Evaluating 15 years of Experiencia Sur

by Belén Rodríguez Navas & Juan José Clavaín Nuño

Entreculturas is a Jesuit-sponsored international cooperation NGO that works to promote justice and social transformation. It defends education as a human right and upholds the right to a dignified life for migrants and refugees. It also seeks to construct committed global citizenship, gender equality and the reconciling of humans with nature. It seeks to contribute to the development of the most vulnerable communities, appealing to values such as solidarity and equal rights, and involving all types of stakeholders (citizens, companies, governments etc.) that share the responsibility of tackling these global challenges.

It has 27 branches in Spain and works with 63 local partners in 38 countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Relationships with these partner organisations are based on stable, equal, peer-to-peer partnerships, founded on mutual enrichment. It has a special relationship with Fe y Alegría (an international Popular Education movement that promotes high quality and transformative education that builds fair, democratic and participatory societies) and the Jesuit Refugee Service (an international organisation with a mission to support, serve and defend the rights of refugees and displaced peoples). Entreculturas is part of both these networks and clearly identifies with their missions.

It believes that international volunteering plays a significant role in raising awareness in society and helping highlight those realities of poverty and exclusion that receive little media coverage and are often ignored. Entreculturas promotes a model of transformative volunteering, understood as a way of narrowing the gap between the global “North” and “South” and breaking with dynamics that encourage skewed visions of both realities. It fosters high quality training for the volunteers, strengthens their commitment to solidarity and social justice, promotes their development as agents of change, and reinforces their sense of global citizenship.

Experiencia Sur, the short-term international volunteering project launched by Entreculturas, is a training and awareness-raising programme that entails four to five weeks of collaboration and experience in one of the locations where Fe y Alegria, the Jesuit Refugee Service, the Jesuit Migrant Service or another sister institution to Entreculturas is working.

The programme encourages its participants to step out of their reality, and by means of immersions, learn, see and feel how other people and communities live, establishing links that help better to understand and to become themselves global citizens.

Fifteen years after the birth of Experiencia Sur, Entreculturas decided to celebrate its journey and learn more by evaluating it, so as to be able to:

          • reflect in depth on what the programme is, and has been over recent years, through the voice of its protagonists;
          • assess the contribution the experience has had for the people involved; and
          • have at their disposal a critical analysis that includes achievements and identifies lessons so that Experiencia Sur is further strengthened and improved.

The programme’s management team initiated this evaluation. Their main concerns centred around the desire to discover what footprints the programme was leaving, what implications it had for the partner organisations, what effects had been caused by previous training and processes, what results they had achieved, etc.

The evaluation was directed at understanding the programme, identifying the causal relationships that have been established to respond to its aims. This task is based on the programme’s logic, its theory of change, as a way of revealing what works and what does not, determining improvements that could be made, and guiding future decision-making and planning.

It had an eminently formative approach with the view to expand understanding among involved individuals, especially partner organisations, the Entreculturas team and future volunteers.  Moreover, a great deal of effort was made to include the participation of everyone involved so that the evaluation gathered the information it needed from them and could constitute a tool to give voice to their ideas.

The evaluation was welcomed by all, and this facilitated the channelling of information, revealing Experiencia Sur’s journey up to the present day and emphasizing diverse experiences.

A triangulation methodology was chosen that made use of both qualitative and quantitative methods. This involved surveying 130 participants, interviewing 36 key stakeholders, discussion groups and non-participant observation of volunteer events.

As a result, the evaluation revealed lessons on each of the programme’s processes and structure, and assessed what the volunteers, partner organisations and the Entreculturas team had gained from the experience.

It revealed the existence of three major differentiating features that enable a change pathway that is focused on understanding itself and building bridges of understanding. These three areas are:

          • training as a prior tool to experience;
          • access to more human-centred education, popular education; and
          • work carried out on return once the experience had come to an end.

Many of the participants noted that this experience had changed them; it had made them more aware and showed them how to view reality with a more critical perspective. The evaluation showed that Experiencia Sur clearly contributes to building global citizenship, helping people discover and continue their personal journey of local commitment.

After this process, in June 2021, an online results feedback session was organised for volunteers, partner organisations, collaborators and the general public. 65 people attended and programme participants shared testimonies that focused on different outcomes.

The evaluation also revealed areas for improvement that need to be turned into actions by Entreculturas in future versions of their programme. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Experiencia Sur has been forced to pause its programme and so the team have spent the time designing responses to these improvement areas. In addition to producing lessons, the evaluation has led us to feel a great sense of gratitude to all those individuals and organisations that have made the work possible in several places around the world over the last fifteen years.

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