Volunteering the future: A call to arms
During a recent visit to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Centre in Istanbul, we discussed at length the many natural synergies between the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme and UNDP's development work in Europe and Central Asia. We agreed that for UNV and for UNDP, the critical element is inclusion. To be truly inclusive, we will have to work harder to reach women, minorities, and other vulnerable groups. Volunteerism can be an essential part of that reach.
How does volunteering make a difference? These days, we are trying to do development differently: to partner with less usual suspects for outside insights, and tap into local energy and initiatives.
The ethos of volunteerism is exactly the same it is not a supplement to the work we do; it is a natural component within it. And with whom do we partner up to do this? The answer, of course, is young people. They are the natural choice.
Every year, over 6,300 UN Volunteers are mobilized to help build peace and bolster sustainable development in 130 countries worldwide. Its a challenging task but one to which the UN Volunteers are wholly committed.
During a recent visit to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Centre in Istanbul, we discussed at length the many natural synergies between the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme and our development work in Europe and Central Asia.
We agreed that for UNV and for UNDP, the critical element is inclusion.
To be truly inclusive, we will have to work harder to reach women, minorities, and other vulnerable groups.
Volunteerism can be an essential part of that reach. Today, we have the largest cohort of youth in human history. Fifty percent of the population is below the age of 30. We wouldnt expect any response to gender issues to be credible unless women and girls were involved in shaping it. So, likewise, we cannot shape an effective response to youth matters if we do not include the voices of young people themselves.
We see ample evidence of this already happening in our region.
In Belarus, young people volunteer to give free city tours to blind children; others provide orphans with clothes for harsh winters. They dont see themselves as volunteers per se, but as citizens passionate to create infrastructures for resilience in their communities.
So how do we tap into this momentum and energy to address major development issues such as social exclusion and unemployment?
Here are three ways that we believe we can work together:
1. Volunteers providing next-generation social services
Research shows that when people feel alone or isolated, when they suffer a long-term medical condition, or are in the midst of a disaster, the first person they reach out to is a family member or neighbour.
This informal sector, people helping people, is worth 34 billion pounds annually in the UK alone. With the Arab Youth Volunteering for a Better Future Project, UNV and its partners in the Arab region set up national and regional structures to stimulate volunteerism. This actively works to build trust between young people, their governments, and their communities.
Similarly, with the Spot the Future campaign, UNDP has figured out how to engage those who may feel alienated to join the development conversation. We know these groups are out there.
What if we figured out a way to partner them with our corps of volunteers?
2. New data for development
With the organizational push for data innovation, UNV and UNDP have a complimentary set of skills: UNDP has standing project teams and hot-button issues it is tackling, while UNV could contribute access to its roster of data-skilled private sector experts to help meet this demand.
Having a network of quick-to-deploy corporate volunteers would really bolster our work in big data for development.
3. Social innovation camps 2.0
Through social innovation labs, UNDP has been successfully tapping into local energy, and empowering people to come up with solutions to problems they face daily.
One of the really critical factors of this success is providing support to these ideas, nurturing these development start-ups in a way that citizens can then take forward. Having UN Volunteers embedded in communities, taking forward the projects that filter through these camps and labs, could provide the crucial, longer-term support needed to ensure these ideas really take off.
The bottom line is these groups are already out there.
Like the citizen solutions happening every day that we try to tap into - people are already volunteering: they just dont think of it that way.
Up till now weve spotted them. Working with UN Volunteers, we can take this further. We can link them on the ground and make that future happen.
Lets figure out solutions together.