Expectations and experiences of volunteers at sport-for-development projects: the case of Sri Lanka
The importance of volunteers is acknowledged around the world, and most research has investigated volunteer contributions in sport and events settings. The area of sport for development is a context that has recently received increasing recognition, and sport for development organisations depend on the voluntary contribution of committed individuals. Although it is realised the volunteers have a significant impact on the running and the existence of such organisations and their projects, little previous research has focused on the people going overseas to contribute as volunteers in sport for development. Therefore, the aim of this research is to investigate the expectations and experiences of those who are going abroad to do volunteering.
A single case study approach was utilised; the Asian German Sport Exchange Programme (A.G.S.E.P.) in Sri Lanka was used as the focus of this study. This research involved 12 interviews and two focus groups with volunteers of this organisation. Five of the volunteers were yet to have started their participation and were regarded as future volunteers. Four students were already at the location doing their volunteer work as current volunteers, while 3 interviews were conducted with people who had previously participated in the organisation; hence they were classified as previous volunteers.
Findings suggested that the volunteers showed high levels of interest in sport; however the importance of the organisation being a sport organisation was only highlighted by those students from the fields of sport science, education or management. Non-sport related students highlighted the development aspect of the organisation as a significant factor for their engagement. This research suggests that sport for development volunteers expect instrumental outcomes from their participation, such as gaining new skills and knowledge, socialising, improving their CV, personal development, professional development, and cultural engagement. Previous volunteers also confirmed these expectations to a large degree.
This research has a number of important implications for A.G.S.E.P., and their volunteer management in particular, and for other sport for development organisations in similar settings more generally. Furthermore, future sport for development volunteers can benefit from this study as they can find out in detail about the expectations and potential outcomes, benefits and challenges of being involved in overseas projects in disadvantaged community settings. Future longitudinal research could build on this case study and investigate volunteer expectations, experiences, relationships and challenges on a larger scale.