A new report commissioned by UK Sport to analyse the benefits to university students participating in the IDEALS (International Development through Excellence and Leadership in Sport) programme, reveals that overseas volunteer experiences develop students’ cultural intelligence, a skill highly desired by employers in the 21st century.
Given the opportunity to develop skills in cultural contexts dissimilar to their own, students benefit not only from the opportunity to enhance knowledge gained through university study, but also to interact and communicate in cross cultural situations, thus developing cultural intelligence. Dr Lynne Powell, Human Resource Management Specialist, believes this gives university students the opportunity to graduate as employees with knowledge and experience of a topic, rather than those who have just studied it.
The structure and objective of the IDEALS programme continues to accommodate the needs of employers by creating the leaders of tomorrow with a global understanding of cultures. UK Sport works in partnership with 10 UK Universities, to recruit and support students, young sports professionals and staff to work with 10 different organisations across four countries in Africa, to develop the personal and professional capacity of over 65 individuals each year.
Collecting information from UK University students who spent 6-8 week placements working with grassroots sport and development organisations, national sports councils and universities in Sub-Saharan African communities, the report found students developed skills such as team work, communication, active listening and problem solving. These same ‘soft skills’ are identified by The UK Commission for Employment and Skills as core requisites that differentiate a graduate who is good at a subject and a graduate who is good at a job.
As many students involved in the IDEALS programme are directly involved in sport, students are able to use games and active demonstrations as a language and create understanding. One participant from the 2011 programme said, “One of the greatest leadership skills I have developed is adaptability. For every session we had a different number of kids turn up and different equipment. I had to adapt each session from what was planned in order to make it beneficial for the kids.”
Speaking on the success of the IDEALS Zambia project, the Director of Sport at Durham University, Dr Peter Warburton OBE, says “One of the greatest strengths of the IDEALS Zambia project is the diverse backgrounds of students involved. Few have entered with an academic background in sport and the alumni of the Zambia project have therefore gone off into many different walks of life and taken with them a wider understanding of the world at large.”
David Given, a graduate from Liverpool St Johns University and former IDEALS student gained employment with sport and development organisation SCORE in Zambia and now with UN Women in Senegal. He believes, “The IDEALS programme was my entry point into the career that I now hold and put me on the path to joining UN Women in West Africa.”
International Development Director at UK Sport, Debbie Lye, comments, “The IDEALS programme instills skills in young people that they can take to employers with the added value of intercultural awareness, giving them an innovative and notable edge.”
In an increasingly competitive graduate job market, UK Sport is supporting the development of future leaders, by instilling communication, team working and problem solving skills in cross cultural contexts. Providing students with access to these global employability skills, short term volunteer programmes are leaving a long-lasting legacy for student’s future employability.
The report by Dr. Lynne Powell, Human Resource Management Specialist and Senior Lecturer at Northumbria University, ‘Short-Term Overseas Projects and Cultural Intelligence: Developing Graduates for the 21st Century,’ is available to download from http://www.uksport.gov.uk/pages/research-and-publications/
For more information about the IDEALS programme and UK Sport, please visit: http://www.uksport.gov.uk/pages/ideals/