United Nations General Assembly sets stage for the future of volunteerism

497296 - GA am - 05_12_2011 - 14.58.05
UNV Executive Coordinator Flavia Pansieri addressing the
United Nations General Assembly: "The priorities are clear:
volunteer activities and their results needed to be
documented, and new ways to measure those impacts
needed to be found." (UN Photo/Ryan Brown)

New York, USA: Celebrations of the tenth anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers culminate at UN General Assembly with launch of first State of the World’s Volunteerism Report and testimonies from two UN Volunteers.

Emphasizing the contribution of volunteering to the Millennium Development Goals, and calling for a people-centred, holistic approach to development, in Resolution A/RES/66/67 the United Nations General Assembly has set the path for the future of volunteerism.

The Resolution also emphasizes the participation of individuals and communities to the achievement of sustainable development and related initiatives.

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, delivering a message on behalf of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, recognized the dedication of volunteers and their wide-ranging efforts to promote the goals of the United Nations. “With the world population having surpassed 7 billion,” she said, “We must tap every person’s potential to help others. Volunteering matters.”

She noted that such engagement could take many forms: volunteering organizations, individuals working on their own in their communities, and service with the United Nations.

Addressing the UN General Assembly, UNV Executive Coordinator Flavia Pansieri said that nearly 8,000 UN Volunteers were working in areas of their professional expertise, sometimes in hardship and danger. They were doing so because they believed in solidarity and personal commitment, and saw their work “not as a condescending act of charity, but rather the expression of a relationship of reciprocity”.

Ms Pansieri said the primary goal of the tenth anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers in 2011 had been to shift the debate on volunteerism from being perceived as a marginal factor to being recognized as a mainstream asset.

“There is much to celebrate this year in terms of achievements by the volunteer community”, she continued. “Yet we know that the hardest part still lies ahead. The priorities are clear: volunteer activities and their results needed to be documented, and new ways to measure those impacts needed to be found.”

As part of the UN General Assembly session came the launch of the first State of the World’s Volunteerism Report (SWVR), ‘Universal Values for Global Well-being’.

Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), noted that the strong links between volunteerism, peace and human development were still not widely acknowledged by Governments.

“We can say that the pursuit of human development and indeed of overall wellbeing will be enhanced by the contribution of volunteerism,” she remarked.

The Report calls upon policy-makers to take well-being into account when designing any new development architecture. “Where citizens are engaged and working to overcome their own challenges, development and peace are more enduring,” added the Administrator.

Citing examples about well-being in national policies, for example in Bhutan, Bolivia, Canada, China, Ecuador, Thailand and the United Kingdom, the Report’s Senior Writer, Robert Leigh, said: “There does now appear to be real interest, and intent, in many developed and developing countries about quality of life issues.”

The SWVR stresses, noted Mr Leigh, that the income poor strive to achieve well-being, in the sense of “feeling good and doing well both physically and emotionally” for themselves and for their communities.

However, he noted, “volunteerism is not a panacea. It should not absolve governments and other actors of their responsibilities… Budgets are needed to provide infrastructure. This may include research, training, transportation, management capacity and legal and fiscal provisions.”

Two UN Volunteers also addressed the UN General Assembly. Highlighting the “power and potential” of her work, Shoko Fujita, UNV Child Protection Officer with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Timor-Leste, said that disturbing stories of children in developing countries being sexually abused and exploited had driven her to try do something to protect them from such violence.

Talking about the motivation of volunteers, Flavio Lopes Ribeiro, project coordinator for Brazilian UN Volunteers in El Salvador said: “When we are connected with spiritual and human values, a true adventure begins, and the joy of being ourselves and using our ability to help other people always lead us to amazing experiences. This is what volunteers do: we donate our energy and personal abilities as a small gift to the world, and what we receive back is beyond words.”

Celebrations of International Volunteer Day took place in many countries around the world. The SWVR was launched or will be launched shortly in the following 76 countries: Albania, Algeria, Armenia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Canada, Chad, China, Colombia , Côte d’lvoire, Croatia, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Fiji, France, Gambia, Germany, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Liberia, Lithuania, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Peru, Philippines, Rwanda, Samoa, São Tomé and Principe, Seychelles, South Africa, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Syria, Tanzania, Thailand, Timor Leste, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Yemen and Zimbabwe.