What is Volunteerism and who is a volunteer?
Volunteerism is a universal social behavior that builds on people’s desire to engage with change rather than to passively experience development process.
Volunteerism takes many forms, and the designation and meaning of volunteering varies by context. Some forms of volunteering rooted in religions or customs may have evolved over generations and be considered a core part of local tradition. Motivations may have become intertwined with feelings of duty and solidarity or with a person’s moral code and are often rooted in people’s desire to exercise choice and to act spontaneously.
According to the UN General Assembly Resolution 2002 (A/RES/56/38) the term volunteering, volunteerism and voluntary activities refer to “a wide range of activities undertaken of free will, for the general public good and where monetary reward is not the principal motivating factor”.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development explicitly recognizes volunteer groups as stakeholders to achieve the 17 SDGs.
This has strongly emerged from an extensive consultation process led by the United Nations, which has involved over eight million people, and was summarized as follows by the UN Secretary-General in his Synthesis Report on the post-2015 Agenda, The Road to Dignity by 2030.
As we seek to build capacities and to help the new agenda to take root, volunteerism can be another powerful and cross-cutting means of implementation. Volunteerism can help to expand and mobilize constituencies, and to engage people in national planning and implementation for the Sustainable Development Goals. And volunteer groups can help to localize the new agenda by providing new spaces of interaction between governments and people for concrete and scalable actions.
By its very nature, volunteerism is an important vehicle for sustainable development. Volunteerism lets people and communities participate in their own growth. Through volunteering, citizens build their resilience, enhance their knowledge base and gain a sense of responsibility for their own community. Social cohesion and trust is strengthened through individual and collective volunteer action, leading to sustainable outcomes for people, by people.
Volunteerism strengthens civic engagement, safeguards social inclusion, deepens solidarity and solidifies ownership of development results. Importantly, volunteering has a ripple effect. It inspires others and advances the transformations required for the SDGs to take root in communities.
Volunteers can provide technical support and enhance capacity in all thematic goal areas. They deliver basic services, help transfer skills and foster exchanges of good practices, and add valuable international and local expertise through domestic, South-South, South-North and North-South exchanges.
Volunteers help leave no one behind by reaching out to people, including those marginalized or difficult to reach, to bring people’s voices and knowledge into collective actions. This is crucial to build ownership and localize the SDGs. Volunteer organizations can serve as brokers of engagement, connecting governmental strategies and initiatives with complementary, yet essential, community voluntary action.
Many of the SDGs call for long-term attitude and behavior changes- for example, in the way we live together or in the way we consume. Volunteers facilitate changes in mind sets by raising awareness or championing those changes and inspiring others.
Volunteerism strengthens local ownership, solidarity and inclusive participation, and it allows for swift responses to proximate crises. At the same time, under certain conditions volunteerism can be exclusive, burdensome, short-term and of limited effectiveness. This is potential duality of volunteerism means that governments and development partners have an important role to play in maximizing volunteerism’s positive contributions. Stakeholders must be mindful not to partner with volunteers as a source of cheap labor but rather would be well advised to nurture volunteerism as an attribute of resilient communities. This can be done through developing an ecosystem for resilient volunteering and creating new community partnerships with that work towards local resilience.
Work of the United Nations Volunteer programme (UNV)
- UNV contributes to peace and development through volunteerism worldwide. UNV work with partners to integrate qualified, highly motivated and well supported UN Volunteers into development programming and promote the value and global recognition of volunteerism.
- UNV mobilizes volunteers to enable more people to be directly involved in humanitarian, peacebuilding and post-conflict recovery, as well as sustainable development and poverty eradication work of the UN.
- UNV advocates for volunteerism and civic engagement in peace and development; and UNV pursues the integration of volunteerism across policy, legislation and programming as well as delivering on internationally agreed development goals.
UNV and UN ESCAP Partnership
The foundation for UNV and UN ESCAP partnership lays in strong commitment to jointly leverage the potential of volunteerism in Asia and the Pacific region during the period of implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and support Member States, the United Nations, civil society, and other stakeholders in recognizing and integrating volunteerism.
UNV is closely working with UN ESCAP to further integrate volunteerism into the regional inter-governmental processes and other opportunities of reviewing the progress on SDGs with Member States from Asia and the Pacific region. UNV will be organizing Regional Consultation on Volunteerism in 2019 in connection with the Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development providing an opportunity to discuss evidence and approaches, identify opportunities for addressing knowledge gaps and ensure that national and regional inputs into the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development take account of volunteer contributions to the 2030 Agenda.
Policies and Implementation
Plan of Action 2016-2030 for Integrating Volunteering into Peace and Development
A global framework and commitment by UN Member states as manifested in the UN Resolution A/RES/70/129 “Integrating volunteering into peace and development: the plan of action for the next decade and beyond” through which the various stakeholders can support and leverage the potential of volunteerism as a tested and effective mechanism and deepens and broadens civic engagement and sustainable development outcomes.
Key objective 1: Strengthen people’s ownership of the development agenda through enhanced civic engagement and enabling environments for citizen action
Key objective 2: Integrate volunteerism into national and global implementation strategies for the post-2015 development agenda
Key objective 3: Measure volunteerism to contribute to a holistic understanding of the engagement of people and their well-being and be part of the monitoring of the sustainable development goals
Implementation Process of the PLAN OF ACTION – 3 Tier Approach
Tools and Methodologies
Every three years UNV produces the State of the World’s Volunteerism Report, a flagship UN publication designed to strengthen understanding on volunteerism and demonstrate its universality, scope and reach in the twenty-first century.
The 2018 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report “The thread that binds” is a United Nations flagship publication that presents new evidence on the role of volunteerism in strengthening community resilience. It finds that communities value volunteerism because it enables them to create collective strategies for dealing with diverse economic, social and environmental challenges.
Volunteering plays a key role in addressing major global challenges, such as urbanization, environmental degradation, increased migration, and demographic changes. Yet in a world of competing political priorities, ‘ volunteering infrastructure’ – the support provided to maximize the potential of volunteering - rarely receives the attention it needs. This background paper produced as part of the 2018 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report project looks at global trends in volunteering infrastructure and makes the case for prioritizing a functional, appropriate and inclusive volunteering infrastructure that enables citizens to become agents of change and drivers of their own development.
The main global trends identified are the continued expansion and consolidation of volunteering infrastructure; innovations in technology, modalities and partnerships; and new support for inclusion through volunteering. The key trends are also matched with challenges that show the tensions and contradictions inherent in volunteering infrastructure as affected by the context and the available resources.
As part of the background research of the 2018 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report The thread that binds, the paper, Global Trends in Volunteering Infrastructure, provides an overview of the state of volunteering infrastructure globally.
Volunteering is difficult to define and measure in a way that is comparable across borders or cultures. When volunteering has been measured, the focus has largely been on organization-based volunteering, rather than volunteering performed spontaneously and directly between people. Many stakeholders fail to recognize the importance of measuring volunteering, especially irregular volunteering, mainly due to the cost and the difficulties of getting a representative sample.
This paper, written as background research for the 2018 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report, provides new estimates of the scale and scope of volunteering globally. Analysing this collated data, the paper gives insights into global volunteering patterns and makes recommendations to further enrich and expand the measurement of volunteering.
Evidence and experiences from Partners 4 Prevention (P4P) contributed toward increased understanding and strengthening of volunteerism within the context of primary prevention of violence against women and girls (VAWG) and promoting safe and vibrant relationships, homes, and communities.
This report reviews and assesses the impact Volunteerism has on personal and community development. Volunteerism and volunteers can make valuable contributions to sustainable VAWG prevention in communities.
The Voluntary National Review (VNR) reports for 2018 demonstrate improved focus on documenting whole-of-society approaches to monitoring and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It confirm that volunteers remain important partners for implementation of the SDGs across diverse contexts.
The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme works with UN Member States and other stakeholders to support evidence on whole-of-society approaches in their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). Globally, more than 1 billion active volunteers make economic and social contributions to development processes at scale. Incorporating evidence on volunteering can support national analysis on means of implementation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), highlight citizen participation and engagement, and demonstrate pathways and processes for leaving no one behind.
The report, the first since the adoption of the plan of action and the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, confirms progress towards each objective. It also confirms that people’s ownership of the Goals is increasing, as many Governments value the whole-of-society approach.
In this report, the UN Secretary-General has highlighted several priority actions that will enable stakeholders to maximize the impact of voluntary efforts for peace and development under the 2030 Agenda. A shift from ad hoc and isolated volunteer projects to sustainable investment at scale is needed to widen volunteering opportunities and ensure the inclusion of all types of people. Increased practice - sharing and knowledge development, in particular on informal volunteering and volunteering in fragile and low-income contexts, are required. The report has extensive evidence and examples of how people are and can contribute to the implementation of Agenda 2030.