From Local Lives to Lasting Legacies

From Local Lives to Lasting Legacies:

Raleigh International’s long-term effect on in-country volunteers

At Raleigh International we work through young people to create lasting change in disadvantaged communities around the world. Our vision is of a world where the global community works together to build a sustainable future.

For more than 30 years, Raleigh has been inspiring and empowering young people around the world to harness their full potential through our Expedition programme.

A crucial part of what makes a Raleigh Expedition unique is that we believe the programme not only has a positive impact on the communities we work with but also aids the personal development of the young volunteers who take part in programme.

We have always had strong anecdotal evidence about the positive impact of Expedition on young people and the knock-on effect this has across their lives. We have also long been able to demonstrate the scale of our activities and outputs through the programme. But we want to do more.

Recently, we have been strengthening our monitoring, evaluation and learning systems with the aim of providing clear evidence of how our work through youth volunteers contributes to the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. As well as enabling us to demonstrate impact and longer-term changes, this also helps us to continue learning from our successes and failures so we can improve the quality of our work.

As part of this we worked with NEF Consulting, the consultancy arm of the UK think tank New Economics Foundation, who developed a pilot study examining the long-term effect of our Expedition programme on national volunteers. The ultimate goal is that this research will form a valuable addition to the sparse body of evidence exploring the long-term developmental, socio-economic and personal impacts of in-country volunteering within developing countries.

Below is a summary of the findings, case studies, and the learning from the research. Download a copy of the report for the full analysis.

Read the full report
From Local Lives to Lasting Legacies: Raleigh International’s long-term effect on in-country volunteers

NEF Consulting (2017)

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The pilot study we commissioned, From Local Lives to Lasting Legacies, looks at two countries – China and Namibia – where Raleigh International has worked through our Expedition programme. The research utilises evidence from alumni in both countries who took part in Raleigh Expeditions between 1998 and 2004. The pilot study was independently conducted by NEF Consulting, the consultancy arm of New Economics Foundation.

By drawing on the experiences of alumni of the Expedition programme, across two diverse country settings, the research aims to answer the following questions:

  • How, and to what extent, has their Raleigh experience influenced the life choices of in-country alumni?

  • What socio-economic impacts have in-country alumni experienced as a result of their Raleigh Expedition participation?

While this pilot analysis is specific to volunteers in two countries, the research has been designed in such a way as to reflect the long-term impact of Raleigh’s work with in-country volunteers across all the countries we are currently – and have previously been – active in through the Expedition programme.

What is Raleigh Expedition?

Raleigh’s Expedition programme has been running for over 30 years, challenging young people to get out of their comfort zones, to take on leadership roles and developing them into active global citizens. It brings together diverse groups of volunteers aged between 17 and 25 from various cultural, socio-economic and national backgrounds. It places youth volunteers at the heart of disadvantaged communities, where they work together as a team for 10 weeks delivering development projects which focus on environmental, community and leadership themes.

More about Raleigh Expeditions

Why work with young people?

We believe young people are ready to take ownership of what is happening in our world and make a positive impact locally and globally. Young people are full of creativity, innovation and determination. Given the chance, they can be leaders at the heart of global change.

We believe this because we see it happen. It is young people from all over the world who deliver Raleigh’s development work; young people volunteering their time and energies. We want to see the development sector as a whole recognise and value the role that young people take.

For more, see our 2017-2020 Strategy: Young people driving sustainable development


The impact of Expedition on volunteers

Researchers developed a Theory of Change model using semi-structured, independent interviews with the Namibian and Chinese Raleigh alumni, which highlights positive outcomes for volunteers as a result of their participation in the Expedition programme.

The outcomes described below reflect those which the Expedition in-country alumni identified as most important. It is understood that each person’s experience of a Raleigh Expedition will be individual and have a lasting impact. The life changes described are therefore drawn from common threads in people’s stories, rather than offering a full description of each person’s subsequent life history. Nevertheless, there is a degree of overlap and interaction between the outcomes.

Outcomes experienced both during or immediately after the Expedition (0-1 years), and in the medium (2-5 years) to longer term (6+ years) are identified and summarised below.

As it is not feasible to report all changes cited by Expedition alumni during interviews, the research focuses on identifying only the most significantly reported outcomes.


At the heart of the research was the development of a Theory of Change (TOC) model based on in-depth interviews with Namibian and Chinese in-country Raleigh Expedition alumni. A TOC describes the process through which change occurs, with those involved in benefitting from a service or programme being actively involved in telling the story of how the service has affected them. This gives insight into the short and medium-to-long-term changes experienced by volunteers on Raleigh programmes, as well as what enabled those changes.

A pilot Social Cost-Benefit Analysis (SCBA) of the Expedition programmes impact on Chinese and Namibian alumni was also conducted. This focused on the five most common long-term outcomes reported in the TOC. It also involved surveying a wider group of volunteers from both countries to determine the scale of increases for each outcome and the extent to which volunteers attributed increases to their Expedition experience. The analysis gives an indication of the scale of impact that the Expedition had on national alumni in the long-term and the value for money delivered by the programme over time.

Outcomes during the Expedition and immediately afterwards

The charts below show the percentage of Expedition alumni from each country expressing changes in these outcomes. during, or immediately after, their time on the programme.

Increased knowledge and appreciation of own country

Namibian volunteers reported the Expedition as having a profound effect on their knowledge and appreciation of their own country. Alumni are now sharing this with younger generations by imparting knowledge and continuing to explore their own country.

“I realised, we’ve become so blind to what we have that we’re not actually seeing it… I should really start listening to what the UK volunteers were saying about my country, I should really start looking at it through their eyes…”

MarthaMartha – Windhoek, Namibia

Improved teamwork

Volunteers from China highlighted improved teamwork as an early outcome. Working well with fellow volunteers, and with the local community members, was greatly valued by Chinese alumni as they believed that so much of what they achieved while on Expedition could not have been done alone.

“Being alone in more than half of those conditions you might get frightened, fears, scared and very lonely, so you wouldn’t have the strength, not to mention learning and enjoy [ment]. It’s the group, supporting each other, having each other’s backs,[which] made it possible to feel mentally safe.”

GariGari – Shanghai, China

Improved English language skills

For both Chinese and Namibian alumni, improved English language skill was a significant early outcome. Speaking up in groups to influence a decision or join a conversation was intimidating and isolating at first, but by the end of the Expedition volunteers reported being comfortable enough to clearly communicate their thoughts and feelings in English.

“I got so many opportunities to practice my English skill, translation, interpretation, and the most important is negotiation.”

Yang Ning – Beijing, China

Longer-term outcomes for Expedition volunteers

In terms of longer-term impact on alumni from volunteering through Expedition, researchers identified seven outcomes from the interviews.

The charts below show the percentage of alumni from each country expressing changes in these outcomes.

Increased international and cross-cultural perspective

A clear change experienced by both sets of alumni has been an increased international and cross-cultural perspective. This was gained through having had the opportunity to work alongside people from socio-economic, cultural and national backgrounds that were different from their own.

For many, this was perceived in terms of gaining a wider international world view and increased knowledge and understanding of other countries and cultures. Alumni also reported greater empathy and respect for others and their differences; whether differences in nationality-based beliefs or cultures, or personality-based opinions and characteristics.

Alumni from both countries described this widened perspective as a competency that continues to be relevant for them today – enriching professional and personal relationships, and careers opportunities at home and across the globe. Many alumni have also passed on this awareness, and their belief in the importance of an international perspective to personal development, to younger generations.

“…I have worked in a lot of foreign countries with different cultures and I feel like Raleigh set me up for that because I had exposure to different cultures, I understood […] I’ve experienced something that I will definitely pass onto my children and this is like you respect other people, you respect other cultures, people will be different than you and there’s nothing wrong with that, you have to embrace that, you have to respect that and then especially be exposed, go out there and experience things…”

RaymondRaymond – Windhoek, Namibia

Increased volunteering and civil engagement

Alumni from China exhibited increased volunteering and civil engagement efforts after volunteering with Raleigh International. However, many of the Namibian alumni had already volunteered before taking part in the Expedition, so volunteering was not necessarily a new concept for them. Despite this, increased voluntary work and civic engagement was still found to be a significant outcome for amongst alumni from both countries, and many expressed a fundamental wish to support others in greater need throughout their lives.

“Lot[s] of people need my help. We can study in university. We can live in the city. But a lot of people they have no chance to get to university. They can’t. Because in China the education sources is not very balance… So I think I gain more I should give more.”

Gao PengGao Peng – Beijing, China

Improved leadership skills

Alumni in both countries reported a greater openness when listening to others: taking on a wide breadth of opinions before deciding for a group; communicating effectively with team members; and, not jumping to conclusions but appreciating other’s skills, knowledge and perspective. The impact of these improved leadership skills was found to be particularly significant for Namibians in the longer-term, but both groups experienced the benefit in both their family and professional lives.

“It was a little bit challenging but it also taught me to be a leader, it showed me how to be a leader because at first, we saw the leaders as just managers, you just say it and people must do, up to now my leadership skills, okay I’ve gone through a lot of other jobs also again after that but my leadership skills have gone up and I know how to be a leader now.”

KennethKenneth – Windhoek, Namibia

Increased determination, courage and ability to solve problems

This change was expressed across Namibian and Chinese interviewees. Alumni described having used personal resources, such as setting and achieving goals, persistence and self-motivation throughout their lives after the Expedition, either at work in achieving career goals, or at home when facing family challenges. This outcome develops from and reinforces many of the other outcomes described, specifically improved leadership skills.

“Honestly, the biggest change of my life, I would say it’s the part where I have learned to actually take charge of my own life, you know? I didn’t do this before, I was one of those honestly shy people, I didn’t talk a lot, I was like in a cocoon, but Raleigh really taught me to be open, be positive, do what you want to do.”

HeldgardtHeldgardt – Windhoek, Namibia

Increased confidence and self-esteem

This was prevalent in nearly all interviews with Namibian in-country alumni and was mentioned by many Chinese in- country alumni as well. By successfully completing the Expedition, the volunteers changed their perception of themselves. This budding self-esteem, which also relates to agency and self-efficacy, was seen as an underlying personal resource. Confidence developed further over time, and provided the bases for many of their achievements since.

“I think the first time I went to Raleigh, it has had an impact on me, the influence, the leadership, it’s installing in me the courage, the self- esteem that I’ve built up and the courage that I have in myself that anything is possible, I can do.”

Nathan – Windhoek, Namibia

Increased active and healthy lifestyle

Most of the Chinese in-country alumni interviewed had grown up in large cities; family holidays or outdoor pursuits were not common. As such, they simply had not had access to the countryside and the experience of the Expedition was in stark contrast to everyday life. For many, their enjoyment of walking and physical activity with Raleigh sparked a life-long passion for outdoor activities, such as trekking, leading to an increased active and healthy lifestyle throughout their lives that was still relevant today.

“I’m interested in this trekking life… It’s just so beautiful scenery I never had it, I never think of it because in the past travel is just go with parents and see some Tiananmen Square… it’s not like [our] experience with trekking and sit down in [there’s] all the stars in the skies. I never had that before… All the group of people were sitting there and see[ing] the moon rising up from this mountain, so never had that experience…. [I] became an outdoor trainer – that’s related to Raleigh actual[ly] because in the past I never think of that.”

CathyCathy – Shanghai, China

Increased friendships and connectedness

For Chinese in-country alumni, as well as a third of Namibians, increased friendships and connectedness were predominant outcomes for the clear majority of interviewees. As well as holding many relationships across the world, all the Chinese in-country alumni interviewed were already connected through ‘Raleigh China’: a national Raleigh alumni network established following a 10- year reunion in 2008. Since then, many of the in-country alumni from the 1998 Expedition in China have continued to be close friends, connecting through social media and at regular events held across large cities in China.

“No matter [where] they are from… from Jiangsu province, from Shandong province, from Beijing, we are all [a] big family, I think.”

JiangJiang – Beijing, China

Case studies

The interview findings make it clear that participation in the Expedition programme has touched the lives of alumni in China and Namibia in a huge breadth of ways.

However, it is not possible to explore all impact reported by alumni. For more insight into the personal impact of the Expedition programme see the case studies and video below.

Case study: Raymond

Raymond volunteered with Raleigh International in Namibia in 2004 and is now national manager for an international NGO.

Read case study

Case study: Garrison

Garrison volunteered with Raleigh International in China in 1999 and is the founder and director of Raleigh China.

Read case study

Measuring the value of Expedition

As part of the pilot study, researchers also ran a Social Cost-Benefit Analysis (SCBA) to calculate a cost-benefit ratio for the in-country Expedition programmes in China and Namibia. This allows us to better understand whether the programme represents value for money in the long term.

As it was not feasible to display all changes and outcomes listed in interviews by alumni, the analysis focuses on by in-country alumni in the analysis, the research identifies and focuses on the five outcomes which are most common among both nationalities in the Theory of Change (TOC).

Five common volunteer outcomes

The five most material outcomes common to volunteers from both countries were around improved civic responsibility and soft skills, resulting in increased:

  • Volunteering and civic engagement

  • Confidence and self-esteem

  • Determination, courage and ability to solve problems

  • International perspective and cross-cultural awareness

  • Leadership skills

To quantify these five outcomes, a wider group of volunteers in both countries were surveyed to determine the scale of increases for each outcome and the extent to which volunteers attributed increases to their Expedition experience. The cohorts of interest in China and Namibia include only alumni who participated in Expeditions 10+ years ago (18 years ago in the case of China and, on average, 14 years ago in the case of Namibia). Questions also took account of personal impact – asking respondents to self-estimate how much credit the Raleigh Expedition could take for changes in their outcomes (attribution) and what would have happened anyway in the absence of the Expedition (deadweight).

The size of change for each were then combined in a SCBA model with financial values assigned to each outcome under a baseline scenario. Because the outcomes in this model do not have market values, financial proxies (approximations) were used to value them. This use of financial proxies for valuation allowed the researchers to express benefits in the same units as investment costs (GBP £) to make a comparison and generate the cost-benefit ratio.

In-country volunteer outcome changes before and after impact considerations (Net %)

% net change is defined as the average percentage change in each outcome for in-country alumni after accounting for impact (i.e. deadweight and attribution)

The value of volunteering

The study shows that the Expedition programme has a significant and positive impact on in-country volunteers across all five outcomes, even after accounting for net impact. Furthermore, for every £1 Raleigh invested in the programme, nearly £3 (£2.93) of value was created for the national volunteers – a strong positive return on investment, even without taking benefits for community members and other stakeholders into account.

However, researchers noted it is likely that this conservative estimate under-represents the full value created by the in-country Expedition programme as a whole since, as mentioned above, the analysis does not include potential benefits for secondary stakeholders.

Pilot social benefit-cost ratio for in-country Raleigh Expedition programmes in China and Namibia
Social Benefit : Cost ratio £2.93 : £1
Benefits £5,139,462
Costs £1,751,122

Conclusion and learning

While there are, of course, methodological limitations to the pilot study, the analysis provides a useful first step to understanding the magnitude of change experienced by in-country volunteers and how that translates into value for money for the Expedition programme. Even under the conservative assumptions of the baseline scenario, the in-country Expedition programme appears to have a positive return, generating more value in benefits to in-country volunteers than it costs to deliver.

The study enables us to clearly demonstrate and better communicate the positive impact the Expedition is having on in-country volunteers, particularly in the longer term.

We will be sharing the pilot study findings with other stakeholders and partners, as well as investigating how to incorporate the findings and research methodology into our own working and reporting.

By sharing the process and findings of the pilot we hope to demonstrate thought leadership and a positive contribution to the sparse body of evidence in the field which will hopefully inspire others to undertake similar studies for improved decision making on how project funds could be used most effectively.


The report also identifies areas of learning for Raleigh International and the wider sustainable development community when building the evidence base around the impact of volunteering in developing countries, including:

Managing an up-to-date database of volunteer contact details would support Raleigh staff and research partners to deliver studies with greater representation across Raleigh’s ex-venturer cohorts, improving response rates and, in-turn, a greater depth of understanding.

Stronger alumni networks would enable potentially wider benefits as well as opportunities for exchanging learning and best practice.

Future research should ideally involve administering surveys to stakeholders to capture the changes, and potential magnitude of the comparisons, before and after the Expedition.

Future studies should ideally include important non-common outcomes, as well as stakeholder engagement with, and analysis of, outcomes for community members and other stakeholders, such as project partners and volunteer staff. It would also be beneficial to explore the potential for wider societal impacts, including the next generation.

There would be value in undertaking a full Social Return On Investment (SROI) evaluation, either at country level, or on a programmatic level for the Expedition as a whole.

The research also highlighted the urgent need for more long term and in-country stakeholder studies. These should be seen as a shared responsibility for the wider development and volunteering sector, and developed through close collaboration and knowledge sharing amongst partners.

Read the full report

From Local Lives to Lasting Legacies: Raleigh International’s long-term effect on in-country volunteers

NEF Consulting (2017)

Download PDF