Volunteer Activists Institute (VA) is a non-profit, non-governmental, non-political and independent institute, whose primary aim is capacity building among activists and civil society organizations; facilitation of information exchange among civil society activists, and advocacy and expansion of democracy, human rights and peace building within Iranian society and communities in the MENA region.
Volunteer Activists is the continuation of a previous organization, the Iranian Civil Society, Training and Research Centre (ICTRC), operating under the name “Volunteer Actors Group”.
The ICTRC was founded in Iran in the year 2001, as the first organization working on Capacity Development and Advocacy for civil society organizations in Iran. The founder of ICTRC, Dr. Sohrab Razzaghi, has often been called ‘the father of civil society in Iran’ and is considered the most knowledgeable individual in the field of civil society in Iran. ICTRC was operating in Iran between 2001 and 2007 with its head-office in Tehran. The most important activities of ICTRC in its early years consisted of:
Capacity Development and empowerment programs for Iranian civil society organizations and activists,
Programs for media diversification and civil society Capacity Development in the ‘Digital world’;
Knowledge exchange programs for women in societies undergoing transformation, which included holding conferences in Morocco, Turkey, Iran, and Belgium;
Regional networking programs, focused on holding regional meetings of the Information and Communication Society of civil society organizations in the Middle East and West Asia, and holding meetings for non-governmental women’s organizations at Beijing;
Initiating programs on the role of non-governmental organizations for women and children in advancing the UN Millennium Development Goals in five different provinces of Iran (Hormozgan, Sistan va Baluchestan, Azerbaijan e Gharbi, Kordestan, and Kerman).
In 2007, the ICTRC was closed down and the organization’s activities promoting and strengthening civil society, democracy, and human rights were deemed illegal.
The remaining members of ICTRC then created a new unofficial organization under the name ‘Volunteer Activists’. In the years since, despite intense restrictions placed on them by security forces, Volunteer Activists has continued its activities in the form of an online newsletter, the 3rd Sphere. After the 2009 presidential election, most of the remaining members of ICTRC have left the country and re-established themselves in the Netherlands. Volunteer Activists was able to continue many of its projects through cooperating with other NGOs and organizations. Since the beginning of 2014, Volunteer Activists has been officially registered in the Netherlands as a non-profit foundation.
But Iranian society has a greater need than ever to establish a democratic society and to consolidate what democracy there is. This process requires a strong, active, prosperous, democratic, and development-oriented civil society. Volunteer Activists aims to achieve this through Capacity Development and enabling the political-civil rights movement, empowering citizens, defending the freedom of assembly, securing Iranian citizens’ rights, and enabling the political and social environment in Iran.