Australian Volunteers International

Our History

In close ongoing collaboration with the Australian Government, AVI has been a global leader in international volunteering for over 70 years.

Celebrating seven decades of people-to-people development and the transformational impact of this work, as well as the countless life-long friendships made along the way.

A walk through history

1951 to 1988

The First Australian Volunteer

Herb Feith, a graduate student at the University of Melbourne, pioneered the concept of international volunteering. Indonesian delegates inspired his action when they requested technical experts to work in Indonesia – not just to share their knowledge – but to participate in the life of the newly independent country. Feith responded and worked as a translator with Indonesia’s Ministry of Information. With the support of his wife, Betty Feith, several young Australians followed in his footsteps and the Volunteer Graduate Scheme (VGS) was established, the first incarnation of AVI.

Overseas Service Bureau is Born

Herb paved the way for the Overseas Service Bureau (OSB) to be formed in 1961. The OSB encouraged Australians to serve in the developing countries of Asia, Africa and the Pacific.

The Australian Government Commences Decades of Significant Support To International Volunteering

The Australian Government’s significant support for international volunteering commenced in 1963 through the provision of funding to the Overseas Service Bureau (OSB) for a newly launched program called Australian Volunteers Abroad. In 1963 the first 14 Australian Volunteers Abroad (AVA) were selected and departed the following year for Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tanzania and Nigeria.

The Australian Volunteer Program Expands

Australian volunteers worked in Tanzania, Nigeria, Vanuatu, India, Zambia, Malaysia, New Caledonia, Tonga, Fiji and Singapore in hospitals, universities and schools, government agencies, community organisations and leading international non-government organisations.

Supporting Communities In Asia

By 1985, Australian volunteers were already working directly with local partners in Vietnam and Cambodia. This followed the period in the 1970s and 1980s when volunteers worked in international programs to support Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand.

Supporting Communities In Africa

Civil unrest across the African continent created five million refugees. In response, Australian volunteers worked with Zimbabweans in Botswana between 86 – 89.

Expansion To Latin America

In 1988, the Australian Volunteers Abroad program commenced volunteer placements in Latin America.

1951 1956 1965 1968 1977 1986 1988
1951 1956 1965 1968 1977 1986 1988

1995 to 2023

Expanding to the Middle East

In the 90s, AVI (then OSB), with the support of the Australian Government, was one of the first international volunteering organisations to respond to requests to work with Palestinian refugees in the Middle East.

A new name

The Overseas Service Bureau changed its name to Australian Volunteers International

Rebuilding Timor-Leste

Between 2000 and 2005, more than 300 Australian volunteers travelled to Timor-Leste following independence in 1999 to help rebuild the world’s newest nation.

Bringing Together The Program Identity

On 26 May 2011, the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program was launched. The AVID program aimed to bring the four separate volunteer programs and different brands together into one program and under one identity, with consistent recruitment, management and allowances across the service providers.

Looking Forward To The Future

Australian Volunteers International changed its name to AVI. The spirit of partnership that motivated those first Australian volunteers 65 years ago continued to be the foundation and inspiration for AVI’s work. Six decades of rewarding relationships between Australians and our international peers, combined with economic and social development outcomes, paved the way for an exciting future.

The New Australian Volunteers Program

AVI was selected to deliver the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) new Australian Volunteers Program, in consortium with Cardno and the Whitelum Group. The new program commenced in January 2018, replacing the AVID program and building on the Australian Government’s significant investment in international volunteering.

1995 1999 2000 2011 2016 2018
1995 1999 2000 2011 2016 2018