Skip to main content

Our history


Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) began in 1958 when Alec and Mora Dickson recruited and sent 16 British volunteers overseas in response to a letter from the Bishop of Portsmouth asking for people to teach English in Borneo.

Much has changed since then. VSO has engaged over 76,000 volunteers to work on development programmes in more than 120 countries.

Milestones in VSO's History:

1958

VSO is set up

By Alec and Mora Dickson in response to a letter from the Bishop of Portsmouth asking for people to teach English in Borneo

1959

First women volunteers

Althea Corden and Bronwyn Quint sign up

1962

The first VSO supporter groups are created

Giving returned volunteers the opportunity to meet up, discuss their experiences and continue to support VSO after their volunteering placement ends. 

1964

VSO reaches 1,000 volunteers sent overseas

1965

VSO begins to look at the other issues

Issues that keep people trapped in the cycle of poverty, besides education. VSO become committed to helping people access a sustainable income, so they can live a life of dignity.

1971

VSO reaches its 10,000th volunteer

1997

Rwanda’s Minister of Education requests that VSO open a programme in Rwanda to assist with the shortage of teachers in the wake of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis.

VSO has worked in Rwanda ever since. 

1999

VSO pairs with businesses for short-term volunteering programmes.

2001

VSO begins to recruit people to volunteer in their own countries.

To reflect the changing nature of volunteering, VSO launches the first national volunteering programme and opens the first southern recruitment base in Kenya.

2005

VSO sends its first Parliamentarian volunteer.

VSO has since sent 52 political volunteers on short-term, high-impact placements

2011

Youth volunteering is back!

Two thousand young people from the UK and 24 other countries volunteer across the globe through the VSO-led and DFID-funded International Citizen Service. Over 30,000 young people have since volunteered on this programme. 

2015

VSO publishes ground-breaking research into why volunteering is effective in fighting poverty.

2018

VSO celebrates its 60th anniversary.

To date, over 76,000 people have volunteered with VSO. 

Find out more about our history here