Volunteerism is a powerful means of engaging people in addressing development challenges

From Rio+20 to the post-2015 Agenda

Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (A/70/L.1) (18 Sep 2015)
Para 45.: We acknowledge also the essential role of national parliaments through their enactment of legislation and adoption of budgets and their role in ensuring accountability for the effective implementation of our commitments. Governments and public institutions will also work closely on implementation with regional and local authorities, subregional institutions, international institutions, academia, philanthropic organizations, volunteer groups and others.

Milestones of positioning volunteers as a recognized stakeholders for sustainable development

At the first Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, Agenda 21 formalized the need for new forms of participation recognizing the "Major Groups" as the main channels through which citizens could organize and participate in international efforts to achieve sustainable development through the United Nations. The Major Groups represent: Business and Industry; Children and Youth; Farmers; Indigenous Peoples; Local Authorities; NGOs; the Scientific and Technological Community; Women; Workers and Trade Unions.

Over the past decade, UNV engaged in a global effort for the recognition, facilitation, networking and promotion of volunteerism. As a results of joint advocacy with partners and stakeholders, since 2014 Volunteer Groups are part of the stakeholders who contribute to the discussion on the new sustainable development agenda along with Major Groups.

This achievement has been made possible based on a series of milestone mentions in UN documents which allowed progress towards building such recognition. The chart below visualizes these milestones; the UNV V-mentions document is a living wider collection of mentions.

150508 Vol milestones web


‘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 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.’ (The road to dignity by 2030: ending poverty, transforming all lives and protecting the planet, p. 36, para 131)

With these words, the UN Secretary-General’s Synthesis Report on the Post-2015 Development Agenda acknowledges and recognizes the contribution of volunteers and volunteerism to development, and underlines the role volunteer groups can play in the sustainable development agenda.  This is a remarkable achievement by the global volunteer community as it positions volunteerism in the ongoing debate about the implementation and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly at national and local level.  

Together with the Open Working Group’s proposal for SDGs, this report is a key background document for the negotiations among member states which started in January 2015.

The UNDG report on Delivering the post-2015 development agenda: Opportunities at the national and local levels (Sep 2014) presents cross-cutting messages from the six dialogues on the means of implementation and underlines the need to expand the concept of 'means of implementation' for the post-2015 agenda beyond traditional means such as finance, technology and institutional capacity building. The report contains numerous references to the role and the potential of volunteerism for the implementaton of the new development framework.


"A million voices: The World We Want. A sustainable future with dignity for all", the final report of the UNDG national and thematic consultations (88 national consultations, 11 thematic consultations as well as the MY World survey), contains numerous references to the relevance of volunteerism for the new development framework.

The Report of the Secretary-General "A life of dignity for all: accelerating progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and advancing the United Nations development agenda beyond 2015" (paragraph 98 of A/68/202, July 2013) mentions "volunteer groups" as a separate constituency to take into account when implementing the transformative actions of the post-2015 development agenda.
The final UNDG report of the post-2015 national consultations conducted in close to a 100 countries also underlines the important contribution of volunteering through numerous country examples.

Following the successful recognition of volunteer groups as a relevant stakeholder, volunteer groups were explicitly recognised in UN GA Resolution A/RES/67/290 (9 July 2013) as official stakeholders with whom member states would interact in their discussions on sustainable development at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) on sustainable development.

In the Resolution, defining the architecture of the HLPF, paragraph 16 officially recognises "volunteer groups" as stakeholders, ensuring a space for engagement with the inter-governmental deliberations on sustainable development in the coming decade.

The full text of paragraph 16 reads:

" [The General Assembly], [...], [Recalling also its resolution 67/203 of 21 December 2012], [...]]

16. Encourages the major groups identified in Agenda 213 and other stakeholders, such as private philanthropic organizations, educational and academic entities, persons with disabilities, volunteer groups and other stakeholders active in areas related to sustainable development, to autonomously establish and maintain effective coordination mechanisms for participation in the high-level political forum and for actions derived from that participation at the global, regional and national levels, in a way that ensures effective, broad and balanced participation by region and by type of organization."


General Assembly Resolution A/Res/67/138 "Integrating volunteering in the next decade" adopted on 20 December 2012, furthermore welcomed "the creation of momentum in developing common platforms to increase support for volunteerism" and called upon the integration of volunteering in all relevant issues of the United Nations. It also requested the Secretary-General to "report to the General Assembly at its seventieth session, on the plan of action to be developed by UNV to integrate volunteering in peace and development in the next decade and beyond". Acting on this resolution will take UNV into a new phase.

For the decade ahead, the report highlighted how the promotion, recognition, facilitation, networking and integration of local, national and international volunteering, including that of young people, can significantly contribute to the attainment of the Millenium Development Goals, foster social cohesion, life skills, employability, resilience and community well-being. Volunteerism should be an integral part of the post-2015 development framework. The mainstreaming of volunteer engagement will ensure that people are placed at the heart of sustinable peace and development efforts.

In the lead up to the 2012 Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, UNV launched the website "Volunteer Action Counts" capturing volunteer actions from around the globe. The UN Secretary-General explicitly underlined "the 64 million individual actions captured by the initiative spearheaded by the United Nations Volunteers."

The Rio+20 Conference provided the opportunity to develop a more holistic global thinking on sustainable development, integrating the notions of social development, environmental protection and economic growth. The Rio+20 Outcome document, through paragraph 43, underscored that sustainable development requires the meaningful involvement and active participation of Major Groups ... as well as other stakeholders including... volunteer groups.

In 2012, at an IYV+10 wrap up meeting, the stakeholders developed an Action Agenda and decided to collectively advocate for further integration of volunteerism into the post-2015 agenda through Rio+20 as well as the post-MDG conversations. 

General Assembly Resolution A/Res/66/67 adopted on December 5th 2011 requested the UN Secretary General to further integrate volunteering in peace and development over the coming decade.

As a result of the 64th Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference "Sustainable Societies, Responsive Citizens", held in Bonn, September 2011, the Conference Declaration "The Chair's Text", was issued as a General Assembly document in all UN official languages – A/66/750, as of March 20, 2012. The document underlined the necessity to incorporate citizen engagement and volunteering in all plans for sustainable development and human well-being and recommended that new measures of sustainable welfare should be developed, considering headline indicators such as civic participation. 

The State of the World's Volunteerism Report (SWVR) demonstrated the universality, scope and reach of volunteerism along with new trends in the 21st century. It has underlined the diversity, and universality of volunteer actions ranging from social activism to basic service delivery.

The tenth anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers (IYV+10) in 2011 was an opportunity for UNV to convene a wide range of international and national stakeholders and UN partners, governments and civil society, the oprivate sector and academia around issues pertaining to volunteering and civic participation, forlulating recommendations for its further integration into policies and legislation. 

The 2010 MDG Summit and its related documents, captured through resolution A/RES/65/1, committed to include a broader civil society stakeholder constituency including: "...non-governmental organizations, voluntary associations and foundations, the private sector and other relevant stakeholders at the local, national, regional and global levels, to enhance their role in national development efforts as well as their contribution to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015."