Kia ora koutou katoa,

Over recent months we have shared a number of updates about COVID-19’s impact on Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA), however as we enter October and it is now seven months since the pandemic led to us removing volunteers from the Pacific countries where we work, I felt it timely to provide an update about what has been happening, and where we currently are as an organisation. 
Our work in the Pacific 
COVID-19 and the resulting health, border and travel restrictions have heavily impacted VSA (as well as the international development sector).   

VSA’s work has always been based around having a physical presence, with volunteers working directly alongside counterparts within partner organisations. Not being able to do this is challenging our thinking about how we will need to work now and in the future.  

While I am confident that solutions to the current pandemic challenge will be found eventually, all indications are that this is unlikely to be for some time.  My sense is that any return to physically working in programme countries won’t occur until early to mid-2021, and this will most likely be a gradual process as individual Pacific borders progressively reopen.  Even when they do open, I believe that we may have to work within more restrictive requirements which will probably see some changes to how we manage volunteer assignments.   

After withdrawing volunteers from our Pacific programmes in March, we immediately focused on shifting a number of volunteers to e-volunteering, or online, assignments to continue supporting partner organisations.  At the beginning of October we have 23 E-volunteering assignments underway, with more planned.  

Interest in volunteer work continues 

Encouragingly, we continue to have strong interest in volunteering, and we have over 70 assignment vacancies either on our website or in the process of being developed with partner organisations.   

A number of assignments being considered will be E-volunteering opportunities, while many others are assignments that can be progressed once movement between Aotearoa/New Zealand and the respective country is possible.  We have continued recruiting Univols (a collaboration between VSA and Otago, Victoria, Massey, and Auckland universities) for 2021, and we remain optimistic about sending some of these young volunteers on assignment during 2021. 

Partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) 

In June VSA negotiated a variation to our important MFAT partnership and funding arrangement which will see continuation of funding at a reduced level for the 2020/21 financial year in line with the expected reduction in assignments as a result of COVID-19 border closures.  As part of that, during the next 8 months we will examine what the future of volunteering for development will look like, and be finding out more about what Pacific communities need. We are carrying out a comprehensive review involving Council, staff, partner organisations, returned volunteers, MFAT and others. The review will be completed towards the end of 2020 and will allow VSA and MFAT to meet early in 2021 to work on a partnership model for the future.  

We will also be looking at how we can collaborate better with our partners in the Pacific, other international NGOs, and wider government and private sector organisations. We will also focus on engaging a diverse range of volunteers to support those collaborations.  

Grateful for our donors' support

I have been encouraged that contributions from our many donors and supporters has remained strong.  Everyone at VSA greatly appreciates this and it is critical to help us prepare for when we start returning volunteers into the Pacific. If you have made a donation to VSA this year – Thank You! We will continue to engage with you about the work and opportunities being created in this new environment. 

Changes at VSA 

The changes to our operations this year have meant that we have had to look at how we operate internally.  As a result, we have had to significantly reduce the overall number of VSA staff roles.  We did this by disestablishing some already vacant roles and, sadly, some existing roles by amalgamating them with other positions. This has meant that unfortunately some staff have had to leave us and it has, therefore, been a difficult time for all of us at VSA.  

The future of volunteering for international development, new technology and lessons learnt from the current crisis, will see the need for a differently configured and leaner organisation. Our challenge is to embrace change without compromising our strengths. The next few months will be key as we understand more about the implications of the pandemic on our world. 

In the meantime, I thank you all – our members, donors, current and prospective volunteers, returned volunteers, MFAT partners, corporate partners and NGO partners - for your ongoing support for VSA and our important work. 

We deeply appreciate your contribution and remain both heartened and humbled by it. I want to reassure you that VSA will continue to play a very important role in Pacific development and I am confident that we will work through the current challenges towards a positive future. 

‘Ko te pae tawhiti whāia kia tata, ko te pae tata whakamaua kia tina’. 

Seek out the distant horizons, while cherishing those achievements at hand. 

Stephen Goodman 
Chief Executive Officer 

October 2020