Friday, 19 June 2015 08:55

Africa’s volunteers vital to success of continent’s development, UN report says

Nairobi – Citizen volunteers are playing a vital role across Africa in making their governments more accountable and responsive to their people, but their contribution is seriously under-valued, a new report from the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme said today.

The State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2015 is the first global review of the role of volunteers in improving the way citizens are governed and engaged. It draws on evidence from around the world, including African case studies from Kenya, Liberia and Tunisia. The report shows how volunteers are working with governments and civil society to hold those in power to account, to influence policies and laws and to represent the voices of those who are often left out of development decisions such as women, youth and marginalised groups. 

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It calls on governments to do more to include volunteer voices in decision-making if they want to achieve more inclusive - and ultimately more effective - development. Kenya was chosen for the African launch of the report, UNV said, because of its strong volunteering tradition and progress towards a national volunteering policy.  

Speaking at the launch of the report in Nairobi today, former Ghanaian President and UNV supporterJerry Rawlings said: “Africa is a continent of vibrant volunteerism based on long held values of Ubuntu and the spirit of mutual support. My message to governments is that you can’t govern effectively and develop a country without harnessing the expertise and energy that you find in the wider populace, and volunteers are the people to help you do this.” 

More than 1 billion people volunteer globally and many are in the forefront of efforts to improve the way they and their fellow citizens are governed and engaged. African examples featured in the report include:

  • Kenya’s Ushahidi crowd-sourcing tool that allowed for the more accurate reporting of post-election violence via voluntary contributions and has since been adapted for use in elections and crises around the world.
  • Liberia’s women’s volunteer peace activists who helped to end more than a decade of civil war and have worked to cement peace in the country.
  • Tunisia’s OpenGovTN movement that has successfully campaigned for transparency and open governance in the country since the 2011 revolution.

As the world’s governments prepare to agree the new Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations in September to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the report says there is widespread agreement that future development efforts will have to include radically different approaches in order to better engage people in their own, their communities’ and their countries’ development. 

While the MDGs successfully galvanised people around clearly articulated targets, they have fallen short of their ambition in some issues and in some countries because countries’ development  efforts have not sufficiently reflected the needs of all citizens, the report says.  

Speaking at the launch of the report, UNV’s Executive Coordinator Richard Dictus said: “The potential of volunteers to help create truly people-centred development is enormous, but, as yet, far from fully tapped.  In order to achieve the new Sustainable Development Goals we need to see the participation of all sections of society. Volunteers have a critical role to play in representing the voices of those who are often excluded from development decisions, including women and other groups who may be marginalised”.

The report finds that countries that provide a supportive “enabling environment” for volunteers tend to reap the rewards of their inclusion in decision-making.  It praises governments such as Peru, Mozambique and Norway who have passed laws and set up frameworks to formalise the contribution of volunteers.  Ghana and Kenya have brought in formal volunteer structures to encourage young volunteers to give their time to promote health and education in rural areas, to be gainfully employed and to learn the purpose and value of civic engagement.

But it says too many other governments are failing to acknowledge – and leverage – the immense potential of volunteers to help them chart a more successful development path. It calls on all governments to “go beyond the rhetoric of participation” and take concrete steps to help the world’s volunteers actively contribute to the decisions that affect people’s lives. 

Recommended steps include: 

  • Engaging more volunteers  in the process of crafting policies and putting them into action
  • Integrating volunteerism formally into national development frameworks and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) strategies
  • Engaging more volunteer women, youth and marginalised groups in local and national decision making 

The aim of the 2015 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report, UNV says, is to spark a global conversation about the role of volunteers in the area of governance that is so critical to future development success.  


Notes to editors:

The African launch of the State of the World’s Volunterism Report 2015 will take place in Nairobi on June 19.

For more information go to: and follow us on Twitter @UNVolunteers and on Facebook  


Media contact: Monica Muthwii, Tell-Em Public Relations

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About the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme 

The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme is the UN organization that contributes to peace and development through volunteerism worldwide.Volunteerism is a powerful means of engaging people in tackling development challenges, and it can transform the pace and nature of development.  UNV is active in around 130 countries every year. UNV, with Field Units in 86 countries, is represented worldwide through the offices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and reports to the UNDP Executive Board.  


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