VEGA: Integrating Skilled Volunteers Into USAID’s Economic Growth Programming
On International Volunteer Day, and as the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA) winds down its operations, we would like to highlight what we have learned through this unique partnership, as well as thank our incredible NGO members and volunteers, who have contributed so much to our success and led to increased prosperity for our partners throughout the world. VEGA has had a unique partnership with USAID to leverage the talents of highly skilled volunteers (with a wealth of expertise in fields from financial services to engineering to agribusiness to technology) to provide technical assistance through USAID projects in an efficient and cost-effective way.
Over its 14-year existence, VEGA’s Leader with Associates (LWA) mechanism has impacted the livelihoods and lives of over five million people in partnership with USAID, through 68 programs in 56 countries and more than 51,000 volunteer days, saving many millions of taxpayer dollars in foregone consulting fees through the donated services of volunteer experts. These skilled experts provided management and technical assistance to SMEs, agribusinesses, financial institutions, educational institutions, NGOs, local governments, central ministries, advocacy organizations, associations and communities.
VEGA and its NGO members nearly doubled the LWA program value through cost share and leverage. These programs included Feed the Future, Power Africa and Farmer-to-Farmer initiatives. Other programs, for example, included a WOCCU senior credit union executive providing policy advice to the two Ukraine credit union systems and a Liberian diaspora bank manager training loan officers to make agriculture, energy and health loans under USAID’s DCA guaranty program in Liberia.
As a volunteer-centered mechanism, the VEGA LWA award enabled USAID to expand the engagement of individuals from across the country in USAID programming. Professionals have donated their valuable time to help give a hand up, instead of a hand out.
VEGA’s skilled volunteers tend to be senior or mid-career professionals with practical, business-savvy experience from a wide-range of private corporations. Most volunteers are individuals with domestic careers, rather than overseas development professionals. VEGA volunteers convey the best of U.S. values and ingenuity. Because our volunteers have no hidden political or commercial agendas, we have found that recipients of volunteer-based assistance are eager to embrace the expert recommendations provided. This dynamic leads to meaningful relationships built on mutual trust and understanding, ultimately resulting in sustainable growth.
On average, VEGA volunteers had 21.9 years of experience relevant to their assignments, ranging in length from one week to one year, but averaging two to three weeks in-country engagement per assignment. According to the VEGA Volunteer Value Reporting System results, 91.5 percent of host organizations agree or strongly agree that the recommendations made by volunteers will be applied on an ongoing basis (See the VEGA LWA Final Report).
VEGA’s success has been due in large part to our members—from some of the largest global development NGOs to VEGA’s small but mighty all-volunteer members. VEGA evolved to include as many as 30 member organizations with networks of more than 100,000 highly skilled volunteers. VEGA supported these members in a number of ways, including by helping the members to partner with and build the capacity of smaller organizations new to USAID.
VEGA’s LWA ended last year, and VEGA itself is closing down, but we have the utmost confidence in our member NGO implementers who have assumed the responsibility of administering the 12 ongoing programs. We also have faith that USAID will continue to value skilled volunteers and find effective ways to integrate them into its future programming. Thanks again to our members, to USAID, and especially to all of our volunteers who have contributed to this effort and who will continue this work moving forward.
Michael Deal, VEGA President and CEO