Together, we’ve been creating brighter futures since 1961


Cuso International

In 1961 a small group of Canadian university students envisioned a more connected world, a world where everyone had the opportunity to reach their full potential, regardless of their circumstances.

They were inspired by a growing overseas volunteer movement that emerged the year before spearheaded by university-based initiatives such as Canadian Overseas Volunteers and Canadian Voluntary Commonwealth Service.

Building on this momentum, Canadian University Services Overseas (CUSO) was officially established June 6, 1961, at a meeting of the National Conference of Canadian Universities and Colleges at McGill University in Montreal.

Travelling to developing countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Tanzania, Cuso International’s first volunteers were bursting with enthusiasm, eager to fill skills gaps in fields, such as education and health, while working alongside local community members.

By 1963, nearly 100 Cuso International volunteers departed for placements in 15 countries. The following year, Canadian Overseas Volunteers and Canadian Voluntary Commonwealth Service were fully merged with Cuso International.

Six decades later, that vision has remained the foundation turning Cuso International into one of Canada’s longest serving international development organizations, known for creating sustainable, long-term solutions to some of the world’s more pressing concerns.

To date, it has placed more than 14,000 skilled volunteers ― from nurses to business leaders ― in more than 100 countries, leading the movement along with local partners, to improve the well-being of millions of people around the world. This passion and dedication in pursuing effective responses to development issues has enabled local communities across the globe to become the architects of their own development success.

“Our work continues to seed long-term sustainable solutions to combat poverty and inequality,” says Patricia Perez-Coutts, Board Chair of Cuso International. “While Cuso International’s programming and geographic footprint has changed over the years, the commitment to a better world for all has never wavered.”

A more in-depth look at Cuso International’s history reflects the organization’s progress and reach. 

–  The 1970s marked the beginning of Cuso International’s involvement in the anti-apartheid movement of the African National Congress, among others, in South Africa.

–  The early 1980s saw a shift with more women pursuing volunteer postings promoting local women’s participation to improve the social and economic well-being of themselves and their families.

–  In the 1990s, following Nelson Mandela’s prison release and his historic presidential election win, Cuso International’s work in South Africa included organizing agricultural co-ops, which offered communities the ability to support themselves by growing local produce instead of relying on imported food aid.

–  Further north, in 1996 Cuso International was the only Non-Governmental Organisation in Sierra Leone during the civil war that focused on networking, promoting sustainable development, gender equality and democratization.

–  To mark the turn of the century, Cuso International unveiled its Jubilee 2000 campaign for debt relief in some of the world’s poorest countries.

–  In 2015, Cuso International launched its five-year Volunteer Cooperation Program focused on sustainable economic growth, access to health services, gender equality and social inclusion around the globe, positively impacting 2.5 million people in 17 countries.

–  The following year, Cuso International’s Midwives Save Lives project was launched in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Benin, and Ethiopia, improving the lives of 1.5 million pregnant women and their new-borns.

–  In 2017, Cuso International launched its Canadian Program in partnership with Indigenous communities in Canada’s north. A year later, Cuso International introduced Women Engaged for Human Dignity in North Benin, to address the harmful, illegal practice of female genital mutilation and to support young girls and survivors of gender-based violence.

– And earlier this year, Cuso International introduced its Sharing Canadian Expertise for Inclusive Development and Gender Equality (SHARE) —the new seven-year Volunteer Cooperation Program is operating 10 countries.

–  Today Cuso International collaborates with communities around the world to help end poverty and inequality and build opportunity for vulnerable people across Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean and Canada’s North.

Cuso International’s tools and strategies to advance gender equality and social inclusion, increase access to education, develop sustainable economic opportunities and enhance women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health rights continue to support equitable communities around the world. And as always, they are delivered by dedicated staff and volunteers who possess the same energy and spirit as Cuso International’s founders.

“Generations of people on four continents have benefited from Cuso International programs,” says Patricia Perez-Coutts, Board Chair of Cuso International. “We are honoured to celebrate the lives of those who have contributed, the donors who have supported us, those who have benefitted, and those who continue to passionately pursue creating a more inclusive world for all.”