That’s what Robert L. Strauss, a former Peace Corps country director, believes has gone badly wrong with Kennedy’s organization:
…even if the Peace Corps reaches its goal of having 15 percent of its volunteers over 50, the overwhelming majority will remain recently minted college graduates. And too often these young volunteers lack the maturity and professional experience to be effective development workers in the 21st century.
This wasn’t the case in 1961 when the Peace Corps sent its first volunteers overseas. Back then, enthusiastic young Americans offered something that many newly independent nations counted in double and even single digits: college graduates. But today, those same nations have millions of well-educated citizens of their own desperately in need of work. So it’s much less clear what inexperienced Americans have to offer. (The New York Times)
To a certain extent, Strauss is right: the Peace Corps might consider focusing a little less on young people, and a little more on increasing their recruitment from an older, more experienced crowd. Greater presence of an older generation would help the program to run more smoothly, and facilitate the success of the organization’s younger recruits. But Strauss also overstates his case — in particular, he errs when he suggests that young volunteers are less valuable because they are not yet “effective development workers.”
The fact is, the “effectiveness” of the young recruits is not as paramount as Strauss cracks it up to be — the Peace Corps is as much about bridging divides between people and lessening stereotypes as it is about efficiently completing its development tasks (i.e. teaching English, building schools, etc.). Don’t get me wrong: the Peace Corps should ensure that they’re hiring competent people and placing them in positions where they can make a difference. But the group’s purpose is also, perhaps just as much, about developing relationships across cultures. In effect, it’s as much about the human connections as it is about the actual work. In this regard, the energy and attitude of young people can be an invaluable asset.