Policy-makers from Southern African countries and civil society engage to position volunteers as key actors to achieve new development goals

20141122 Civicus 0791 w250Over 150 participants, including 20 Members of Parliament from Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia, former Ministers, Regional Directors, international and community volunteers and civil society members, discussed pathways to participation in the new sustainable development framework in a workshop organized jointly by the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme, Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO), FK Norway and the Volunteer Council South Africa. The workshop was part of the 2014 Civicus International Civil Society Week held in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 19–24 November 2014.

Mr. Christopher Kalila, former Minister of Health and current Member of Parliament in Zambia, board member of VSO RAISA (Regional AIDS Initiative of Southern Africa), addressed the audience about the importance of volunteering in development work, emphasizing how primary health care in many African countries heavily relies on volunteers."Sectors such as health could function, especially in rural areas, only thanks to community volunteers that undertook awareness campaigns and encouraged the ban of harmful traditional practices. Not only do they carry out service delivery, they also provide platforms and solutions for communities. They work along paid staff, bringing quality and effectiveness. Their sharing of skills benefits the community. Unfortunately, such efforts and roles are not recognized in national budgets and in the policy-making process", he stressed. This example shows how the value of volunteering goes far beyond saving costs, and why volunteerism needs an enabling environment.

Audience members actively participated providing their views on how to strengthen the role of volunteerism in the new sustainable development agenda in the coming months, and committed to take action in their respective capacity and roles once back home. Most Members of Parliament committed to advocating for their peers to recognize the importance of volunteerism and ensure that it is supported in the post-2015 agenda. Others envisaged leveraging existing structures and dialogue spaces to liaise between people and local leaders to increase opportunities for collaboration on development.

After UNV presented the Ten-Year Plan of action to integrate volunteering in peace and development in 2016–2025, participants identified areas for further action: increase dialogue spaces between volunteer organizations and decision-makers, strengthen VIO alliances for advocacy for volunteerism at all levels, deepen research on volunteers' contribution to development and ensure that volunteering is included in budget lines related to health, education and other basic services. They also stressed that volunteering should be promoted more broadly as a form of civic engagement that can help the government to deliver on its obligations, while allowing people to shape their livelihoods as active agents of change.

To strengthen collective action and share information, VIOs were encouraged to join the Post-2015 Volunteering Working Group, and to sign the Lima Declaration to best support the integration of volunteering in the sustainable development goals.