Volunteer Cooperation Program - Information Note


The Volunteer Cooperation Program (VCP) contributes to Global Affairs Canada’s international development mission to reduce poverty in developing countries. Volunteerism has been recognized by the United Nations as an important element to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Through funding provided to Canadian organizations that use volunteerism as a key mechanism, known as volunteer cooperation Agencies (VCAs), the Canadian government provides its citizens with an opportunity to contribute to international development efforts and show their solidarity with the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.

For more than 50 years, the VCP has been engaging a broad range of Canadians interested in giving their time and using their skills and expertise to help communities in developing countries. By providing targeted support and reinforcing the capacities of local organizations, volunteers are making a difference in a large variety of sectors and countries. Volunteers also play a large role in engaging Canadians in international development within Canada. They share their international experiences, thereby increasing the number of Canadians who are aware of and engage in Canada’s international development activities.  

The program

Canada is launching a Call for Proposals to implement its new VCP worth up to $420 million, including $2 million for monitoring and evaluation. Proposals selected under this call will have a minimum value of $3 million and a maximum value of $50 million over 7 fiscal years, estimated to start in April 2020.

In addition to aligning with the SDGs, the VCP will contribute to implementing many of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy commitments, such as promoting gender equality, fostering innovative partnerships with civil society and dedicating a minimum of 50% of programming funds to sub-Saharan Africa.

The new VCP aims to create 10,000 volunteering mandates for qualified Canadians to strengthen the performance of local partners in nearly 40 developing countries. Its design is based on an external evaluation that recognized the effective performance of the current volunteer program. The Call for Proposals mechanism will allow Global Affairs Canada to select the best volunteer-sending projects.

The VCP is an integrated program that leverages the extensive knowledge and complementary volunteer-sending models of several partner organizations. These VCAs are expected to participate in coordination and awareness-raising activities for the program as a whole.

The length of individual volunteer placements will vary, depending on the nature of the work and the needs expressed by the local communities. Placements abroad can range from two weeks to two years in length and will seek to build upon progress made by previous volunteers. All volunteers will be required to receive pre-deployment training on the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse.

While the VCP remains a Canadian volunteer-sending Programme, VCP partners have been able to innovate by experimenting with new forms of volunteerism. For instance, in some circumstances, it has been more effective to use volunteers from the global South than to deploy Canadians. On occasion, it has been proven practical to bring local partners to Canada for training and to educate Canadians about development issues. Some VCP partners have also started to use virtual Canadian volunteers (e-volunteers) to provide remote support to local partners. Projects submitted may use these alternative categories of volunteers for a maximum of 10% of the total number of mandates.

The VCP will fund volunteering projects that support local development initiatives aligned with the action areas of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy.  A minimum of 60% of the ultimate beneficiaries must be women, girls and/or from marginalized groups.

Public engagement

Within Global Affairs Canada, the Partnerships for Development Innovation Branch has the mandate to partner with Canadian civil society organizations and provide opportunities for Canadians to engage in international assistance, such as volunteer programming for Canadians and international internship opportunities for Canadian youth, including Indigenous youth. Engaging Canadians through volunteerism abroad is an important part of Canada’s public engagement mission. The VCP complements this mission by providing VCAs with the means to enhance Canadians’ participation in Canada’s development efforts through strategic and targeted outreach activities within Canada. These activities allow Canadians to develop a deeper understanding of international development issues and encourage them to become more actively involved in addressing development challenges. All VCP projects must conduct outreach activities in Canada representing up to 10% of Global Affairs Canada’s contribution to the project’s direct costs.

For instance, some of these activities could be related to International Development Week, International Volunteer Day or other key events and campaigns. For Global Affairs Canada, it is important that our partners undertake an inclusive engagement approach that includes reaching out to Canadians from all provinces and regions and of all ages and backgrounds.

Capacity building approach

Volunteering is a capacity-building exercise. While the placement is temporary, the intention is for volunteers to transfer their expertise and skill-set to local partners to ensure sustainability of impact and results.  

Volunteer activities are specific to each mandate and are designed to respond to the local needs expressed by developing country partners. Volunteer assignments typically focus on local capacity building in targeted sectors aligned with Canada’s priorities and include activities such as training, mentoring and developing tools or other materials that will have a sustainable impact.

All volunteer activities must contribute to strengthening the capacity and organizational practices of developing country partners that will enable them to improve their performance to deliver more inclusive, innovative and environmentally sustainable development initiatives that advance gender equality.  For example, attention could be given to capacity building aimed at:

Canadian organizations must work in collaboration with their developing country partners to define local needs and ensure that the expertise and the skills of volunteers are closely aligned with identified needs.

Innovation and inclusion

In accordance with the priorities of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, an emphasis has been placed on innovation and inclusion. Innovative initiatives seek to improve solutions to development challenges through new tools or approaches that contribute to the delivery of more efficient or effective development assistance. The inclusion component focus on both: volunteer placements and development activities abroad, and public engagement activities in Canada. In addition to the focus on women and girls, the VCP aims to increase the participation of Indigenous peoples, and members of cultural communities or groups that have been historically marginalized, such as people with disabilities or LGBTQ2.

An evaluation of the current VCP showed that in order to complement the work of volunteers and to achieve more “hard to obtain” results, it is worthwhile to include small financial envelopes for special activities within volunteer projects. Therefore, Global Affairs Canada will allow organizations to propose “special thematic funds” representing up to 5% of the department’s contribution to a project’s direct costs. These funds must to be dedicated to activities aligned with priorities of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, including women’s and girls’ rights, innovation, integration of marginalized groups such as Indigenous and LGBTQ2, and climate change.

Results-based management

The reporting structure of the VCP will be aligned with the principles of results-based management, which includes a Program-level logic model and Performance measurement framework. In order to cover the breadth of anticipated results for each of the VCA’s projects, the ultimate outcome will be to improve economic and/or social well-being of the poorest, most marginalized and vulnerable people, particularly women and girls, in developing countries, with a view to contributing to SDGs.

To achieve the ultimate outcome, the VCP has identified two intermediate outcomes:

  1. increased engagement of Canadians in international development and key global issues in support of the action areas of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy; and
  2. increased performance of developing country partners to deliver more inclusive, innovative and environmentally sustainable development initiatives that advance gender equality, in support of the action areas of Canada’s Policy.

Alignment with Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy

Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will be determinants in selecting the best projects. In order to ensure clear alignment with Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, each project will have to contribute to at least one of Canada's specific commitments, indicated below:

Action areas

Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls

Canada’s commitments:

Human dignity

Canada’s commitments:

Growth that works for everyone

Canada’s commitments:

Environment and climate action

Canada’s commitments:

Inclusive governance

Canada’s commitments:

Peace and security

Canada’s commitments:


By “volunteer-cooperant” or “volunteer”, Global Affairs Canada means any person who agrees to provide their skills and expertise without pay, and considers their services as a personal contribution to international development efforts, without taking the place of a local employee. Volunteer-cooperants or volunteers always conduct themselves with ethical and responsible behaviour that is in line with Canadian values and takes into account the values of the host country.

By “Canadian volunteer”, Global Affairs Canada means a Canadian citizen, landed immigrant or permanent resident of Canada who meets the eligibility criteria for volunteers, as established in Appendix II of the Overhead Compensation Policy for Contribution Agreements with Canadian Organizations under the International Development Assistance Program.

By “volunteer cooperation agency”, Global Affairs Canada means an organization legally incorporated in Canada, with at least 3 years of experience within the past 10 years, of sending volunteers to developing countries. This agency must use volunteering as a key delivery mechanism to achieve development results.

By placement or mandate”, Global Affairs Canada means the position, mission or role that a volunteer will be asked to fill with one or more partner organization(s) for a given period of time. It includes a brief description of the profile or desired skill set, identification of the objectives to be achieved or main tasks to be performed, the approximate duration and the location where the work will be performed. A volunteer may have many different placements or mandates.

By “Canadian engagement”, Global Affairs Canada means both increased awareness of and a greater involvement by Canadians in international development, including Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy and sustainable development objectives. Global Affairs Canada sees Canadian public engagement as a progressive continuum, from (1) being informed to (2) improving understanding through education, leading to (3) informed action and longer term engagement. For the purpose of this tender, activities shall, ideally, enable Canadians to achieve a deeper level of engagement 3 on the continuum.

By “mobilization activities”, Global Affairs Canada means events, promotional and marketing campaigns (including media campaigns) or training, workshops and various knowledge-sharing and learning activities aimed at a specific audience to draw its attention, inform the audience members of international development issues or expand their knowledge and encourage them to take concrete action. Mobilization activities are at level 1 of the continuum when they are designed to inform, and level 2 of the continuum when they foster an expansion of knowledge. When Canadians take concrete action (e.g. volunteering, engaging other people, working in the sector, liking and sharing posts on social media), they are at level 3 of the mobilization continuum. It should be noted that activities designed to promote the Canadian organization itself for marketing, advocacy or fundraising purposes, are not considered to be mobilization activities.

By “innovation”, Global Affairs Canada means business models, approaches, political practices, partnerships, technologies, behavioural insights or ways of offering products or services that are new or improved and can assist and benefit vulnerable individuals living in poverty in developing countries. In terms of development, innovation consists of finding and adopting concrete solutions that address issues more efficiently and/or effectively than existing approaches.

By “recipients”, Global Affairs Canada generally means the group of individuals who will experience the change in status, condition or well-being at the ultimate level of the logic model. Occasionally, for the purposes of the Volunteer Cooperation Program, recipients are interpreted under a broader meaning that includes local populations, local partners, volunteers or Canadians participating in engagement activities, since they may also experience a change of capacity (immediate outcome) or changes in behaviour, practices or performance (intermediate outcome). A minimum of 60% of ultimate recipients shall be women, girls and individuals from vulnerable and marginalized groups.

By volunteer manual”, Global Affairs Canada means all documents that the organization uses to manage relations with volunteer-cooperants or volunteers, including policies, procedures and conditions governing obligations at each stage of the process (recruitment, preparation, field assignment, return). It also includes allocations, accommodations, international and local transportation, benefits, insurance, medical fees, visas, security, etc. The volunteer manual must include the organization’s sexual code of conduct as defined in Section 22.6 of the General Terms and Conditions of the Contribution Agreement for Global Affairs Canada’s International Development Assistance Program. For the purposes of this tender, when several different policies or documents are applicable, organizations must submit all information combined in a single PDF document.

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