Comhlámh > About Us

Comhlámh is a member organisation that works to mobilise for an equitable and sustainable world. As the Irish association of development workers and volunteers, Comhlámh promotes responsible, responsive international volunteering and development work.  We support people in their journey of working for social justice.

We work with returned volunteers, partner organisations and member groups to foster just, inclusive societies, through progressive grassroots activism in Ireland and internationally.

Who We Are

Comhlámh was set up in 1975 by Irish returned development workers, who defined the organisation’s principal objective as, “to enable persons who have rendered services overseas in developing countries upon their return to Ireland to bring to bear their own particular experience in order to further international development co-operation.”

Membership was subsequently extended to all those who see their work from a global perspective and support our aims.  Comhlámh members have always seen overseas development work and volunteering as part of a broader commitment to global development and solidarity. Many of the causes of global inequality, poverty, and oppression have their origin in industrialised countries and can be addressed by education and action.

Comhlámh now considers the stakeholders that we work with as our community, which is made up of our members, development workers, volunteers, volunteer sending agencies, and those interested in development and global issues.

 What’s Our Community

Our community is made up of our members, volunteers, development workers, and volunteer sending agencies.

Members of Comhlámh pay an annual membership fee because they believe in, actively engage, deliver and support the work of Comhlámh. Members are typically volunteers, returned development workers, and activists who believe that the causes of global inequality, poverty and oppression have their origin in the industrialised countries and can be addressed by education and campaigning.

They see continuous engagement as an essential element of the volunteering continuum and draw on their personal experiences to fuel that engagement. Membership benefits include copies of publications, events, and discounts on courses and events.  Members can also be those seeking a career in development, students studying development issues, or other courses with application in a development context.

Volunteers – are people who are making the informed decision to work overseas for a period of time, from days to years, in a voluntary capacity.

We assist volunteers to:

  • learn more about overseas volunteering, global justice, and development issues
  • meet and network with other people; and
  • up-skill and learn about how they can encourage more reflection on development and global justice issues amongst their family, friends, and colleagues.

Development workers – are those people who have worked overseas in a professional capacity.

We assist development workers  to:

  • engage in post-return debriefings and other forms of one-to-one support;
  • identify how the work for social justice and development  can continue ‘at home’;
  • network outside of their  workplaces;
  • nurture their own critical thinking around development;
  • share their experiences with other like-minded people; and
  • think about their future direction post-return.

There is a broader constituency of people supportive of Comhlámh’s work and activities. They engage with us on development issues, global justice, social justice, and human rights (for example 2,500 elink subscribers, attendants at the First Wednesday Debates, etc).  They have the potential to become more engaged as part of our community and ultimately as members.

Thinking of becoming a Comhlámh member? Tap here.

Almost 1.3 billion of the global population of 6.9 billion live in ‘extreme poverty’, i.e. defined as living on less than 1.25US$ a day. Those deemed to be living in ‘poverty’, which is defined as living on less than 2US$ a day, number 4.9 billion.

That’s 71% of the world’s population living in ‘poverty’. Under the guise of the so-called ‘Washington consensus’, a neoliberal model of development has seen a greatly reduced role for the state in advancing development objectives. The gap between rich and poor continues to widen at national, regional, and global levels.

We live in a world where economic ‘common sense’ demands aggressive deregulation of the market and privatisation of public services. Under the guise of free trade, agreements have been imposed on countries of the global south that have served to undermine the sovereign rights of these countries to decide their own development paths.

Instead of states working to progressively realise the human rights of their citizens in line with their international human rights obligation, the state has, in many cases been in retreat.

The Great Recession of 2007, the quickening impacts of climate change and related complex humanitarian emergencies, rising inequality, the endless arms race, the ‘war on terror’, forced global migration, the rise of xenophobia are all pointers to a deeply flawed model of development.

There is a need for alternative models to be brought forward that can bring about a just society, locally and globally. Models that refuse to compromise the sustainable future of the coming generations. A historic realignment is needed.

Never before has there been such a need for communities, ordinary citizens, people’s organisations, i.e. civil society, to be facilitated to occupy the critical thought-spaces and collective action to discern a new future, and to test alternative models and ways of being. All this with a view to creating a sustainable, equitable, and just society, locally and globally.

We are motivated by the following values.

Critical voice

More than ever a critical voice is needed to challenge the stereotypes of the Global South and to question the dominant narratives of our time. We aim to be a critically reflective voice, speaking out on areas where we have experience and insights informed from experiential learning and partnerships with civil society in the Global South. We don’t have all the answers so we actively encourage people to question.

Authenticity / integrity

Society is crying out for integrity from all our institutions, whether public, private sector, not-for-profit or faith-based. We strongly believe in what we do: we work with conviction, in a manner that is open, honest and inclusive in our dealings with our partners and stakeholders. We aim to ensure what we do is in keeping with our values.

Social Justice

We strongly believe that the current eco­nomic model is unjust, oppressive and exclusionary and needs radical change. We commit ourselves to work for social justice where there is greater fairness in terms of outcomes in society, with a genuine respect for diversity and greater popular participa­tion in decision-making.


We believe that all are equal, but require differing supports to ensure effective par­ticipation in all aspects of society

Activism / empowerment

Society needs a critically engaged citizenry. We believe that we all have a voice and that with skilful facilitation and support, people can be helped to take action on the world about them. An active citizenry needs time for conscientization1 but also the skills and experiences of taking action. Through our rootedness in development education practice, we facilitate the agency of our members and the wider community of volunteers and development workers in our sector.


We value the diversity of opinions and perspectives in all the working groups and membership groups we operate through: we believe in working slowly to ensure that all are heard and that decisions taken respect the views of all. We will redouble our efforts in the coming years to ensure that perspectives from migrants and refugees from the Global South inform our perspectives.


Civil society is under increasing pressures to dem­onstrate its legitimacy as a separate and independent space of reflection and action. Comhlámh provides such an independent space for reflection, discus­sion and action on any areas of work that members choose to engage with.


We have seen too much burn-out of committed vol­unteers and development workers: we are committed to providing a supportive environment and support­ing members and those we work with the skills and practices that will sustain them in their work.

Legitimacy (credibility)

At a time of great questioning of the legitimacy and credibility of not-for-profit organisations, we re-com­mit ourselves to the highest standards of governance, operating out of a culture of maximum transparency and openness and engaged with all relevant codes of practice on governance.


The current fossil fuel economy and the pursuit of endless growth are not sustainable: there is a need for a dramatic reduction in consumption in the Global North to prevent runaway damage occurring from climate change. We are committed to acting in ways that are congruent with this.

  1. Conscientization focuses on achieving an in-depth understanding of the world, reaching new levels of awareness of op­pression and becoming part of the process of changing the world.


Our vision is of development workers and volunteers working in solidarity for a socially just, equitable, and sustainable world, locally and globally.


Our mission is to nurture, guide and mobilise development workers and volunteers to work for social justice locally and globally.


Objective 1 – Inform

Key Initiatives

  • Raise awareness of the potential of responsible, responsive volunteering to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs;
  • Engage with sectors of the public who are considering international volunteering to ensure they are fully informed about good practice in volunteering and can place their volunteering experiences within the wider context of global development;
  • Utilise the stories and testimonials of returned volunteers and development workers to deepen public understanding of the development agenda;
  • Develop the Code of Good Practice ‘Supporter Network’ across organisations in the Republic and Northern Ireland who will act as multipliers of our messaging on responsible, responsive volunteering;
  • Continue to develop and grow our online presence through innovative social media campaigns reaching out to targeted online communities;
  • Host key public debates and workshops on various development topics including the ‘First Wednesday Debates’ as a way to connect local and global development issues.

Expected impact

  • Comhlámh is recognised in Ireland as the leading voice on good practice in international volunteering;
  • Various online communities have access to critical resources on responsible volunteering allowing them to make informed choices about getting involved in volunteering.

Objective 2 – Educate

  • We will provide training and education that supports good practice in international development work and volunteering.

Key Initiatives

  • Develop innovative on-line courses to deliver pre-decision and pre-departure training programmes, including through collaboration with EU partner organisations;
  • Provide comprehensive pre-departure and post-return training for individuals and groups working and volunteering in the Global South;
  • Build the capacity of sending organisations to deliver pre-departure and post-return training, including through collaboration with EU partners and partners from host organisations in the Global South;
  • Develop new partnerships with third-level placement programmes (e.g. medical electives) to ensure those involved can situate their placement within the wider context of global development;
  • Strengthen and grow post-return development education courses that support the continued engagement of individuals in action for development.

Expected impact

  • We are recognised both nationally and internationally as expert providers of training and education for volunteers and development workers;
  • Our work with professional placement programmes influences and mainstreams good practice in how placements are set up and conducted;
  • Volunteers and development workers are equipped with the skills to continue their action for development when they come back from the Global South.

Objective 3 – Support

We will lead the ongoing development and implementation of good practice standards for volunteer sending agencies (VSAs), to ensure responsible, responsive volunteering at all stages of the volunteer continuum.

Key Initiatives

  • Continuously reflect on and develop the Comhlámh Code of Good Practice for Volunteer Sending Agencies, to include good practice identified by VSAs in Ireland, as well as international practice;
  • Manage a robust Code audit process that supports the demonstration of good practice by Code signatories;
  • Support organisations to improve their practice through continual progression in relation to Code compliance;
  • Engage with emerging VSAs to ensure that they are aware of the Code and supported to become signatories;
  • Coordinate training, capacity building, mentoring, and peer support for VSA staff in their learning and development on all aspects of responsible volunteering for development;
  • Grow the common voice of Code signatories to promote the role of volunteerism in the achievement of the SDGs.

Expected impact

  • The Comhlámh Code of Good Practice supports and leads Irish VSAs to implement responsible, responsive volunteering that places host communities at the heart of practice;
  • Tangible improvements are made to Code signatory agencies’ policy and practice, with growing numbers of signatories achieving Core Compliance and Comprehensive Compliance status

Objective 4 – Nurture

We will provide a supportive environment for those we work with to help sustain them in their work.

Key Initiatives

  • Build capacity of VSAs to support their volunteers into active citizenship when they return from a placement;
  • Engage with relevant organisations from around the EU to learn from their practice with returnees, and to share knowledge from Ireland;
  • Identify and work with new groups of volunteers and development workers who are mobilising to address humanitarian issues emerging within the EU;
  • Protect the social insurance and public service pension rights of volunteers and volunteer development workers;
  • A range of supports including debriefing, critical incident debriefing, counselling and career services are sign-posted or provided to returned volunteers and development workers post placement.

Expected impact

  • Comhlámh services are promoted and accessible to all returned development workers and volunteers;
  • Comhlámh responds to emerging needs in a rapidly changing sector and provides innovate responses to needs as they arise.

Objective 5 – Innovate

We will contribute to and lead the development of research, policy and practice on volunteering for international development, which will inform our advocacy work.

Key Initiatives

  • Collate an annual statistical overview of international volunteering from Ireland that provides a profile of volunteers’ work and identifies key emerging trends;
  • Coordinate Irish VSAs to promote the role of volunteers in achieving the SDGs;
  • Actively participate in the Forum-IVCO network, sharing and learning on good practice in international volunteering for development;
  • Contribute to the development and evolution of pan-EU initiatives such as the European Solidarity Corps and the EU Aid Volunteers Initiative, including through advocacy work with international partners;
  • Collate practice on the role of volunteering in humanitarian contexts, and advocate for standards of good practice in humanitarian volunteering within the EU.

Expected impact

  • Comhlámh is seen as the leading independent voice and source of information on volunteering for development/humanitarian work from Ireland;
  • Comhlámh coordinates common responses and position papers that assist Irish VSAs to advocate for the role of international volunteering in achieving the SDGs.

Objective 6 – Activate

We will provide a dynamic space for our membership to take action for change on a range of global justice issues.

Key Initiatives

  • Inspire returned development workers and volunteers to join Comhlámh and become active in the association;
  • Support and facilitate member groups throughout the island of Ireland to progress their work on global justice issues;
  • Improve range of supports and secure budgets for Comhlámh’s membership groups to undertake the production of publications and resources, the running of development education courses and advocacy initiatives;
  • Organise social gatherings for members in Belfast, Dublin and other locations as opportunities arise;
  • Host the ‘Solidarity’ meeting space for development / country solidarity agencies active across a range of global justice themes;
  • Work to build linkages between our members’ activism and those working in Ireland on social justice issues.

Expected impact

  • Membership groups are actively raising awareness and engaging in development education and advocacy on a range of global justice issues;
  • Comhlámh is seen as a leading space within which people from the international development/humanitarian sector can come together and organise around issues of concern.


Over the years Comhlamh has had a major impact on a very wide range of activities.

  • Promoting responsible, responsive international volunteering through the development of a Code of Good Practice for Volunteer Sending Organisations. Over 40 volunteer sending organisations have signed up to the Code and an external external auditing process was developed to monitor implementation of the Code by signatory organisations.
  • Continuing to be the voice of development workers feeding into the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social and Family Affairs to ensure that the social welfare rights of development workers are fully protected
  • Providing valuable, high quality support services to an increasing number of recently returned development workers and volunteers each year, which have assisted many individuals to overcome the challenges of resettling home and supported continued engagement with development issues in Ireland.
  • Acting as an important focal point for overseas development workers, volunteers and activists by providing opportunities and avenues for networking and staying engaged with development issues and action for global justice in Ireland
  • Holding workshops on issues including Trade Justice, Climate Change and its impact on developing countries, Overseas Development Aid, and Campaign planning
  • Supporting global justice activists’ education, campaigning and policy work through the successful development of the Bloom Alliance with the DDCI, LASC and the Africa Centre
  • Supporting people to discuss issues related to development with their TDs and MEPs, such as trade justice, the aid budget and climate change and ensuring that 6 out of 12 Irish MEPs are committed to speak out on trade justice
  • Producing resources to support teachers to tackle diversity and global issues with their students – including our Diversity through the Arts resource
  • Supporting teachers and their students to use images responsibly by producing Images of the Global South booklet
  • Producing Ireland’s leading magazine on global issues, Focus Action for Global Justice, with over 100 issues.
  • Produced 31 issues of the INDEX newsletter for the Irish Development Education sector to support critically reflection, discussion and sharing within the sector 2004 – 2012
  • Initiating the very popular and engaging public forum on development topics,’The First Wednesday Debates’ in Dublin
  • Seeing two of its activist groups develop into fully-fledged independent organisations: Banulacht and Integrating Ireland (now Integration Centre)
  • Starting the first fair-trade coffee and tea imports and sales
  • Standing a candidate for the Senate
  • Campaigning on mercury soap, apartheid, debt, trade, pharmaceutical multinationals, images on development, the EU Common Agricultural Policy, CETA asylum and refugee rights and more;

The next chapter of Comhlamh’s history is over to you!

Head of Comhlámh

Over the last 20 years Mark Cumming has worked in international development for a range of state, NGO and church development organisations. He has lived in Kenya and Rwanda, where he worked on community development and human rights programmes. Most recently he worked as an advisor on governance and human rights with Trócaire. Mark is a long-standing active supporter of Comhlámh since becoming a member 22 years ago. Contact him at [email protected]

Capacity Building and Volunteering Quality Officer

Janet Horner

Jane is the Capacity Building and Volunteering Quality Project Officer. She facilitates the Code of Good Practice network for volunteer sending agencies and supports the development of volunteering programmes based on the values of solidarity, partnership and equality. Janet has volunteered and led volunteer teams to Uganda, Malawi, India and Ethiopia and worked with Comhlamh as a member and staff member in different capacities since 2010. She can be reached on [email protected]

Training and Education Officer

Sive Bresnihan is the Training and Education Officer. Her work includes the organisation and facilitation of training sessions for prospective Volunteers, trainings in ‘Be the Change’ and ‘Skills for Dev Ed’ and support for members groups. Sive started out in the field of Arts and Drama, before moving into the fields of development and, latterly, adult education. All these turns have shaped an ever-strengthening commitment to non-formal education and organising as a force for change. She can be reached at [email protected]

Volunteer Engagement Project Officer

Julia Haimlinger  is the Volunteer Engagement Project Officer, mainly working with volunteers, development workers and Volunteer Sending Agencies, and providing support to Comhlámh’s membership groups. Julia has volunteered in Zimbabwe, Tanzania and India and has a strong interest in critical Global Citizenship Education. She can be reached at [email protected]

Programme Manager

Sandra Byrne is programme manager, working on the delivery of Comhlámh’s strategic plan. A key part of this is ensuring that the organisation’s vision of volunteers and development workers working in solidarity for a just, equitable and sustainable world is reflected in all activities. Sandra works in particular with Project Officers responsible for the areas of volunteer engagement, volunteer quality, training and education, information and support, and research. She can be reached at [email protected]

Organisation and Programme Support Administrator

Silvana Socci is the Organisation and Programme Support Administrator. She is the contact for all Comhlámh courses, membership enquiries and accounts payable and receivable enquiries.  She is also responsible for the office I.T. and general office administration.


Ciaran Burns

Ciaran is a qualified Chartered Accountant with 25 years experience as a Finance Director.  He is a partner in Ardstone Capital, an Irish based real estate investment manager and developer with operations in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain and Germany.  Previously he worked with Friends First, GE Capital and KPMG in a variety of financial management roles.   He has worked as a volunteer with GOAL in Sudan and subsequently volunteered with the organisation in Dublin.  He is a non-executive director of several funds involved in real estate investment.  He is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants and a member of the Institute of Directors.

John Durcan

John’s background is in the technology area, he holds an MSc in Data Science.  He is currently working with Enterprise Ireland as a Senior Technologist where he carries out technical assessments on the R&D funding applications, specialising in the area of machine learning. AI, Cyber Security and Blockchain. He is part of the Rapid Response Corps with Irish Aid as an information manager Officer (IMO).  He has been deployed to Bangladesh with the World Food Program (WFP) and the Global Food Security Cluster to assist as part of the Rohingya Crisis response team from October 2017 to January 2018.  He has worked with VSO in Eritrea for 3 months and Papua New Guinea for 7 months.

 Marie-Therese Fanning

Marie-Therese worked as a Programme Manager in Comhlámh for approximately five years from 2005 and is currently working as the Office & Human Resources Manager at Misean Cara.  She has been involved in Comhlámh supporting development workers through debriefings and career coaching.

Linda G Keitasha

Linda is a qualified journalist who is currently working at DCU as project lead in the Centre of Excellence for Diversity and Inclusion. Previous to this role she worked as a community development worker for the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI). Along with this, Linda is currently doing a part-time Masters in International Relations. She is interested in Human Rights, social justice, community development and women’s rights

Niamh Phelan

Niamh is a technologist specialising in data, analytics and digital transformation in large multinationals and public bodies. Her recent clients have included Harvard University, Trinity College, Intelsat, the Oireachtas and the Central Bank of Ireland. As a Volunteer Technologist she has lent her expertise to charities working with migrants, older people, people experiencing homelessness, people with addiction issues and people working in the sex industry. She is a Volunteer Solution Architect with the Irish Red Cross, managing their pledging platform, and is a founding member of Dublin 8 Refugee Community Sponsorship Group. Niamh is also a founding member of End of Life Ireland, campaigning for the passing of the Dying with Dignity bill. She is also an active member of the Comhlámh Ireland Says Welcome Group and Dublin City of Sanctuary.

Aileen Cussen

Aileen is a Senior Development Advisor at Enterprise Ireland with a background in Business development, change management, financing and strategic consulting. Her current role has her working with a range of companies in Ireland to help develop their business. Along with her business qualifications, Aileen spent some time in Uganda working with rural community groups helping to improve educational facilities in these areas. A current focus of interest is fast fashion and trade justice.

Lucky Khambule

Lucky is from South Africa where he had a career in the insurance industry as an administrator and customer service manager. He was also involved in other community development with youth and the elderly. Currently, he is an organiser, campaigner and activist for the rights of asylum seekers, migrants and refugee communities in Ireland. He is one of the founder members of the group called MASI, the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland. Lucky served in Cork City Council as Public Participation Network member on social inclusion in 2015.

Kate O’Donnell

Kate worked in Comhlámh for one year on an EU project about international volunteering. She is extremely interested in how we as individuals and collectively can show solidarity with people who are experiencing oppression or structural disadvantage. She thinks there is huge power in the development education approach to active engagement with the world around us. 

Morina O’Neill

Morina has worked in the development sector for over twenty years. Her work includes both development education and policy and research work over that time, including with Comhlámh 1995 – 1998 and 2002 – 2004.  Most of her experience has been with membership-based organisations. She has been a development worker in Central America and served on a number of Boards including the Irish Aid Advisory Board,  Fairtrade Mark Ireland and Debt and Development Coalition Ireland. She has also worked in a consultancy capacity with development organisations on strategic planning processes and evaluation.

Katie Dempsey

Katie is a policy analyst at Enterprise Ireland. Her experience is in policy development and strategic planning. Her background is in political science, French studies and social justice, with a primary degree from University College Dublin. Katie has previously volunteered in Haiti both with UCD volunteers overseas and Solèy Haiti. Katie is passionate about ensuring critical thinking and engagement on developmental issues in society

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