Is the JFK-era Peace Corps, now 8,600 strong and in 75 countries, worth nearly $800 million to $1 trillion? That could happen under proposals being shown around Washington that would nearly double the staff of volunteers to 15,000 and greatly expand other operations.
Currently given $440 million to run shop, some proposals would put the number of Peace Corps workers back to 1960s era numbers. [See a slide show of the 10 youngest presidents.]
What's more, proponents are seeking an "International Social Innovation Fund" to help overseas groups better use Peace Corps volunteers.
According to a new report from the National Peace Corps Association, a large coalition called ServiceWorld, made up of more than 300 nongovernment organizations, colleges and universities, corporations, and community and faith-based institutions, are pushing a proposal to revitalize and expand the reach of the Peace Corps.
Among their other initiatives they are expanding the "Volunteers for Prosperity" from 43,000 to 75,000 skilled to work in the developing world on problems such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, education, clean water, and helping entrepreneurs. They are also pushing for expansion of the "Global Service Fellowships" from 100 to 10,000 volunteers for "working in the developing world to innovate and solve significant global challenges."
In its report and survey of 11,000 former volunteers, the National Peace Corps Association portrayed the Peace Corps and its workers as a rare lot who've helped to make the world better. [Read: Honor Sargent Shriver by Increasing Peace Corps Funding.]
"Ninety-two percent said the Peace Corps changed their lives. Eighty-nine percent said it gave them a different perspective on the U.S.; 86 percent reported it made them more open to people of different races, ethnicities, and religions; and 80 percent said it caused them to believe U.S. foreign policies could be improved," said the new survey.
But the whole picture isn't pretty. The survey found that their satisfaction has dropped from a high of 91 percent for those who served in the 1960s to 82 percent today. And there remain major concerns among women that cases of sexual assault are being ignored.
What's more, many in the National Peace Corps Association survey are eager to find ways to cut the per volunteer cost of about $50,000 while also boosting training and attracting older volunteers who have more practical skills.