for (ostensibly) idealistic motivation (mission trips, voyages of discovery, activities connected with colonialism etc.) which possibly influence the contemporary conceptualisation of development volunteering. Furthermore, “development aid” in general is based on institutionalised knowledge hierarchies. This leads to the question targeted: What are the effects of development volunteering on young German adults and are these suitable for contributing to a reduction of global hierarchies?
In order to answer this question, I will assess the conceptualisation of development volunteering in Germany, analysing media discourse on the topic as well as the self-portrayal of the weltwärts programme. The next step is to analyse how volunteers themselves relate to the roles offered within public discourse and the programme itself. How do they see their role in the course of their stay abroad and which worldview results from that? This information will be gathered through a blog analysis. Apart from the cognitive effects, the instrumental utility will be assessed by performing an experiment on the career opportunities of former volunteers.