Strategic Plan 2023-2027

Sharing Skills for Better Futures

Cuso International’s 2023–2027 Strategic Plan is our renewed commitment to build on a legacy of impact in international cooperation spanning six decades. It is a clarion call from all parts of this organization to address the root causes of inequality and improve the economic and social conditions of the most marginalized.

Strategic Priorities

To deliver on this overarching goal, we will focus on three strategic priorities. Over the next five years we will build on our experience to:

  • Strengthen gender equality and social inclusion
  • Improve economic resilience through sustainable solutions
  • Advance climate action

By using our institutional capacity and network of volunteers, alumni, and supporters we will strengthen civil societies in the countries where we work so they can deliver stronger outcomes.

Priority 1: Strengthen gender equality and social inclusion

Not only are gender equality and social inclusion human rights issues, they are also essential to overcoming poverty and its effects. We actively address inequality, injustice, and marginalization in the pursuit of equality. It is also about non-discrimination, not only for women and girls, but also for other marginalized groups such as LGBTQI+ and people with disabilities, migrants, and refugees.

Our programming approaches will promote gender equality and fuller development, prioritizing gender-transformative approaches wherever possible.

Priority 2: Improve economic resilience through sustainable solutions

Central to our work is our commitment to engage and nurture partnerships that support marginalized people and communities to overcome poverty and inequality by enabling access to fair and decent employment and by improving existing jobs. Our objective is to see improved socio-economic integration and a significant reduction in poverty and inequality in the communities we serve, ensuring a dignified way of living for all.

Priority 3: Advance climate action

Climate change is humanity’s defining challenge of the 21st century, with its negative impacts disproportionately affecting marginalized communities around the world. Building on our experience, we will promote, advocate, innovate, and partner for inclusive and effective climate action. We will support livelihood resilience and adaptation by and for marginalized communities affected by climate change. We also will engage in strategic partnerships to promote knowledge, expertise, and influence in developing responses to climate change.

Our Core Competencies

The ways in which we work, and the skill sets that define Cuso International’s unique added value as an organization are reflected in the following four core competencies:



We are invested in the success of our partners.



An expert in volunteer management, operations, and training, we also support partners to develop their capacity through the provision of locally relevant skilled volunteers or other forms of technical assistance.



Our experience with education and public awareness is foundational to our contribution towards positive change.



We proactively advocate for just policies and systemic change that reflect both our values and our strategic priorities.

Strategic Plan 2023

Volunteering is in our DNA

Our approach to volunteerism has evolved over time and shares overlapping objectives with our technical assistance and capacity-building work. All of these reflect concepts of two way sharing and exchange. Over the past 60 years more than 14,000 individuals have volunteered with Cuso International in more than 100 countries.

Organizational Shifts

Every part of Cuso International plays a key role in achieving our vision. Over the next five years we will strengthen our organization to truly embody “One Cuso” – a global organization where people, partners, and operations rooted in different locations work towards our strategic goals and which, reflect their own unique realities, and work effectively together. We will strengthen our organization-wide decision making, provide enhanced support for all our offices and partner organizations, and actively strive for diversity and inclusion in every part of our organization. We will:

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Champion inclusion

Cuso International recognizes the role of historic colonial legacies in creating and perpetuating the global inequalities and injustices we see today. We will ensure all aspects of our work better share power and increase representative voices and leadership. As we pursue a new South-North equilibrium, we will define success based on local context. We are dedicated to a journey of growth as an inclusive, feminist, and anti-racist organization. This is a long-term commitment that requires constant evolution of our management processes, structures, and policies, and the terms and language we use. It also requires transparency in how we measure our performance in collaboration with our partners, the communities where we work, and the people we work with.

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Build our capacity and knowledge to effect change

The world around Cuso International is changing rapidly. To continue to be relevant and supportive of our partners and the communities we serve, we will invest resources in building organizational expertise in our strategic priority areas. We will continue our efforts to foster a learning culture structured around internal information sharing as well as “outside-in” thinking in support of learning for teams, partners, and volunteers alike.

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Increase our organizational resilience

Our internal operations must match our ambitions. To meet our organizational goals over the next five years, Cuso International will work to strengthen the following areas:

  • Evidence-based performance measurement
  • Processes and technology
  • Workplace culture
  • Innovative funding models
  • Sector best practices
  • Innovation and partnerships

What We Believe In


We stand for the rights of all people and defend the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.



We believe every individual deserves an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents.



We recognize that each person has different circumstances. Pursuing equity means aiming for equality of outcomes and allocating the resources needed to reach this objective.



We respect and appreciate what makes us each unique and different. We believe in equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized.


Our global commitments are grounded in local roots and leadership.



We place gender justice at the centre of our work and recognize how diverse systems of power, hierarchy, privilege, and vulnerability interact across social contexts.



We believe that a vibrant civil society is the cornerstone of healthy, prosperous, fair, and sustainable civilizations. Civil society is the space where people work to create change and build better societies.

Our History

We began our journey as Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO). Established in June 1961 as an initiative of the Association of Universities and Colleges Canada (AUCC), today known as Universities Canada, our founders believed in the possibility of a more connected world — one where the social constraints into which people are born would not dictate the entirety of their lives.

With AUCC backing, a network of local committees was established to undertake recruitment of recent graduates interested in sharing their knowledge and skills to help others in the expanding number of newly independent states.

The early volunteers, which rapidly grew in number, took their roles as agents of positive change very seriously. They helped fill critical staffing and capacity gaps in developing countries, working as teachers, nurses, and agriculturalists. For many years, Canadian University Service Overseas volunteers (subsequently called CUSO volunteers) were provided housing and were paid a local salary by their employers, mostly governments; they thus served on the same conditions as their national counterparts, becoming global citizens in the process.

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