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Volunteering and Policy Makers: A Critical Appraisal of the UK Conservative Party International Volunteering Project ‘Umubano’

Thu, July 12, 10:30am to 12:00pm, Room, 14A 33


This paper provides the first analysis of the Conservative Party’s overseas volunteering project Umubano. It focuses on understanding the motives of volunteers, impact of volunteering on subsequent engagement with development and volunteering, and ways to measure this impact.

Party-supported volunteering is rarely addressed as a specific phenomenon in volunteering literature; however, analyses of overseas volunteering suggest it has lasting implications for how volunteers think about and act in relation to international challenges and ideas of global citizenship (Bentall et al. 2010, Lough et al. 2014).

This mixed-methods study considers: (1) why the Party promotes overseas volunteering, (2) what motivates Party members to volunteer, and (3) how the experience affects engagement with development and/or volunteering. The study combines an analysis of 25 qualitative interviews with Umubano founders and ordinary volunteers, quantitative survey data from 25 participants participating in a volunteering trip in August 2017, participant-observation on the same trip, and written documents produced by project organisers and participants.

The paper argues that party-supported volunteering is an under-explored avenue for those wishing to understand how policymakers’ views and action may be shaped and influenced. It suggests that the aims of founders – to build a core of pro-development members within the party – has been relatively successful (Heppell et al, 2017). To corroborate this, it highlights examples of the Umubano experience to lend validity and authenticity to speakers’ claims in parliamentary debates, including enshrining in law the commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid. Findings also describe whether cases of Umubano lead to continued engagement with development and volunteering.

Given the challenges of retrospectively attributing actions to volunteering experience and the reliance on self-reported outcomes, the findings modestly suggest that Umubano is a key factor in explaining a sustained shift in Party engagement with, and policy on, international development. As development budgets continue to compete with challenging domestic economic circumstances in OECD-DAC states, the Umubano research suggests exposure trips, specifically party-supported volunteering, may provide a novel and valid way to engage and sustain politicians in pursuing Sustainable Development Goals.

Bentall, C., Blum, N. and Bourn D. (2010) Returned volunteers and engagement with development: final report for VSO longitudinal study. London: Development Education Research Centre, Institute of Education, University of London.

Heppell, T., Crines, A and Jeffery, D. (2017) ‘The UK government and the 0.7% international aid target: Opinion among conservative parliamentarians’, The British Journal of Politics and International Relations. (online firstview) 1-15.

Lough, B.J., Sherraden, M.S., McBride, A.M. and Xiang, X. (2014). The impact of international service on the development of volunteer’s intercultural relations. Social Science Research 46, 48-58.