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.
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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.

Equality

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.

Diversity

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.

Independence

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.

Nurturing

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.

Sustainability

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.

Vision

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

Mission

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

Objectives

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!

STAFF

Chief Executive Officer

Dr Caroline Murphy the CEO. She is responsible for leading on the vision of Comhlámh, managing the staff team with the support of the Board, delivering on the commitments in the current Strategy as well as leading in the development of the upcoming one. Caroline has over 14 years’ experience of working for organisations across the Irish International Development sector.  Over the years, Caroline has built up skills in directing, governance, programming, strategy, policy, development education and safeguarding. Caroline has also contributed a range of research consultancies to the wider sector, focussing on programme evaluations, safeguarding, strategy, development education, public engagement and NGO messages and frames.

Caroline has a particular passion for development education, believing in the power of working alongside people and communities to cultivate critical thinking, compassion, solidarity, and knowledge for inspiring action for a fairer and more just world.

Programme Manager

Dervla King is the Programme Manager. A key part of her work 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. Dervla manages Comhlámh’s EC-funded work and supports project officers in the areas of global citizenship education, public engagement, psychosocial resourcing, research and policy development. She can be reached at dervla@comhlamh.org

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, training in ‘Be the Change’ and ‘Skills for Development Education’ 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 sive@comhlamh.org

Capacity Building & Volunteering Quality Project Officer

Dr Chris O’Connell is the Capacity Building and Volunteering Quality Project Officer. He is responsible for enabling Comhlámh to promote values-based volunteering rooted in global citizenship education (GCE) approaches at this time of significant change.

He is an experienced advocate, educator, researcher and volunteer manager who has volunteered, worked and carried out research in South America. Chris has a particular interest in issues of environmental and climate justice, and recently completed a post-doctoral research fellowship in collaboration with Anti-Slavery International focused on this area.

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 worked and volunteered in Zimbabwe, Tanzania and India and has a strong interest in critical Global Citizenship Education.
She can be reached at julia@comhlamh.org

Communications Project Officer

Aga Wiesyk is Comhlámh’s Communications Project Officer. She is responsible for the development and implementation of Comhlámh’s communications strategy. She oversees organisation’s communications efforts and feeds into all the strategic areas of Comhlámh’s work, promotes and highlights projects, campaigns and events of the organisation in order to create greater awareness and participation in Comhlámh’s work.
She can be reached at aga@comhlamh.org.

Finance and Administration Manager

Elena Garcia is Finance and Administration Manager. She manages the finance, administrative functions and the team in support of Comhlámh’s vision and mission.

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.

BOARD MEMBERS

John Durcan (Chairperson)

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.

Morgane Clarke

Morgane has a background working in international development and global health across academic and non-governmental sectors. She currently works as a Programme Support Officer for Dóchas – the Irish Association of Non-Governmental Development Organisations. Prior to working with Dóchas, Morgane worked as a health systems researcher within the RCSI team of the ‘Scaling up Safe Surgery for District and Rural Populations in Africa’ project. She is driven towards collaborative work which promotes human rights, with a particular interest in how gender and power dynamics influence equity and equality. This interest drew her towards Women in Global Health Ireland, where she has volunteered on the leadership team since 2020. In 2018 she joined Comhlamh’s Access to Medicines Ireland (AMI) group and became a member of Comhlámh. She holds an MSc in Global Health from TCD. 

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.

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

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. 

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.

Siobhán Reynolds

Siobhán has over 20 years of experience in the leadership, planning, implementation, and evaluation of successful Business to Consumer (B2C) and Business to Business (B2B) communications campaigns working in tourism, media, construction and retail sectors including the public sector.

She is a creative and analytical thinker with a proven record in brand marketing and advertising, digital, Public Relations and budget management. With excellent interpersonal skills, she is accustomed to developing strong relationships with senior management and multiple stakeholders. She is passionate about delivering metric-driven communications campaigns that impact.

Mairéad Roche

Mairéad is a chartered accountant (ACA), trained with Deloitte Corporate Finance. She worked sector agnostic on several buy-side and fundraising deals during her time at Deloitte. She subsequently held a management position at Mazars Corporate Finance, managing primarily acquisition due diligence assignments on behalf of lenders and Irish Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs). She is currently working as an Investment Manager at the Irish Strategic Investment Fund, focused on deploying capital in a commercial manner that benefits the Irish economy, she primarily invests in Indigenous Irish businesses which have the capacity to scale. She has recently joined that team coming from Enterprise Ireland, where she worked in the Investment Services team, investing in start-ups that have the capacity to export and scale. She is looking forward to supporting Comhlámh and its members with her skills and expertise.

 

You can find Comhlámh annual reports below

Comhlámh Annual Report 2021

Comhlámh Annual Report 2020

Comhlámh Annual Report 2019

Comhlámh Annual Report 2018

Comhlámh Annual Report 2017

Comhlámh Annual Report 2016

Comhlámh Annual Report 2015