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1.1 Background and context

The New Zealand Government has allocated development assistance programme funds to Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) since it was established in 1962.  Guided by the priorities of the New Zealand Aid Programme, VSA works alongside people in the Pacific, mobilising New Zealanders to support relevant, locally identified and delivered development.

1.2 Purpose, objectives and methods of the evaluation

The primary purpose of this evaluation is to inform decisions regarding the Activity design and future funding arrangements for VSA.  To do this, the evaluation considers the design, management, implementation and results of the Activity.

Toward this aim, this evaluation considers the relevance of VSA activities in light of stakeholder priorities; the effectiveness and efficiency of VSA activities in achieving the desired development outcomes; the sustainability of results; and impacts resulting from the Activity.

The evaluation included a review of 24 documents, 18 separate assignment-site visits across 4 regions, and more than 80 interviews with partner organisations, current and past volunteers, VSA staff and MFAT and other in-country government officials.

1.3 Findings

The goal of the Activity is to contribute to improved quality of life in the Pacific.  Overall, the design of the Activity and VSA’s approach to implementation supports achievement of this goal.

The Grant Funding Arrangement (GFA) provides a framework for the Activity and sets targets for assignment type and sectors consistent with MFAT’s development priorities.  In particular, VSA works with MFAT to agree on priorities; beneficiary countries to identify needs; and partner organisations to identify assignments.  This collaborative approach results in alignment with MFAT development priorities, responsiveness to current and emerging needs in-country, and ongoing local engagement and ownership.  It should be noted that, during the current Activity implementation period, MFAT introduced a more structured and collaborative planning process which includes development of standardised and detailed Activity design documents.  Consistent with current MFAT practice, it is anticipated that this new process will be adopted for the next phase of VSA Activity implementation.

VSA policies and administrative procedures support on-going engagement with key stakeholders, and therefore ensure the relevance and effectiveness of the Activity.

VSA administrative and recruitment processes secure skilled and enthusiastic volunteers in a cost effective way.  However, the time from assignment identification to volunteer recruitment and mobilisation can be lengthy.  MFAT, VSA, partner organisations and volunteers all expressed interest in identifying opportunities to improve efficiency in this area 

without significant cost increases or compromising relationships and assignment effectiveness.

VSA volunteers achieve a range of intended and unintended results.  They bring a can-do attitude to development activities, establish strong positive relationships, and are able to engage with people to develop contextually appropriate solutions to local issues.  Their achievements are assignment specific, and consistently contribute to increased individual and organisational capability.  The evaluation also identified examples of volunteer assignments contributing to positive change for communities and industry.  Some assignment benefits persist beyond assignment completion, but there is an ongoing risk that partner organisations will become dependent on VSA volunteers or supplement workforce capacity through assignments.  As such, there is a concurrent need for strategic partnerships to make assignments more effective, and also for VSA to adopt strategies that ensure this does not result in dependency.

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