VEGA’s Policy Proposals: Prioritizing Skilled Volunteers in U.S. Foreign Assistance

Authored by Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance

Economic growth in developing countries contributes to U.S. economic and national security. Skilled volunteers provide both a cost-effective resource and a means of building more global stability. VEGA’s non-partisan, non-profit member organizations demonstrate firsthand the value skilled volunteers bring to U.S. foreign assistance programs. Through a unique and proven funding mechanism—the VEGA Leader with Associate Award (LWA)1—VEGA’s member-NGOs integrate highly-skilled volunteers into programs that help people lift themselves out of poverty and create more sustainable local and global prosperity.

The LWA and VEGA are one of USAID’s largely untold success stories of flexibility, efficiency and effectiveness. In fact, VEGA has saved and leveraged more than 30 million taxpayer dollars by facilitating 57 grants in 46 countries incorporating highly-skilled volunteers into USAID and USDA programs worth more than $340 million.2 VEGA and the LWA have achieved even more substantial additional savings for taxpayers by eliminating thousands of hours in processing and monitoring normally performed by USAID staff, and in providing services normally direct billed by contractors at substantial rates. During tight budget times, the skilled volunteerism made possible by the VEGA LWA is a highly-visible, bi-partisan way to save and leverage taxpayer dollars while promoting U.S. interests and global development abroad.

Americans are a generous people with a strong spirit of giving their time—the U.S. has one of the highest volunteer rates in the world.3 However, this passion to make a difference is a largely untapped resource for the U.S. government. Highly skilled volunteers managed through VEGA programs provide more “bang for the buck” and should be involved to a much greater extent in meeting our foreign assistance goals. VEGA has a proven track record of involving new non-traditional volunteer-sending organizations, helping them become productive implementing partners for USAID.

Volunteers and non-governmental organizations are the best partners for individuals and organizations in developing countries building local capacity and achieving sustainable results. Through the nimble VEGA LWA, USAID field missions are able to respond quickly and effectively to locally-driven economic development needs and evolving U.S. priorities. VEGA’s members’ skilled volunteers are integrated in ways that meet specific needs for expertise on programs to achieve U.S. foreign assistance goals—especially inclusive economic growth. In fact, the VEGA LWA is a model of resource flexibility that allows U.S. agencies to better align their operations with strategies responsive to the dynamism of the global economy and uncertainty of global security.

In addition, person-to-person diplomacy and civil society-to-civil society partnerships in developing countries help to create a more stable and secure world. Volunteers convey the best of American values and forge peer-to-peer relationships which generate more sustainable economic growth.

The U.S. government should expand the use of skilled volunteers to support development and economic growth abroad in the following specific ways:

  • Extend the  highly flexible, efficient and cost-effective volunteer-focused Leader with Associate (LWA) procurement mechanism. Since 2004, VEGA LWA has saved and leveraged more than 30 million taxpayer dollars by incorporating highly-skilled volunteers into foreign assistance programs. This LWA is a flexible, quick and efficient mechanism that greatly expedites the delivery of effective U.S. assistance for inclusive economic growth. This LWA also uniquely includes competition, as VEGA competes the awards among the 26—and growing—alliance members. There is strong demand from USAID field missions in developing countries for the VEGA LWA—but it must be renewed or replaced before it expires on June 10, 2017.

  • Establish high-level coordination across the U.S. government to champion skilled volunteers in international assistance to meet development goals, save and leverage taxpayer dollars, and strengthen local partnerships and sustainability. The 2003 Executive Order “Volunteers for Prosperity” (E.O. 13317) is still in effect, encouraging all federal agencies to integrate volunteers into their programs. Yet, USAID and other agencies have disbanded offices dedicated to this purpose and lack any high-level coordination dedicated to ensuring taxpayer dollars are saved and leveraged through skilled volunteer participation. This E.O. should be enforced and high-level interagency coordination should be re-established with the mandate to promote volunteerism and develop innovative ways to integrate volunteer service into U.S. programs at home and abroad.

For more information, please be in touch with VEGA Managing Director of Communications and Advocacy Angela Canterbury at or 202-367-9998.

1 Defined under ADS 303.3.26, an LWA Award is a cooperative agreement or grant to an NGO that allows a USAID Mission or other office to make awards without using restricted eligibility but must meet specific terms and scope and support a distinct local or regional activity. The VEGA LWA is uniquely nimble, competitive and accountable.

2 Valuation of 34,065 volunteer days instead of consultant days, not including the thousands of hours saved in processing and monitoring normally performed by USAID staff and in providing services normally direct billed by contractors at substantial rates.

3 World Giving Index 2015 by Charities Aid Foundation


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