Volunteer projects make an impact on diversity and inclusion

Volunteers are key for AFS: they support our study abroad and hosting programs, and deliver educational activities to make a positive impact in their communities. Boosting volunteer engagement and keeping them involved in the organization is one of the core topics on the everyday agenda of AFS offices across globe, just like in many other not-for-profit volunteer driven organizations. (Read more in the The importance of reciprocating volunteer efforts article.) One of the strategies towards ensuring volunteer engagement and retention is creating impact at local level. The key question behind this strategy is “How might we equip volunteers with the tools to create impact at the local level?”

photo by Omer Ongun

Türk Kültür Vakfı (AFS Turkey) and AFS Turkey Volunteers Association constantly update our volunteer career paths in order to ensure AFS increases its volunteer footprint. We see intercultural learning (ICL) as a tool to engage and educate our volunteers on the inequality and inequity across the global communities. In this sense, volunteers are supported with trainings on power and privilege, social change and design thinking as well as global, national and local realities. They become change agents, making a significant impact with a greater blending of volunteering and social action. 

Every February, we organize “Dare to Dream” impact labs for our key volunteers. This is an intense workshop format focusing on self-discovery, social impact and development of social change attitudes. The workshop inspires participants to come up with their own impact ideas and prepares them to implement their ideas as projects. We collaborate with design, culture, art and social impact-oriented organizations. This February we were at SUPA, a historical venue at the heart of Istanbul. Participants and facilitators cooked, cleaned, worked and lived together during the workshop to increase social and group interaction.

During the “Dare to Dream” lab, participants discovered their personal connection to social change, how they want to make impact and spread their ideas as well as how to move an organization forward through increased collaboration with like-minded communities.

photo source www.pinterest.com/pin/471611392210398584

Japanese concept of “Ikigai” is helpful in illustrating how we worked during the latest lab. In Japanese, “Ikigai” means, “reason for being”, “reason for living” or “the thing that makes you wake up every day”. Following this concept, participants of the lab reflected on what motivates them to get up in the morning. By making sure that each participant has a personal connection to the impact they want to create on the world we ensured their project ideas turn into impactful action.

Overall, several impact ideas were developed and presented at the closing day of the lab, including:

  • a model for making social services accessible for refugees in Istanbul, including workshops to challenge polarization across society on refugee perception.
  • exchange markets and garage sales to increase scholarships for young people with limited opportunities.
  • work with community of patients and health workers of Alzheimer disease on inclusion.
  • bullying prevention at schools to foster more inclusive societies.
  • challenging everyday practices of AFSers in Turkey while offering creative sustainable solutions.
  • diversity programs for children of Turkey.

Facilitators have decided to continue coaching and mentoring the participants to further develop their ideas. The “Dare to Dream” lab will be followed by shorter and more mobile capacity development workshops at local levels. 

As 70 years of AFS programs worldwide prove, pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone will help us reach the AFS mission and create a more just and peaceful world.



This article was written by , Training Coordinator at AFS Turkey. Omer is also a Qualified Trainer for the AFS Intercultural Link Learning Program and a member of the European Pool of Trainers of the European Federation for Intercultural Learning (EFIL).