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. 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"). Each year more than 3,000 young adults between the ages of 18 and 28 take part in voluntary activities organised through the weltwärts programme. They spend six to twenty-four months working in a development project in Africa, Asia, Latin America or South Eastern Europe. Mutual learning and intercultural exchange are essential aspects of the volunteers service.

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.

The BMZ provides the overall framework and sets the regulations for the volunteers service. The practical arrangements for implementing the programme – which includes sending the volunteers and mentoring them – are taken care of by German aid organisations that are involved in development cooperation. Around 180 non-profit organisations and foundations are currently taking part in the programme. In 2012, the weltwärts secretariat was integrated into Engagement Global (Germany’s Service for Development Initiatives).

In 2013, the programme was expanded to give young people from partner countries the opportunity to work as development volunteers in Germany. This South-North component, as it is called, is helping to foster equal exchange between the partner organisations, and deepen and intensify existing partnerships.

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

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.

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.

The costs of the volunteer service are borne by the BMZ and the sending organisation. This means that young people from low-income families also have a chance to do volunteer work abroad.

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 November 2013, young people from the partner countries are also able to volunteer, in this case for development work in Germany. In the first year of the three-year pilot phase an initial 150 places were offered. Demand for these places far exceeded supply. Therefore, for the second year there are plans to increase the number of places offered to 250.

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


See also

External Links


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

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