Decolonise International Voluntary Service: Unveiling the “Food for Thought Laboratory” in Ferrara, Italy! 

From July 10th to July 16th, 2023, Ferrara, Italy, became the nucleus of an inspiring movement as 21 participants joined forces to present the groundbreaking results of the Decolonise Participatory Action Research (PAR) and to explore together with the Decolonise Youth advocates how to bring about the necessary changes. The Decolonise! Project aims to pave the way for a more inclusive and equitable future by examining the essence of International Voluntary Service (IVS) through a decolonial lens. 🌟

The “Food for Thought Laboratory” served as a vibrant space for collaboration, exchange of ideas, and deep reflection on the journey of Decolonising IVS. It provided an opportunity for involved stakeholders to collectively analyse the progress made so far and strategize the next steps towards meaningful transformation. The goal was to reshape perspectives on volunteering and beyond, fostering an environment that acknowledges and addresses historical power imbalances and colonial legacies. While several SCI branches have been working on this topic and started developing tools to support branches in their decolonisation process, many of the IVS organisations still struggle with understanding the different values and mechanisms that influence our current IVS structures and practices. A wider conversation is needed to share knowledge and imagine a different future. “The Food for Thought Laboratory” was meant to be such a space where participants could bring together different perspectives, embrace different cultures, dismantle hegemonic structures, and amplify marginalised voices. It envisioned a future where volunteering becomes a platform for true reciprocity, mutual learning, and regenerative practices. 

Decolonise IVS receives crucial support from esteemed organisations, including the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union, the Council of Europe (European Youth Foundation) and the Participation Programme of UNESCO, making it possible to include more participants from different regions and backgrounds. The Decolonise IVS project warmly welcomed Mara Georgescu, Senior educational support officer from the Council of Europe. The visit fostered a sense of shared purpose, igniting enthusiasm for collaborative efforts in reshaping international volunteering practices and promoting inclusivity, laying the groundwork for a more equitable future.

Looking at the world around us, we realise how important it is to understand global power dynamics and the way they influence our own functioning. The visit of the Council of Europe was well appreciated as it gave us the opportunity to engage in a dialogue with one of the important stakeholders in Europe. After a short presentation, highlighting the composition and role of the Council of Europe, Mara shared with the participants useful resources and possible avenues for future cooperation or support. 

Through targeted outreach and strategic partnerships, the Decolonise IVS team worked diligently to influence policies and practices on both local and international levels, advocating for the integration of decolonial principles within the IVS framework. Looking at the existing IVS networks and mapping how they could become more involved stakeholders was one of the concrete activities the participants engaged in. Two online sessions were held to give opportunity to those who couldn’t make it to Ferrara to connect and share their work and input. 

While the project officially started in March 2022, those involved say that it’s only the beginning! Decolonising IVS is not a one day exercise or a one-off project. It is a continuous process that needs sustained and committed dialogue with all parties involved to  deeply question and examine our values, our beliefs and our way of doing things. The outcomes of the “Food for Thought Laboratory” will be thoroughly followed-up giving space to more Participatory Action Research, more awareness raising and advocacy work, and of course laying the groundwork for the upcoming “Tools Lab” in Vienna, scheduled to take place from September 29th to October 5th 2023. 

The Vienna Tools Lab will provide a space to develop practical resources, methodologies, and toolkits that will enable the implementation of decolonised practices within IVS organisations worldwide. If you have relevant resources and materials for this task that you would like to share for this aim , please feel free to share it with the Decolonise Tools Team ( so that we can also include it in the project’s public list of useful resources.  

Additionally, social media campaigns will kick off in September to further spread awareness about the Decolonise IVS project, rallying individuals from different corners of the globe to join the movement. These campaigns will encourage meaningful conversations, inspire collective action and generate support for a Decolonised IVS. Another milestone will be the hybrid conference taking place in Greece on November 23 2023: “Imagining a Decolonised International Voluntary Service movement: Lessons from our Participatory Action Research” 

The transformative journey is far from over, and the collective efforts of Decolonise IVS will continue to redefine the purpose of international volunteering, leaving an indelible mark on the future of global cooperation. 

🌍 #DecoloniseIVS