The end of AYAD: youth ambassador program retired

With minimal fanfare, the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development (AYAD) brand was retired as of July 1, in line with the recommendation of the Office of Development Effectiveness evaluation released earlier this year.

The former AYAD program has now been rolled into the wider Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program, without a dedicated stream or assignments for people under 30.

If you try to go to AYAD’s website, you simply get redirected to Austraining’s main volunteer site for its portion of the AVID program (AVID is also delivered by Red Cross and Australian Volunteers International). There is now a special tab for ‘early career opportunities’—these are assignments that require three years or less of professional experience. But they are open to anyone regardless of age.

During our forum on the ODE evaluation in March, there were questions raised on whether there would be any kind of quota on assignments targeted to younger people, as there were concerns that they would not be able to compete with more experienced candidates. From a quick glance, it is hard to tell if the proportion of early career assignments is similar to what it was in the past and there has been no mention in public of any kind of quota.

Considering that the evaluation advocated for more involvement of even younger people than the current AYAD average (Stephen Howes criticised this in one of his posts on the evaluation), this seems like a curious way to achieve this.

In its management response to the evaluation, DFAT itself also committed to “expand the availability of volunteering to those from regional and rural areas, Indigenous Australians and youth from the younger age range (18 to 24 years of age compared to AYAD’s 18 to 30 years of age)”. It is still unclear how this will be carried out.

With or without AYAD, AVID is still confusing anyway. For outsiders, the whole Austraining versus Red Cross versus AVI thing makes very little sense. AYAD seemed like the stronger brand compared to AVID, with a more vibrant alumni network—yet AYAD is no more.

It will be interesting to see in any future evaluation or surveys what impact the elimination of the AYAD stream has on the overall demographics of volunteers. That is, if these reports are made public—access to such reports has been an issue in the past.

(You can read our previous posts on the volunteer program here)

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Ashlee Betteridge

Ashlee Betteridge was the Manager of the Development Policy Centre until April 2021. She was previously a Research Officer at the centre from 2013-2017. A former journalist, she holds a Master of Public Policy (Development Policy) from ANU and has development experience in Indonesia and Timor-Leste. She now has her own consultancy, Better Things Consulting, and works across several large projects with managing contractors.


  • I have to say I do not mourn the end of AYAD. Unlike AVI and other schemes, AYAD was conceived (by former FM Downer) and operated as a supply-driven scheme aimed at creating opportunities for well-meaning and experience-seeking young Australians. Providing actually skilled people to really assist receiving countries and organisations was a secondary goal at best.

    Living and working in Asia and the Pacific in recent years, I saw lots of genuine and some very capable young people come out as AYADs. The AYADs almost always had a marvelous experience. But the skills and experience they provided to their “beneficiaries” was, sadly, often negligible. At times, they were in fact a burden on their resource-strapped “partners”.

    Exposing young Australians to developing countries and issues is undoubtedly a great idea. But at a time when the aid budget is being slashed, funding working holidays for young Aussies is not an optimal spend of scarce development dollars.

    • As a former AVID who saw a lot of AYADs in country, I would have to say that I agree with shenqow. Ultimately, the best outcomes for beneficiary countries are going to come from people with considerable professional experience, rather than poorly trained volunteers. I’d like to see the program go even higher up the skills ladder, though this could be difficult.

      AYAD was good for Australians, but was fairly poor for the rest of the world. We can do better.

      This article conveys the same ideas in much harsher language.

    • While I have aired my thoughts on some of the issues with the volunteer program before on this blog, I also can’t pan AYADs universally because I have seen some really talented ones, and some people who have turned their AYAD experience into the base for a career where they are making substantive contributions. Hopefully the recruitment process will still capture such people, even when they are under 30.

      I do see great benefits from young people engaging in the region–I was incredibly fortunate to land a job in Jakarta at the age of 23 and it was a life-shaping experience. I think a supported ‘internships’ type program could be valuable, where younger Australians have the opportunity to work for partners in developing countries that are adequately resourced to support and utilise them. Something like this might more adequately acknowledge that the intern is inexperienced and is reaping benefits from the experience, rather than the idea of a ‘volunteer’, which implies someone giving something up to help. Though perhaps these opportunities shouldn’t be funded out of ODA.

      The New Colombo Plan looks set to offer the opportunity for internships, but at the moment it is explicitly tied to study (i.e. you have to be an undergraduate student to be eligible). It would be good to see wider opportunities for early career professionals to engage.

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