weltwärts – a success story

A retrospective

Since weltwärts was founded in 2008, the programme has continued to evolve apace. The introduction of the South-North component in 2014 and the exchange projects in 2016 were major milestones on the path to greater partnership and a more level playing field. Our retrospective presents the key facts and figures on the development of the weltwärts programme.

Group photo taken during the weltwärts launch celebrations.



January 2008
Group photo with Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul at the weltwärts launch celebrations.

The programme is launched, the first 50 volunteers depart

Finally the day has come: on 17 January 2008 the first 50 volunteers are sent off on an adventure. By the end of the year, their number will have grown to over 2,000 – all young people on their way to volunteer in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania or Eastern Europe. Addressing the young volunteers, the minister said:

”By deciding to go abroad with weltwärts, you are helping to make the world a fairer place. Maintain an open and curious mind as you travel to your places of assignment. Your positive encounters with the people you work with will stay with you for the rest of your lives.” (Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, former Federal Development Minister)

July 2008
A blackboard and a case with teaching materials. “Welcome” is written on the blackboard.

Enhancing the quality of the weltwärts programme – with accompanying measures

The BMZ introduced what became known as weltwärts accompanying measures already in year 1 of the programme to fund civil society projects that serve to improve the quality and intended development impact of the weltwärts programme and overall to give the programme greater definition. This programme element enables funding to be provided for intercultural training for mentors and host families, partner conferences, or method handbooks, for instance.

Overview 2008

weltwärts in numbers

In the first year of weltwärts, 2,225 volunteers went abroad with the programme. 62.1 per cent of them were women. Most of the volunteers were placed with projects involving education, support for children and adolescents, and environmental and resource protection.

May 2009

Rapid growth – weltwärts meets with strong interest

Demand for the programme is strong and immediate. Before the existence of weltwärts, many young people had already travelled abroad to volunteer through civil society sending organisations. Now, given the public funding for weltwärts, these opportunities are also available to low-income young people who are interested in volunteering abroad. 2,200 volunteers travelled abroad with weltwärts in its first year of existence; in 2009, their number will have risen to around 3,500. The total number of volunteers would level out between 3,000 and 4,000 per year in the years to come.

August 2009
Conference participants sit on the lawn in front of an old wall. They are seated in the shape of a question and exclamation mark.

weltwärts – and then?

From the very beginning, the weltwärts programme gives strong consideration to enabling volunteers to remain active upon their return. A concept by the name of “weltwärts - und danach?” is formally adopted in 2009. Volunteer conferences, volunteer magazines or handbooks on global learning: the range of funded projects involving weltwärts returnees is broad. The objective is to enable the volunteers to share the invaluable experience they gain abroad once they come back to Germany. The returnee measures improve the general understanding of global interdepencies and help contribute towards development education.

Overview 2009

weltwärts in numbers

In year two after the launch, the number of volunteers going abroad with weltwärts rose by 36 per cent to 3,507. 59.9 per cent were women.

November 2010
Minister Niebel shakes hands with volunteer Christian Päßler.

The 10,000th volunteer departs for South Africa

Christian Päßler is the 10,000th volunteer to go abroad with weltwärts through the sending organisation econtur. In November 2010 he departs for a year in South Africa to volunteer for a sports and development project near Durban, working with children and adolescents in the region at the Isithumba sports facility. On 9 November, the then Federal Development Minister Dirk Niebel bids farewell to Christian in Berlin. Christian travels to Berlin for this occasion with all his bags – his flight to Durban departs from Frankfurt International Airport that same evening.

Overview 2010
A group of volunteers jumps up in the air. In the background are palm trees.

weltwärts in numbers

In year three after weltwärts is launched, the number of volunteers undergoes yet another major rise – this time by 18.29 per cent to 4,292 volunteers.

November 2011
The weltwärts logo appears against a neutral background.

Three years later, weltwärts is evaluated

In preparation for the further development of the programme, in year three of weltwärts the BMZ performs a comprehensive evaluation of weltwärts. Published in late 2011, the report concludes that weltwärts is meeting its objectives: to inspire young people in joining a volunteer development service and to encourage greater understanding between North and South. In the follow-up process to the evaluation, the programme’s civil society stakeholders are given a stronger role to play in its execution. Expert committees are set up to manage the programme’s further development, with weltwärts now appearing publicly as a joint venture between the BMZ and civil society.

Overview 2011

weltwärts in numbers

In 2011, 41.3 per cent of weltwärts volunteers travelled to Latin America, 36.2 per cent to Africa, 20.05 per cent to Asia, 1.9 per cent to Eastern Europe and 0.1 per cent to Oceania.

January 2012
The management team of Engagement Global, the BMZ and the then Minister for Federal Affairs, Europe and Media of the state of North Rhein-Westphalia, Angelica Schwall-Düren, in front of a bus featuring an Engagement Global advert.

Engagement Global is established

In connection with the structural reform of Germany’s development cooperation sector, on 1 January 2012 the weltwärts secretariat is spun off to become part of the newly established entity Engagement Global gGmbH – Service für Entwicklungsinitiativen. Engagement Global is the umbrella organisation for institutions, initiatives and programmes that seek to achieve global justice and equality through development – including the weltwärts programme. In 2013, the secretariat is given a new name: weltwärts Coordination Unit.

March 2012
Group photo from the weltwärts partner conference featuring a banner with the words “weltwärts partner conference East Africa”.

Regional partner conferences

As part of the process to follow up the evaluation, a team of more than 90 splits into seven working groups for half a year to draw up proposals for the continued development of the programme. In late 2012, the outcomes are presented and discussed with weltwärts partners at nine major conferences around the world. This conference series marks the starting point for implementing the selected measures.

Also on the conference agenda: weltwärts South-North. The partner organisations seize the opportunity to voice their ideas about volunteering opportunities in Germany for young people from their countries. One year later, work begins on building the South-North component.

April 2013
Five participants seated in a row of chairs looking ahead.

weltwärts connects!

In 2013 weltwärts celebrates its fifth anniversary. On 11 and 12 April 2013, over 400 returnees, representatives of implementing and partner organisations and many other weltwärts stakeholders meet to review the last five years, discuss the future of weltwärts – and of course to celebrate.

December 2013
The logo of GIZ – Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH

GIZ withdraws from weltwärts

Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) withdraws from the weltwärts programme. GIZ, a public entity and its predecessor, the German Development Service (DED), were the biggest sending organisations with just under 3,000 volunteers since 2008 and activities in 34 countries. Upon the withdrawal of GIZ, responsibility for implementing the volunteer service lies solely with the civil society implementing organisations.

Overview 2013

weltwärts in numbers

2013 marks the starting point of the South-North component. The first three volunteers travel from Cameroon and Mozambique to Gemany to complete their volunteer assignments.

February 2014
Group photo of South-North volunteers with Federal Minister Gerd Müller.

No longer a one-way street– weltwärts South-North is launched.

Since 2013, young people from the Global South have been able to travel to Germany to gain practical experience via the weltwärts programme. In the first year after what is known as the South-North component is launched, host organisations in Germany welcome 130 young volunteers.

“The mutual exchange under the weltwärts programme encourages greater interaction between young people who want to make a difference and shows that development policy is not a one-way street,” states Federal Minister Gerd Müller at the South-North launch event  on 20 February 2014.

The event at the BMZ is also an occasion to celebrate the departure of the 20,000th North-South volunteer.

Overview 2014

weltwärts in numbers

2014 ist ein besonderes Jahr für weltwärts. Etwa 130 Süd-Nord Freiwillige aus 28 Ländern kommen für einen weltwärts Freiwilligendienst nach Deutschland.

January 2015

More volunteers come to Germany

Much like the North-South component, the opportunity to complete a development volunteer assignment in Germany is very well accepted. Having welcomed 130 South-North volunteers in Germany in 2013/14, just one year later almost twice that number opt to come to Germany to volunteer. A big step on weltwärts’ way to becoming a fully-fledged development learning and exchange service.

The opportunity to engage in South-North exchange and the strong acceptance of this component by the participating partners, implementing organisations and above all the volunteers help strengthen weltwärts as a successful global learning programme.

February 2015
The phrase “Chancen für alle” (Opportunities for everyone), surrounded by drawings of heads in different shades.

Specialists for underrepresented target groups

94 per cent of weltwärts volunteers are grammar school graduates. Other target groups are still underrepresented in the programme. To change this, the implementing organsiations In Via Köln e.V. and bezev e.V. set up civil society competence centres. They advise young people who are interested in volunteering as well as implementing organisations on reaching out to specific target groups, on additional needs, language courses and more. The next step is the setup a competence centre for young members of the immigrant community, too, which happens in 2017 under the coordination of Sage Net e.V.

Overview 2015

weltwärts in numbers

In 2015, 227 volunteers from 45 countries volunteered in Germany via weltwärts. Over 54 per cent were women.

July 2016
Group photo picturing participants in a weltwärts exchange.

Launch of weltwärts exchanges

The weltwärts programme continues to grow. Under the German-African Youth Initiative, in 2016 a new weltwärts format is launched: extracurricular exchange projects in the context of the 2030 Agenda. Youth groups from Germany and the Global South, particularly from African countries, can now work together on projects focusing on one of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Within two years of the launch, over 50 projects will have been approved and funded.

Since the middle of 2021, weltwärts exchanges have no longer taken place under the umbrella of weltwärts. Youth Exchange for Sustainable Development has since been offered through the African-German Youth Office.

Overview 2016

weltwärts in numbers

In 2016, the number of weltwärts volunteers peaks at 3,749 North-South volunteers and 460 South-North volunteers from 63 countries.

September 2017
Portrait of volunteer Della.

1,000th South-North volunteer commences her volunteering assignment

Welcome Della! The 1,000th volunteer from the Global South, Della Bii-Mai from Cameroon, commences her assignment on 4 September 2017 with the Partnerschaft mit Afrika foundation in Potsdam near Berlin, where she was placed by Bread for the World and weltwärts under the South-North component. The foundation promotes intercultural dialogue and sustainable partnerships between African countries and Germany. For the next eleven months, Della (26) will help design and implement workshops in schools as well as international campaigns with partners in countries in Africa.

Overview 2017

weltwärts in numbers

Since late 2013, a total of 1,381 volunteers from Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania and Eastern Europe have come to Germany as volunteers. 55 per cent of them were women.

March 2018

Evaluation: Volunteering means lasting change

In 2018, to coincide with weltwärts’ tenth anniversary, DEval publishes its study on weltwärts volunteers and their activities in Germany. According to the study, the volunteers develop their skills further, learn about Germany, learn German, and develop an increased interest in development issues. The study also finds evidence of a change in the level of knowledge among volunteers’ parents and friends. That said, it also flags up room for improvement, for instance a need to increase diversity among participants and a more clearly defined returnee programme.

September 2018
People arranged to form the number “ten” and two “w” characters.

weltwärts turns 10

On 15 September, weltwärts celebrates its tenth anniversary in Berlin at an event attended by around 1,000 guests. In the ten years of weltwärts, more than 34,000 young Gemans have gone abroad to volunteer, while over 1,500 volunteers have come to Germany as volunteers with the South-North component. 160 organisations currently participate in the North-South component, 40 in the South-North component. The celebrations centre around the impacts of the programme both on volunteers’ personal lives as well as on the social environment.

December 2019
meeting room with around one hundred participants facing a small stage. At a lectern on the stage, Dirk Schwenzfeier delivers the opening address.

Open conference for implementing organisations: A dialogue and networking opportunity

Around 100 implementing organisations affiliated with the weltwärts programme travel to Bonn on 13 and 14 December for the 9th open conference for implementing organisations. Since weltwärts was launched, these conferences have been an opportunity to exchange ideas, build networks and share information among all stakeholders involved in the volunteer service. The decline in the number of participants in international exchange programmes is affecting weltwärts, too. The 2019 conference focuses on how today’s young generation can be inspired to get involved in volunteering in a development context.

December 2019
A display of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals represented by colourful squares.

weltwärts exchanges: Three years of development-oriented youth exchanges

The three-year pilot phase for weltwärts exchanges ends on a very successful note. The first extracurricular youth exchanges received funding in 2016, enabling groups from Germany and the partner countries to work together on one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Since the new programme element was launched, 85 exchange projects have taken place between German youth groups and their counterparts from countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Since the middle of 2021, weltwärts exchanges have no longer taken place under the umbrella of weltwärts. Youth Exchange for Sustainable Development has since been offered through the African-German Youth Office.