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Achieving the global goals: why volunteers are important

22 March 2016

The UN Resolution “Integrating volunteering into peace and development: the plan of action for the next decade and beyond”, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly in November 2015, recognises that volunteering can be a powerful means of implementation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals.

In the Resolution, the General Assembly also acknowledges the Plan of Action for the next decade and beyond (2016-2030), which aims at integrating volunteering in peace and development policies and programmes through a strategic and collective long-term approach that is consistent with the efforts to implement the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

The General Assembly calls upon Member States, the UN system and a wide range of stakeholders to support and resource the Plan, and recognises UNV as the appropriate UN entity to support its implementation.

The Plan of Action aims to:

• strengthen people’s ownership of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda through enhanced civic engagement and enabling environments for citizen action;

• integrate volunteerism into national and global implementation strategies for the post-2015 development agenda; and

• measure volunteerism to contribute to a holistic understanding of the engagement of people and their well-being and be part of the monitoring of the SDGs.

For each strategic objective, the Plan indicates a number of actions, as shown in this presentation: Integrating volunteering in peace and development - The Plan of Action 2016-2030.

The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda will frame global peace and development efforts from 2016 until 2030 in all countries, regardless of their development level. It has a wider scope and aims at tackling both vertical and cross-cutting issues. It also explicitly recognises volunteer groups as stakeholders to achieve the 17 SDGs. 

Volunteering can contribute to achieving the SDGs in many ways

• Volunteers can provide technical support and enhance capacity in all thematic goal areas. They deliver basic services, help transfer skills and foster exchanges of good practices, and add valuable international and local expertise through domestic, South-South, South-North and North-South exchanges. Corporate volunteers can play a particular role in this regard, by making their expertise available to public institutions as well as to fragile communities.

• Volunteers help leave no one behind by reaching out to people, including those marginalized or difficult to reach, to bring people’s voices and knowledge into collective actions. This is crucial to build ownership and localize the SDGs. Volunteer organizations can serve as brokers of engagement, connecting governmental strategies and initiatives with complementary, yet essential, community voluntary action.

• Many of the SDGs call for long-term attitude and behavior changes - for example, in the way we live together or in the way we consume. Volunteers facilitate changes in mindsets by raising awareness or championing those changes and inspiring others.

• The SDGs require a 'data revolution' to collect and analyze disaggregated data to monitor progress. Volunteers can help measure progress on SDG implementation by collecting data, providing expertise and supporting participatory forms of planning and monitoring. Volunteerism, as a form of civic engagement, is a way to strengthen state-citizen accountability mechanisms for the coming decades.

UNV has been actively involved in the global conversation and in promoting volunteerism in the post-2015 context, including by supporting volunteer groups. As with the MDGs, UNV will keep contributing to the global goals by selecting, training and mobilizing skilled and motivated volunteers that serve in UN programmes and projects for peace and development worldwide.

Lessons learnt from the MDGs

In the last 15 years, the MDGs have framed global development efforts. Volunteer action for development has contributed to the MDGs in a wide variety of ways - see examples in Volunteer voices.

The implementation of the MDGs showed that sustainable development requires approaches that complement technical, financial and institutional measures. To achieve the SDGs, people’s engagement in planning, implementation and monitoring needs to be facilitated and new partnerships need to be forged. Volunteers will be instrumental in this process.

This has strongly emerged from an extensive consultation process led by the United Nations (UN), which has involved over eight million people, and was summarized as follows by the UN Secretary-General in his Synthesis Report on the post-2015 sustainable development agenda: “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 the 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.” 

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UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)