weltwärts – The Development Volunteers Service

Logo of weltwärts – the development volunteers service

Many young people are interested in supporting development cooperation projects in foreign countries and getting personally involved there. Therefore, in 2008, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) created a publicly funded volunteers service – "weltwärts" (a German name that translates as "world-wards”).

Since then, some 41,000 volunteers from Germany have gone abroad to get involved in community-based and developmentally relevant projects.

The BMZ provides the framework and rules for voluntary service. The practical implementation - including the deployment of volunteers - is carried out by German aid organisations that are active in development cooperation. Currently, some 160 non-profit organisations and foundations participate in the programme. Engagement Global gGmbH is responsible for the administration and financial management of the weltwärts programme.

weltwärts is a learning service that focuses on joint intercultural learning. Through BMZ funding, all interested young people between the ages of 18 and 28 have the opportunity to do voluntary service abroad. Participants spend six to 24 months working with a local partner organisation for education, health, the environment, agriculture, culture or human rights. They are integrated into the partner organisation, accompany their colleagues in their work and gradually carry out their own tasks.

The volunteers gain experience abroad, language skills and personal skills. After their return, the volunteers continue to be involved in development policy work. They are thus able to share what they have learned and experienced with the rest of society, thereby making a further personal contribution – in addition to their stint abroad – towards a more just world.

In 2013, the programme was expanded to give young people from partner countries the opportunity to work as development volunteers in Germany (so-called South-North component). They get to know German culture and exchange ideas and perspectives with the people around them about their living conditions, attitudes, habits and ideas. At the same time, they give others an insight into their culture. Intercultural exchange creates respect and tolerance and contributes to international understanding. The volunteers also learn to better understand global dependencies and interactions. They reflect their own culture as well as personal ideas and attitudes.

Promoting intercultural understanding and nurturing the next generation in the field of development

The places of assignment benefit from the experiences and views that young people with an interest in development policy topics and cultural exchange can contribute to their projects. Many volunteers continue to support the projects they worked on after they return home, for example by getting involved in information campaigns or by encouraging people to make donations.

In addition, weltwärts is helping to form the next generation of professionals in the field of development policy.  During the course of their volunteer assignments the young volunteers learn about intercultural communication and acquire social skills, both of which are increasingly important in a globalised world. The volunteer service helps many volunteers find out what they want to do in the future, for example, many of them decide subsequently to pursue a course of studies in an area that is related to development policy. weltwärts is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The ministry covers up to 75 percent of the costs of a voluntary service. At least 25 percent of the costs must be borne by the German sending organisation. The volunteers can support their sending organisation in financing the voluntary service by collecting donations. However, this is not a prerequisite for the voluntary service. This gives young people from low-income families the chance to get involved internationally.

Evaluation and further development

A comprehensive external evaluation of the volunteers service completed at the end of 2011 came to the conclusion that weltwärts is achieving its objective, namely to get young people interested in working as development volunteers and to foster North-South exchange. The next step after the evaluation was the further development of the weltwärts programme in accordance with the recommendations that had been made. Hence all sending organisations are now members of a quality alliance. Independent monitoring bodies verify whether the sending organisations meet the prescribed quality standards.

Another change results from the fact that most of the weltwärts participants to date finished school with university entrance qualifications, and came from families where the parents also tended to be university-educated. A three-year pilot phase has therefore been agreed, during which greater efforts will be made to appeal to other target groups. These will include chiefly young people with vocational qualifications, young people with a migrant background, and young persons with disabilities.

weltwärts is a joint undertaking involving the Federal Development Ministry and civil society. The civil society players involved in the programme play an important role in steering it. The BMZ, the weltwärts Coordination Unit, the sending organisations and returnee initiatives are working together in joint bodies to develop the programme further.

The South-North component

Following the evaluation the South-North component was developed: Since a global partnership can only succeed in the long term if it supports a process of equal exchange in both directions, as of 2013, young people from the partner countries are also able to volunteer, in this case for development work in Germany. In 2014, an initial 130 places were offered. Demand for these places far exceeded supply. In recent years, the number of volunteer positions has therefore been continuously increased. In 2018, 800 places are being offered for volunteers from the South.

The South-North component is being implemented jointly with the Federal Volunteer Service of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs. This service provides a framework of legal protection, which enables participants to obtain the necessary residence permit, for instance.

Volunteers can work in a wide variety of fields such as childcare, in environmental projects or in development education work. They also attend seminars on issues such as globalisation, world trade or food security. Development policy thus continues to be a central component of the volunteer service in Germany too.

More information


Engagement Global
Koordinierungsstelle weltwärts
Tulpenfeld 7
53113 Bonn
Phone: +49 / 228 / 20717-232


See also

External Links

BMZ glossary

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