CUSO International (formerly Canadian University Services Overseas), is a nongovernment international development organization best known for placing skilled Canadians in 2-year postings to provide technical assistance in emerging nations. The organization also funds Third World projects and is involved in development education in Canada. Founded on 6 June 1961 by representatives of 21 universities and 22 organizations from across Canada, it has remained independent of government control, although the greater part of its administrative budget comes from the CANADIAN INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT AGENCY. Canadian donors contribute some $1 million a year to its projects.
Since its founding, CUSO has placed 9000 skilled Canadians in developing nation postings. In the early years, the majority were recent university graduates who were placed mainly in teaching positions. In the last decade, the need for formal teachers declined as these countries began to train enough of their own. Instead, CUSO is filling requests for tradespeople, agriculturalists, foresters, fisheries workers, and those skilled in small business, co-operatives and community development as well as the more traditional fields of health and education. Because of the declining number of placements requiring a university background, CUSO dropped the university affiliation from its title in 1981 and since then has been known simply as CUSO. At that time it also became a separate entity from its francophone counterpart, SUCO (Service universitaire canadien outremer).
The number of workers placed peaked in the late 1960s at 1000, and there are now 400-500 in the field at any one time. They are no longer known as volunteers but as "co-operants" because co-operation and partnership is imperative to the give and take of working in another culture.
Volunteer placement agencies from most other countries pay their own workers. CUSO has adopted a different policy: the overseas government or agency requesting the services pays the CUSO worker at local rates of pay. Therefore, when a CUSO worker is requested, it is usually because there is not a skilled local person available. The fact that CUSO workers receive the same salary as their colleagues also eases their integration into the local workplace. Supplements can be provided by CUSO where local salaries are low, and terms can be extended beyond the initial 2-year contract.
Much of CUSO's work is community-based, and it is becoming increasingly involved in large development projects. In the past decade, it has been engaged in a literacy project involving 56 villages in Sierra Leone, a community project in Bangladesh, technical assistance to mining co-operatives in Bolivia, an education and crop-and-craft production project among the Guaymi Indians, a potato production program in Nicaragua, and a wells project in Togo. CUSO also administers overseas projects for other international development organizations and has been active in helping to establish local nongovernment organizations - NGOs - in developing countries which can eventually manage their own affairs without external assistance. Because of its base of returned co-operants, the organization is in a unique position to assist community groups across Canada in developing awareness and action programs.