Palms and Government

New Partnership Possibilities

As mentioned (March PP) Palms participated in the review of the Australian Government Volunteer Programme (AGVP). In April we received the 127-page report. It opens:

“The AGVP is a complex and diverse program operating across 30 countries, with a total of 2,687 new volunteer assignments, during 2005-2008. $90.6 million over 3 years has been provided to support the AGVP, and its 4 VSPs (AYAD, ABV, AVI and VIDA). Over 60% of volunteers are women and the largest numbers of volunteers went to Cambodia, Indonesia, PNG, and Vietnam. Volunteers have worked in communities and organizations across a variety of sectors, including governance, health, education, rural development, environment, trade, gender and disability.”
The Review Team concludes that the diversity of Volunteer Service Providers (VSPs) is a key strength of the AGVP in promoting different approaches, good practice examples and innovations. While this may be so, after reading the report I believe we can demonstrate that Palms Australia can further enhance the diversity of approach as well as bring a much broader diversity where representation and involvement of the Australian community is concerned. Indeed a deeper look at the findings suggests that the approach of Palms also complements the good practice and offers further innovation that addresses identified shortcomings in the AGVP.

The review reinforces my contention that a renewed partnership with the AGVP would be good for the Government and its current Volunteer Service Providers as well as Palms. With a new round of funding set to begin in July 2010 Brendan will offer our response to the review as a further step to inviting the Government to consider such a partnership. One of the significant points to be made is that Palms’ relationship to the Catholic Church, both here and in so many of the requesting communities seeking volunteers, can provide a significantly more successful collaboration for development.

At the same time we will be asking Catholic Bishops and other church leaders in development to show their support for a Palms Government partnership. Already, Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, Bob McMullan has commented that support given for Palms to be considered has impressed him. So we will be calling on more testimonials from returned volunteers and host organisations overseas as well as our leadership to put it beyond doubt that what we have to offer is significant.

The review highlighted various initiatives by current VSPs to address operational efficiencies and development effectiveness, which Palms can more than match. Testimonials can capture these. At the moment Daniel Gilfillan, a University of Wollongong (UoW) Masters graduate and recent returnee from Timor, has volunteered some time in Palms’ office to work on our evaluation processes and documentation, which will also assist. Shortly we will have the report of the joint research project with UoW highlighting further effectiveness of the Palms process.

The review comments “…at the VSP and volunteer assignment level, mutual capacity development, and fostering linkages and partnerships have been found to create the greatest positive impact, with a potential for sustainability if supported by long term investment in stakeholder relationships.” Long term relationships with both host organisations overseas and with Australian communities have become a particular strength of Palms, the benefits of which Brendan will easily be able to highlight. There is nothing in the review highlighting an innovation to reinforce this such as Palms Reverse Immersion Programme.
The review suggests that: “Assessing AGVP impact on public awareness is more difficult to determine at the broader level of the Australian community, but certainly there is a positive impact on return of the volunteer, at the local family and community level.” Palms can indeed demonstrate both. The impact on public awareness at the broader level, has been particularly effective through the Fair Trade Café, our CommUNITY initiative and Reverse Immersion. For example, the Glebe community has produced several enquirers and two applicants prompted to make applications when their church became involved with the Reverse Immersion programme last year. And now we have Palms Encounters which will provide opportunities for volunteer’s home communities and others to visit them in placement.

If we can help convince the Government to remove some of the limits to implementation, particularly the prescriptive nature of contracts, Palms with the AGVP will be able to extend the benefits we have achieved through the innovative approaches we have developed. Without re-linking with the Government we can continue the Palms programme, but such a partnership has the potential to achieve vastly improved results for Australian development assistance. We look forward to the assistance of all Palms supporters in helping to highlight the benefits we offer.