Taking citizenship global
In his speech at the Conservative Party Conference, the Prime Minster announced the creation of an International Citizen’s Service as part of his effort to inspire his idea of volunteering and the Big Society abroad. Demos has championed the idea of civic service, and in particular an international scheme, in the past year so we greatly welcome this announcement.
In addition to raising aspirations, encouraging social mobility and greater social mixing, an international civic service scheme could have further benefits if targeted to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. This could provide young people who would otherwise lack the means to travel with the opportunity to experience another culture, experience life outside of their neighbourhoods, expand their horizons and help facilitate greater cultural understanding. It could also counter the appeal of extremist ideologies.
Demos research in The Edge of Violence suggests that facilitating volunteer opportunities abroad can offer an exciting way to engage young people who feel disenfranchised and frustrated with geo-political issues such as the Middle East peace process. In this way, such schemes could act to channel energy away from extremist groups to a healthier expression of volunteering and charity work.
However, the Prime Minister has offered little detail about his proposed scheme – for instance, will it be government-run, or will the Big Society deliver his vision? What type of scheme will be most appealing to those young people that could benefit most? What type of scheme would ensure the greatest benefits to the individuals who participate, and to the communities abroad they will be serving?
There are already a number of opportunities to volunteer abroad, from VSO to a range of non-governmental schemes. But awareness of these schemes is poor, and there is at present scant research into who participates in such schemes and the benefits they receive from volunteering.
Following Demos research into a national civic service, which included a day-long deliberative workshop with a diverse group of 70 young people to see what they would find appealing about such a scheme, Demos is pursuing research into the hows and whats of an effective international civic service scheme. The research will include a comparison with schemes in the United States and Canada, including the US Peace Corps. The project will aim to illuminate the challenges of targeting such schemes to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds (including NEETs), and provide recommendations for these challenges to be overcome.
Though criticised by some, the Government has spared the international aid budget from public spending cuts. Considering its commitment to the Big Society, the Government is right to look at how Britain can contribute human capital in the form of volunteers, in addition to financial capital, to the achievement of the UN Millennium Goals.