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Our history


Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) began in 1958 when Alec and Moira 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 43,000 volunteers to work on international development programmes in more than 120 countries.

Historical milestones for VSO since 1958

We’ve gone from being a UK charity to an international one. In 2013/2014 alone, our volunteers trained over 174,000 people, and delivered services that had an impact on the lives of almost 2 million.

Today, VSO is a truly global organisation. We recruit skilled volunteers from all over the world, and from all sectors of society, including business leaders, parliamentarians and young people.

Currently, over 30% of our people come from within the country of their placement. We also send increasing numbers of people from one developing country to another.

We're always looking for new ways to turn human energy and ingenuity into lasting change. We still send professionals to share their skills with their local counterparts, but we’ve embraced a range of methods that allow us to provide whatever kind of help is needed most, including promoting international understanding and action, knowledge sharing and youth exchanges.