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

Volunteers stress the need for participatory and gender-balanced SDG monitoring

The third session of the intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda (New York, USA, 23-27 March 2015) focused on the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and their targets.

20150325 113535 Blanken w250As in the previous sessions of the negotiations, a representative of a volunteer-involving organization spoke at the interactive dialogue with Major Groups and other Stakeholders during the slot reserved for Volunteer Groups. Ms Elles Blanken, from Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO), shared her perspective as a volunteer building capacity on gender equality in Papua New Guinea. Ms Blanken stressed the need for monitoring the SDGs through participatory processes, providing access to women as experts of their livelihoods. She also called on Member States to include qualitative measures that can document transformative change, with particular regard to gender issues: "... the collection and analysis of data must ensure participation of women, as well as the active citizens and civil society, including volunteers such as myself, that work closest to them. When measuring change, we should not only focus on numbers, but also – and maybe even more so – on the actual transformative change in communities, and in women's lives", she stated. "Qualitative indicators are challenging, but we cannot truly assess progress without them. Let's measure what is needed, so that we do not fall into the trap of just doing what is measurable." (Read Ms Blanken's full speech)

Volunteering to advance gender equality. New perspectives for the post-2015 agenda

CSW59 3961 c400Volunteerism can widen spaces for voice and action within the development process, including for young women and girls.

An expert panel discussion, organized by the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme on the margins of the 59th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW59), explored the role of volunteerism in enhancing the accountability of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and advance gender equality. Representatives from UN agencies, Member States and volunteer-involving organizations focused on how volunteerism can help monitoring progress made affecting women's lives and empowering women through increased opportunities for civic engagement.

In the picture (left to right): A. Kabagabo, Regional Director for the Africa Region, World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS); M. Toomey, Director of the UN Millennium Campaign; R. Kalapurakal, Deputy Executive Coordinator of UNVMinister R.J. Krapp, Head of Department for Economic and Financial Affairs at the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations; M. Kovacevic, Chief of Statistics at the Human Development Report Office, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (UNV/Joel Sheakoski, 2015)

Volunteering can help rolling out large scale data collection efforts, and is also a way to actively engage women of all socio-economic backgrounds in participatory processes at local level. Such participation in local level planning, decision making and monitoring influences the way women position themselves in the public sphere, leveraging their voices and enlarging the spaces where they can act. Recent advances in technology also allow new forms of citizen action, combining onsite and online volunteering with unprecedented opportunities to enhance, aggregate and visualize data as well as share information about the results of volunteer action.

Event highlights

Volunteers ask to be a named partner in development

During the February session of the post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations, the post-2015 Volunteering Working Group reiterated at different meetings its request for the recognition of volunteerism and volunteer groups in the SDG Declaration.

2015-02-19-Interactive-dialogue w300On 19 February 2015, the co-facilitators of the post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations (Permanent Representatives of Ireland and Kenya) held an interactive dialogue with major groups and other stakeholders, which was very well attended by numerous civil society organizations, Member States and the UN Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning, Ms. Amina Mohammed. The February session of the negotiations focused on the elements to be included in the Declaration introducing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and providing the overarching vision for global development in the next 15 years.

Based on an Elements Paper on the Declaration circulated by the co-facilitators, the preliminary summary of stakeholder reactions included a strong reference to volunteer groups. It stated that "people's participation is a crucial means of implementation. Meaningful and equitable participation of CSOs and other stakeholders is necessary for formal mechanisms for planning, implementation and monitoring. To achieve this, the Sustainable Development agenda must create an enabling environment that ensures the free, active and meaningful engagement of volunteer groups, civil society and the private sector. Inclusive multi-stakeholder partnerships must be a key feature of implementation at all levels."

2015-02-21 OBrien speaking w300In his speech during the interactive dialogue, Mr. James O'Brien, a VSO Ireland member and Chair of the post-2015 Volunteering Working Group, requested to include volunteer groups as a named partner in development cooperation within the post-2015 Declaration. He called for a Declaration that recognizes and supports volunteerism because the post-2015 agenda is an opportunity to create an enabling environment at all levels to ensure that the work of volunteers has the greatest possible impact on sustainable development. Full speech - Irish Times article

In fact, the Secretary-General Synthesis Report refers to volunteerism in the context of investments to scale up capacities for sustainable development, and positions volunteerism as a cross-cutting means of implementation (The road to dignity by 2030: ending poverty, transforming all lives and protecting the planet, p. 36, para 131). Japan endorsed this vision by stating that it "does not support the widespread perception that the term Means of Implementation only means finance and technology. In our view the most important part of means of implementation are the good policies and widest possible engagement of all stakeholders to form a true global partnership. Stakeholders are national and local governments, parliaments, private sector, civil society and volunteers..."

Volunteer Groups take the floor at meetings held around the post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations

Volunteer Groups advocated for the integration of volunteerism in the post-2015 development agenda by speaking at two meetings held around the January session of the post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations.

On 16 January 2015, Msphoto-3 pw350. Nancy Nyambura Wagi Maina, VSO Jitolee, spoke as a panelist on behalf of Volunteer Groups at the Stakeholder Preparatory Forum for the post-2015 development agenda negotiations, held at the United Nations headquarters in New York.  The Forum, organized by a Steering Committee representing Major Groups and other stakeholders, facilitated by the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) and the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA-DSD), was held two days ahead of the first session of the negotiations. 

In her statement, she highlighted that development needs people's participation and ownership if it is to make a real difference in their lives, and  recalled that volunteering plays an important role in service delivery, reaching the marginalized, manpower development and disaster response and preparedness. She also emphasized that beyond its immediate contribution, the impact of volunteering reaches much further and enhances sustainability of development outcomes in the true sense of the word. She concluded her speech saying that if we really want to deliver on the SDGs in a way that makes a difference in the lives of all people making up their society, countries will need to further tap into volunteerism as a mechanism to leverage the energy and local expertise of their populations. Read full speech

The Forum hosted approximately 400 participants from UN Member States, UN System entities and stakeholders from civil society and the private sector. Forum panelists, moderators and discussants comprised civil society representatives from all continents and high level delegates from Member States, including the two co-facilitators of the post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations, from the Republic of Kenya and the Republic of Ireland, as well as the president of UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

In his welcome speech, H.E. Ambassador Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya to the United Nations and co-facilitator of the post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations, encouraged civil society to be engaged, to be flexible and to be strategic throughout the negotiations. Mr. Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Interagency Affairs, UN DESA, stated that representatives of civil society have a critical role in keeping Member States and the UN focused on eradicating poverty.

Civil society representatives appreciated the format of the Forum and requested the co-facilitators and Member States "to consider future editions of this Forum as the intergovernmental process makes progress".

On 21 January 2015, Mr. Mwangi Waituru, VSO Jitolee, spoke as a panelist on behalf of Volunteer Groups at an interactive dialogue with Major Groups and other stakeholders organized by the co-facilitators of the post-2015 process, H.E. Ambassador Macharia Kamau (Kenya) and H.E. Ambassador David Donoghue (Ireland). The dialogue was part of the January stocktaking session of the intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda.

Mr. Waituru reinforced the key messages presented at the Stakeholder Preparatory Forum and provided feedback from panels of community volunteers in Africa that listened to testimonials in poverty hearings. He also spoke on the need for people participation in framing the Means of Implementation for the new agenda. The statements delivered will be available in full online. Mr. Waituru's 5 minute speech is available in this video from 1:41:25 to 1:47:09.

On the occasion of the Forum, a letter on behalf of the Kenyan VIO Network was delivered to the Kenyan Ambassadorco-facilitator of the post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations, expressing the hope that Member States will be ready to mention volunteerism in the overall declaration to the SDG Framework as well as in its indicator structure.

UNV's op-ed envisages the role of volunteers in the new Sustainable Development framework

What role can volunteers play to meet the new Sustainable Development Goals? In an op-ed published on Devex.com, UNV's Executive Coordinator frames the challenges and opportunities for volunteerism in the post-2015 agenda.

"Volunteerism is an old and yet new approach to development, based on people participation, which applies to all countries - 'developing' and 'developed' - in a universal manner. Strengthening volunteer engagement for SDG delivery and enabling volunteer organizations to mobilize volunteers and facilitate volunteer opportunities bears an enormous potential to achieve a truly transformational agenda", says Mr Dictus, UNV's Executive Coordinator.

However, he adds, "while volunteers donate their work, enabling volunteerism needs an investment for people to channel their contribution into meaningful engagement opportunities aligned with wider development efforts. A recent Australian study demonstrates that the contribution of volunteers is quite systematically underestimated, and values the Return on Investment at least 4:1 (for every dollar invested, the financial value of the result is at least 4 dollars)".

"Today's societies need to invent new opportunities for dialogue to co-develop solutions to address development challenges. As Einstein put it, "we can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.""

Read the full article

UNV brokers collaboration between the UN and the private sector on corporate volunteering

IVD 2014 UNV 0106-w250On International Volunteer Day 2014, UNV gathered stakeholders from the private sector and UN officials at the UN Headquarters in New York to launch the commitment of IMPACT 2030 in supporting the implementation of the post-2015 agenda through corporate volunteering. IMPACT 2030 is a global coalition of private sector leaders and other stakeholders aiming to expand and encourage corporate and employee volunteering activities to help achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

Photo: Ms Amina J. Mohammed (third from left), UN Secretary-General's Special Advisor on Post-2015 Development Planning, receives the IMPACT 2030 Declaration from IMPACT 2030, UNV and stakeholders representatives during the UNV event on International Volunteer Day 2014 at UN Headquarters, Trusteeship Council Chamber. (UNV/Joel Sheakoski, 2014)

Experience with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has revealed the need for a multi-stakeholder partnership, including with the private sector, for sustainable development and for tackling emerging development challenges. This is reflected into two UN General Assembly Resolutions (66/67 and 67/138) which encourage the UN to further engage with the private sector through the expansion of corporate volunteering and employee volunteer activities.

IVD 2014 UNV 0027-cut w250"Corporate volunteering initiatives are excellent enablers to make global sustainable development work, and to ensure that social corporate responsibility is counted as a major contributor to this global endeavour", said Richard Dictus, UNV's Executive Coordinator. He also stated that partnering with corporate private sector and philanthropic foundations is key to unlocking essential and innovative partnerships for volunteerism, with special reference to two UNV initiatives bearing enormous potential for collaboration: the UN Online Volunteering service and the placement of corporate volunteers in the UN system. (Watch full speech at 8'36'' of the video of the event)

Photo: Mr Richard Dictus, UNV's Executive Coordinator, gives his opening statement at the UNV event on International Volunteer Day 2014 at UN Headquarters, Trusteeship Council Chamber (UNV/Joel Sheakoski, 2014)

The 10 Year Plan of Action to integrate volunteering in peace and development in the next decade and beyond was presented to the audience as an opportunity to move volunteering from implementing the MDGs to shaping the SDGs. The over 200 participants were invited to contribute their views as part of the ongoing consultations that are being held by UNV.

IMPACT 2030 was introduced by Mr Grady Lee, Chair of the IMPACT 2030 Executive Committee and Co-Founder of Corps-Giving/RockCorps, and Ms Sue Stephenson, Vice Chair of the IMPACT 2030 Executive Committee and Vice-President of Community Footprints, the CSR programme of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. Founding partners include The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, IBM Corporation, SAP SE, UPS, Perkins Coie, and Waggener Edstrom Communications. Collaborating partners include Google, Cemex, Telefonica, SingTel, and Ball Corporation; a network of stakeholders will be established around the world.

The leadership of IMPACT 2030 formally presented its Declaration to the United Nations, represented by Ms Amina J. Mohammed, UN Secretary-General's Special Advisor on Post-2015 Development Planning. Each IMPACT 2030 partner committed to applying its employee volunteer actions towards one or more of the SDGs in the form of capacity building and civic engagement.

Welcoming the Declaration as a positive sign of an increased commitment of the private sector in addressing the challenges of the post-2015 framework, Ms Mohammed recognized corporate volunteering as an additional contribution to localizing the new agenda through the specific expertise it brings. She closed the event acknowledging the synergy of the IMPACT 2030 Declaration with other calls from different stakeholders, which demand more inclusive dialogue spaces for the Post-2015 Development Agenda to be truly transformational, and encouraging the private sector to continue its engagement in shaping the agenda. (Watch full speech at approx 2h52' of the video of the event)

Further information about the UNV event

Making change happen: corporate volunteers’ impact in sustainable development

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On 5 December 2014, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York UNV celebrated the power and potential of corporate volunteering to better the world

The United Nations International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development (IVD), observed every 5 December, was established by the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution 40/212 of 17 December 1985. IVD is to commend volunteerism in all its facets and to pay a special tribute to people's participation in making a difference locally, nationally and globally.

To mark IVD 2014 in New York, the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme gathered a group of volunteers, corporate volunteering actors, volunteer-involving organizations, and other stakeholders to bring to the attention of the international community the commitment of private sector to positively impact the implementation of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda through corporate volunteering.

Focusing on the recognition and celebration of corporate citizens' participation and engagement in making a difference through corporate volunteering, the event launched IMPACT 2030, a global collaboration between the United Nations (UN) and the private sector created to mobilize corporate volunteers to directly and substantially contribute to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Watch the video of the event  |  Read the IMPACT2030 Declaration

Volunteerism prominently featured in UN Secretary-General’s Report on post-2015 agenda

20141204 unsg2 w250‘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 will be a key background document for the negotiations among member states starting in January 2015.

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Your voluntary engagement might sometimes go unnoticed to the world, but your actions count in the communities that have benefited from your hard work, and they certainly count to us.

Recognising the role of volunteers in achieving the Millennium Development Goals