“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has” – Margaret Mead
The story of SERVE began in 2003. A group of twelve young people living in Ireland, actively involved in youth and community work, were given the opportunity to travel to the Philippines and volunteer. Over ten weeks, they worked alongside local people, volunteering their time at a range of projects, including supporting educational initiatives with a marginalised indigenous tribe and facilitating retreats for vulnerable youth. It was a positive experience for all – the Irish volunteers, the Filipino participants, and the partner organisations all benefitted greatly. It was agreed that this experiment would continue, and plans were laid for another project in 2004.
The twelve volunteers returned to Ireland full of energy and enthusiasm. They were dreamers and believed that more people living in Ireland should have the same opportunity. A few motivated individuals came together, and SERVE was born. The 2004 project was a success, but 2005 was the year that SERVE spread its wings – 66 volunteers travelled to five countries across three continents working with partners in South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, the Philippines, India and Brazil.
From the beginning, all SERVE initiatives were characterised by a partnership approach. The Redemptorists in Cherry Orchard in Ballyfermot, Dublin provided accommodation and space to facilitate returned volunteers to grow the SERVE vision. The Dublin Province of the Redemptorists helped provide in the early days seed capital to meet basic expenses and overcome early obstacles.
The founders of SERVE quickly realised that the organisation was uniquely placed to make a difference beyond the short-term volunteer placements. In 2007, SERVE established its own legal personality as a company limited by guarantee and as a registered charity. SERVE is governed by a board of directors who formulate and approve an ambitious strategic plan in favour of children, young people and gender equality in some of the poorest countries in the world.
A growing organisation requires a sharp focus. SERVE has chosen to prioritise working with young people aged between 15-24. This age group are full of potential, but are often marginalised, face high unemployment and social exclusion, and are unable to earn a living in a dignified manner. They are vulnerable to unexpected events and more likely to make poor life choices, particularly around sexual and reproductive health. SERVE has extensive experience working with young people and are well-placed to respond to the challenges they face.
SERVE also came to the attention of the Irish Government and were invited to apply for funding through Irish Aid, the official overseas development fund of Ireland. Within the space of a few years, SERVE grew from a single volunteer project to a professional development and volunteering organisation, supporting projects in Southern Africa, South-East Asia, and India.
Since 2003, SERVE has placed over 1,200 volunteers on overseas assignments and contributed over €20 million to development projects and are proud to have strong working relationships with Dóchas, Comhlámh, Irish Aid, Electric Aid, Misean Cara and other important international development stakeholders.