Concordia first started in 1943 during the Second World War when young people were encouraged to support the war effort by gathering fruit and crops in the fields. After the war young people from Europe were invited to take part in a scheme in order to rebuild international friendships and to promote peace.
Today, the scheme is known as the Seasonal Agricultural Work Scheme (SAWS) and offers foreign students the opportunity to do paid seasonal farm work in the UK.
Concordia is now a registered charity based in Brighton. Part of the work in the SAWS and the other part is the International Volunteer Programme. These two schemes run independently although the International Volunteer Programme relies on financial support from SAWS.
Concordia’s overall activities are overseen by a board of nine directors who work on a voluntary basis.
- Executive director – Rob Orme.
- President: The Baroness Byford DBE
- Directors: Robert Mitchell (Chairman), John Rodley, Dr. Len Norman, Yvonne Richards, Stanislaw Drzymala, David Picavver, Christine Snell, Mike Cook and Sue Wellman
How the International Volunteer Programme works
Concordia works in close co-operation with over 80 partner organisations worldwide, all independent organisations who share a common involvement in short-term international volunteer projects. Each organisation runs a programme of projects in its own country and sends volunteers to participate in projects abroad. So Concordia does not organise any projects outside of the UK but acts as a sending organisation for UK volunteers. Likewise, Concordia receives volunteers from our international partners to take part in our national programme in the UK.
This system of exchange, which relies on mutual trust, has been established over many years and enables volunteer costs to be kept to a minimum.
The Alliance of European Voluntary Services members work to a minimum standard set out in the Alliance’s Quality Charter and Concordia also embraces this charter.
Fostering cross-cultural understanding and friendship by providing young people with quality opportunities for international volunteering, work experience, education and trainingConcordia’s mission statement
- Worldwide Co-operation and Exchange
- Supporting Local Communities Through Volunteering
- Promoting Cultural Understanding International Friendships
- Opportunities for All
- Personal Development
- Group Living
- Global Education
Concordia is a charity which promotes worldwide co-operation and exchange. We are part of two networks of international voluntary projects, the Alliance of European Voluntary Service Organisations and CCIVS (Co-ordinating Committee of International Voluntary Service). This enables us to work with partners in all continents, on an equal basis, all of whom run projects in their own countries, and most of whom send volunteers to participate in projects abroad. In this way, the networks foster co-operation and trust both at organisation and volunteer level, enabling not only the exchange of volunteers, but also ideas.
We are committed to this way of working for a number of reasons: we believe strongly in the principle of equality that it entails, which challenges many of the structures which exist within global society today; it enables us to keep our projects accessible (see below); and – as projects are entirely set-up and run by partnerships within the countries where they are based – it works to ensure that they are more responsive to those communities’ wants and needs.
There are many different types of project – for example, volunteers can participate in cultural, renovation or environmental projects, all based on initiatives developed by the communities in which they take place. In many cases, these initiatives would not be fulfilled were it not for the volunteers sent by organisations such as Concordia. Depending on the project, groups of volunteers are often embedded in the local community, working alongside community members. In return, the community will often provide accommodation and activities for the volunteers in their free time. Even where there is no direct involvement of the local community in the project, it will benefit nevertheless. Crucially, it is volunteering rather than simply fundraising that is at the heart of all these initiatives, to enable both volunteers and communities to broaden their horizons, create international friendships and act as the catalyst for greater social and community involvement.
A key aim of Concordia is to promote greater international understanding. We wish to break down misperceptions and intolerances, contributing to a more peaceful global society where similarities are celebrated and differences are respected. Our work supports this by giving volunteers the chance to live and work, on an equal basis, with people from many different cultures, backgrounds and ways of life. This enables them to communicate, share ideas and learn about each other in many different ways. Cultural differences can be obvious aspects such as language and food, but can also be much more subtle – such as different ways of working, different expectations and different social norms. /By gaining awareness of these, volunteers can really deepen their understanding and appreciation of the global community.
Concordia seeks to bring people together, offering opportunities to live, work and socialise with people from countries all round the world. On a typical project volunteers can expect to learn words in different languages, try out recipes from around the world , share music, photos and games, and generally develop a wider cultural understanding. This forms worldwide links, breaks down barriers (including communication barriers) and can even bring together people from conflict areas, creating bridges of peace through personal contact, communication and shared experiences. . A project may only last two or three weeks but the experience is so rewarding and intense that the resulting friendships can last a lifetime.
Projects at Concordia are accessible to all people, regardless of age, education and ethnic background. It is Concordia’s aim to ensure that everyone has a fair chance of becoming a volunteer, since the concept of volunteering embraces equality – not only between international volunteers and the local community for the duration of a project, but also amongst those who first make the choice to become a volunteer. Concordia, as a non profit making organisation, strives to keep the costs for volunteers to a minimum in order to make the opportunity accessible to people regardless of social and financial background. In addition a scheme is in place to help and support volunteers in need of financial help or with special needs.
Concordia projects benefit communities around the world, but they also enable development on a directly personal level. Team-working and communication skills are required from the outset, since every project involves a group of people living, working and making decisions together. Many projects teach the volunteers work skills that they have never needed before; and not least enable the cultural learning that is necessary for such a group to function successfully. To flourish in this kind of environment, volunteers need to be flexible, as it can be sometimes necessary to live outside their comfort zone. Concordia values development at this personal level, since together the volunteers form a stronger team as each member of the group gains new skills and competences. Many volunteers use the experience gained from volunteer work to go on to co-ordinate projects and help with training programmes. This way, not only do they develop leadership, time management and conflict resolution skills, but they also provide invaluable support to Concordia, whose work with volunteering benefits from major contributions from people who have themselves been a volunteer.
For the duration of each project, the international group will work together, live together, cook together and participate in social activities together. The success of projects depends largely on the willingness of individual volunteers to get involved, to take time to communicate across language differences and to make friends with the other volunteers and the local community. Although there will be group co-ordinators to assist the group experience, it is the responsibility of all group members to work out decisions and problems together. This is not always an easy process but is one that brings innumerable benefits and rewards: an awareness of other viewpoints and perceptions; an ability to compromise; to become more patient and tolerant; and to move forward with people who may have very different ideas.
To Concordia, the group life is the most fundamental aspect of an international volunteer project. It is one of the main tools through which cultural understanding is promoted and international friendships developed. It promotes the equality and active participation of all members of the groups, through giving everybody a say in decisions that are related to the project, and relying on democratic decisions and the ability to reach a consensus.
International groups of volunteers provide a unique opportunity for people to exchange information, learn from and about each other, and deepen their understanding of different cultures and global issues. Concordia’s aim is to focus more on this element of projects: enabling the group of international volunteers – through non-formal activities and discussions – to look further into topics such as the environment, sustainability, peace and conflict, and rights. In addition, volunteers try to find ways to make the projects themselves more sustainable and to involve local communities, some of whom may not otherwise have the opportunity to encounter the diversity of views that a volunteer group can offer.