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

People’s engagement: the key to sustainable development

The experience gathered through the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals demonstrated that Governments alone cannot achieve sustainable development. Drawing on the assets and strengths of different actors, partnerships with civil society can facilitate participation and voluntary engagement, which in turn strengthen ownership, build individual capacity and help address challenges in a sustainable way.  

This is the main message from the high-level global meeting which concluded the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) Dialogues on the implementation of the post-2015 agenda which focus on the theme of ‘Partnerships with Civil Society’.  The UN Volunteers (UNV) programme co-leads these dialogues together with the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Millennium Campaign (UNMC) and the United Nations Non-governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS).  

RD photo p w250Richard Dictus, UNV Executive Coordinator, stressed in his speech at the high-level event that “the engagement of civil society in the post-2015 agenda needs to be articulated around three issues, notably space, capacity as well as trust and confidence. To deliver on a complex agenda, which spans across environmental, social and economic issues, inclusive opportunities need to be developed for all actors to engage in a complementary way and according to their area of expertise.” He also added that “volunteerism is a way to localize the Sustainable Development Goals because it provides new spaces of interaction between governments and people for concrete and scalable actions." He challenged participants to think outside the box and ensure that they are ready to explore new forms of engagement based on mutual accountability, including through leveraging new technologies.  

Good governance and international volunteering: a two-way street

VolGov Front Page 145The United Nations Volunteer (UNV) programme and the International Forum for Volunteering in Development (Forum) launched online on October 6 the results of joint research into how volunteers and international volunteer cooperation organisations (IVCOs) strengthen governance structures. The research documents how international volunteering contributes often alongside national and community volunteers to improve public institutions by promoting transparency, information, access and participation.

The research process included a survey among Forum members, interviews, case examples drawn from published and online sources, along with literature from evaluation reports.

Benjamin Lough, one of the authors of the research, pointed out at the role of international volunteers: "As case examples in the report illustrate, international volunteers add value to governance-strengthening initiatives not easily achieved through other forms of development cooperation. International volunteers fill a critical bridging role that links development actors across sectors."

Volunteer participation in governance is a two-way street, and is far easier to navigate when governments are supportive and stable.

IMG 4014 Dimity-Fifer--Amanda-Mukwashi-7 w250Amanda Mukwashi, Chief of Volunteer Knowledge and Innovation at UNV, stated that "the report provides timely information for the research UNV is doing for the State of the World's Volunteerism Report on the theme of Volunteerism and Governance due for release in 2015. It also provides more evidence for why volunteering for development must be taken seriously in the post-2015 context". (In the picture, Amanda Mukwashi, Chief of Volunteer Knowledge and Innovation at UNV (right), and Dimity Fifer, Chief Executive Officer at Australian Volunteers International (left), discuss the report. Photo: Celine Bolton/UNV, 2014)

MY World awards recognize volunteers’ contribution to inclusive participation

On 25 September 2014, United Nations representatives, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth and Special Advisor on Post-2015 Development Planning, representatives of civil society organizations from around the world and government representatives gathered in New York to publicly announce the winners of the MY World Partner Recognition Awards.

The Volunteerism Award recognizes the efforts of MY World partner organizations to foster volunteerism and civic engagement as a core ingredient for the success of the MY World initiative. Volunteers collected many votes offline, through paper ballots and discussions with respondents from the most remote communities around the world.

20140925 MG 7081 large w25020140925 MG 7074 large w250Ahmad Alhendawi, the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, presented the award to the co-winners of the volunteerism category: the Millennials Movement, a Peruvian volunteers’ initiative which engages and empowers communities in partnerships with civil society, local administrations and other groups, and the Kenyan network of volunteer-involving organizations (VIO Network Kenya), which engages with government, partners and stakeholders to ensure universal access to quality services through the promotion of volunteerism.  Mr. Alhendawi emphasized that by volunteering one is not only giving, but also gaining, and that this is the best investment one can make in life.

Left to right: Mr. Alhendawi, UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, presents the award to Adjmal Dulloo, a member of the Post-2015 Volunteer Working Group, on behalf of the Kenyan network of volunteer-involving organizations (VIO Network Kenya); Ms Rosario Diaz Garavito, founder of the Millennials Movement, Peru, gives her speech online from Peru.

Through MY World, volunteers from the Millennials Movement met and engaged several thousand citizens in Peru. They brought printed ballots to those without internet and allowed an opportunity to marginalized youth to participate and be active. In total, they collected over 6,000 votes. Watch their video.  

The VIO Network Kenya started rolling out MY World on International Youth Day (12 August) 2014 as a way to engage people in identifying priorities and take action on them. Adjmal Dulloo, a member of the Post-2015 Volunteer Working Group and co-founder of ‘Unmasking Shadows’, accepted the award on behalf of the VIO Network Kenya. He stressed the need to engage youth not only in the planning process but further on in the development process.  

Jim Emerson, Executive Director of VSO International, presented the outstanding achievement award to the Youth Institute of Mexico City INJUVE, which collected 1.6 million votes through 3,000 ambassadors under 30 years old (14-30 years) whom they called “actors of change.”  

Volunteerism needed to achieve sustainable development, says latest UN report on the post-2015 agenda

Delivering the Post-2015 Development Agenda Report cover imageToday the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) is presenting in New York the cross-cutting messages from six thematic dialogues on the implementation of the post-2015 agenda that are still taking place globally and at national level in 50 countries.

The UNDG report on "Delivering the post-2015 development agenda: Opportunities at the national and local levels" 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 also highlights the need to engage communities in the design and implementation of the new development framework by stating: "Engagement and voluntary action can strengthen ownership, build individual capacity and help to address challenges in a sustainable way." In particular, it mentions that "cross-sectoral partnerships and increased opportunities for civic engagement are needed to add value to the SDG implementation."

UNV is co-leading the dialogues on Partnerships with Civil Society and is supporting countries organizing national dialogues on the six themes through its Field Units and dedicated post-2015 volunteers. UNV's contribution to the post-2015 dialogues is summarized in a preliminary report.

IAVE issues call to action to ensure that volunteering is seen as a strategic resource to achieve the SDGs

At its ongoing 23rd World Volunteer Conference on “Volunteering, Today’s Imperative”, the International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE) calls on governments at all levels, NGOs and the business community to work together to ensure that volunteering and the role of volunteer groups are:

  • prominently included in all relevant United Nations resolutions and reports related to the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs);
  • stated as an integral part of all global, national and local action plans supporting the SDGs, and included in any measurement and accountability mechanisms established to monitor progress achieving the SDGs; and
  • a priority for investment to strengthen and maximize the impact of volunteering as a form of civic engagement, which fosters a sense of responsibility for and connection with people and the planet.

Read the Call to Action  |  Endorse the Call to Action  |  IAVE 23rd World Volunteer Conference website

United Nations high level leadership publicly acknowledge volunteers’ contribution to sustainable development

The President of the UN General Assembly called for recognition of volunteerism at the High-level Stocktaking event on the Post-2015 Development Agenda: Contributions to the Secretary-General's Synthesis Report. This event was organized by the outgoing President of the UN General Assembly, H.E. Mr. John W. Ashe, to provide the Secretary-General, member states, UN agencies and other stakeholders with a final moment of joint reflection, review and assessment of all inputs received through the different streams of the post-2015 process.

20140912 SGandPGA w250In the presence of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and of senior executives from several UN agencies, the President of the UN General Assembly (PGA) publicly acknowledged in his opening address the role of volunteers and their contributions to sustainable development by saying: "...Policy makers should explore new ways of engaging civil society in the design of development and other policies. To ensure wide "buy-in" of the post-2015 development process, we have to provide opportunities for people to exercise their right to be included in decision-making and build an inclusive approach for implementation. Attention also needs to be paid to volunteers and community organizations/cooperatives who can make significant contributions to implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Volunteering allows people to work side-by-side on the post-2015 agenda and is integral to participatory democracy. Volunteerism needs to be recognized by local authorities and at different levels." (see opening session video at 8':17'' or read the Statement)

At the end of his term, Ambassador Ashe is leaving behind a documented legacy of the most critical inputs that have emerged during the post-2015 process. The high-level event aimed to inform the Synthesis Report that the Secretary-General will deliver by end of this year for discussion by the UN General Assembly.

AdjmalPGA w250The day before, Adjmal Dulloo, a volunteer representing the International Forum for Volunteering in Development (FORUM), had given a speech on behalf of the Post-2015 Volunteering Working Group at the Interactive Meeting between Civil Society and Member States, organized by GA President Ashe as a prelude of the High-level stocktaking event.

In his speech, Mr Dulloo highlighted the important role that volunteers can play in contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and stressed that local bodies, national governments and international policy-makers need to recognize the contributions of volunteers to sustainable development. He also called on the Secretary-General to include volunteerism in his synthesis report as a complementary means of implementation.

UNV-VSA panel at SIDS conference agrees: volunteerism strengthens partnerships to achieve sustainable development goals

UNV VSA panel SIDS Apia Samoa 20140902Speakers on the panel discussion jointly hosted by UNV and the Volunteer Service Abroad (New Zealand) in Apia, Samoa, agreed that volunteerism strengthens partnerships aimed at achieving sustainable development goals. The panel discussion was held during the Third Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which drew more than 3,000 participants to the South Pacific and whose outcome document recognizes the relevance of civil society role in sustainable development.

SIDS are a group of small island countries that face particular challenges for sustainable development in view of their unique and particular vulnerabilities to the rising sea levels caused by climate change. The SIDS Conference acknowledged in its outcome document the need for broad-based participation and capacity development for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), recognizing the relevance of civil society's role.

Two small but significant achievements towards advancing the integration of volunteerism in development policies and programmes were reached during preparatory regional fora of Youth and of Major Groups and other stakeholders, where volunteerism was recognized in their respective outcome documents.

During the panel discussion, held on 3 September 2014, speakers emphasized that volunteering is an effective avenue for creating constructive partnerships between nations, communities and individuals and between governments, civil society and the private sector. They also underlined that the role volunteerism plays in making development genuinely people-centred should be properly recognized.

"Volunteerism has a critical role in providing people and communities a possibility to directly engage in their own development and at the same time have on impact on the global development results," says panelist Ulla Gronlund (Finland), UNV Programme Officer in Fiji.

Civil society supports volunteer role for development after 2015

Less than 500 days ahead of the new development agenda, the 65th UN DPI/NGO Conference on "2015 and beyond: our action agenda" (New York, 27-29 August 2014) gathered thousands of civil society partners from all over the world and provided them with a timely opportunity to deliver a collective statement on the proposed Sustainable Development Goals before the start of the negotiations later this month.

The strong presence of volunteer-involving organizations (VIOs) throughout the Conference clearly impacted its Final Declaration which calls on governments to “ensure that volunteerism and citizen engagement are incorporated in all global, national and local action plans for implementation of sustainable development and human well-being, to commit to the creation of an enabling environment for citizen engagement and voluntary action” and highlights that “it will be crucial that the voices and volunteer actions of ordinary people be at the very heart of accountability structures”.