UN Volunteer on service

Volunteerism as a means of reaching the marginalized in post-pandemic recovery

In Latin America, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme are partnering on an innovative volunteerism model to encourage financial inclusion and socioeconomic recovery. Their aim? To work towards a post-pandemic recovery that reflects the needs of the marginalized.

Latin America is the region with the most economic inequality in the world. Some 80 per cent of the population work in the informal economy sector, not profiting from basic services like social security programmes. According to the UNDP report, Volunteerism to foster development: concepts and prototypes (2021), 22 per cent do not have access to clean water, 34 per cent do not have an internet connection, and 45 per cent are excluded from financial services, such as bank accounts.

Due to COVID-19, 34 million people have lost their jobs and 45 million may fall into poverty, reports a study of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. In Argentina, poverty affects 35.5 per cent of the population, while in Guatemala, it affects 6 out of 10 people and 8 out of 10 in indigenous communities (Human Rights in Guatemala, OACNUDH, 2020). In Colombia, refugees and migrants coming from Venezuela have needs that are essential for the survival of their families (Factsheet High Frequency Survey, ACNUR, 2021).

Through their alliance, UNDP's Accelerator Lab in Argentina (CoLab) and UNV were able to prototype an innovative volunteerism model to encourage financial inclusion and socioeconomic recovery in the region.

Volunteerism is a means to reach marginalized groups, positioning the people's voice and experience at the center of attention. --Ana Paula Ré Giamé, former UN Volunteer with CoLab, Argentina

More than 140 volunteers, largely community volunteers with experience in fintech, participated in this prototyping from 20 countries.

During the first stage, the volunteers mapped the financial and socioeconomic recovery solutions adopted by vulnerable communities in Argentina. Ten youth interviewed 40 local leaders and people from popular sectors in the country.

During the second stage, a virtual programme on mentoring and innovation was held, called Fintech for Inclusion. This brought together 66 volunteers aged 18-32 from 16 countries in Latin America and the United Kingdom. Participants analyzed 14 challenges related to financial inclusion in the region and proposed solutions, considering the findings of the first phase. 

Now, 33 per cent of the projects are still active and one already works as social entrepreneurship, educating Argentinian youth on financial inclusion.

Our entire strategy was based on the idea that without volunteers, there wouldn't be any initiatives. Volunteers are at home where they serve, so their knowledge of the territory and their motivation to improve their lives and the lives of their families and friends live was key for the execution of the project. --Ana Paula Ré Giamé

This prototyping project would not have been possible without the valuable contribution of other strategic partners: Territorios en Acción, Shaping Horizons y Global Shapers Buenos Aires, organizations that, from their inception, have promoted volunteerism as a strategy for social change.

Young people also played an integral role in conducting virtual programmes. "Youth grow in a constantly changing environment. Their capacity to adapt and their versatility are catalysts for improving many public policies," Ana Paula comments.

The experiences and data obtained could be used by decision-makers in the region to generate public policies with a bottom-up approach. Volunteerism is, thus, a civil participation strategy that mobilizes youth and permits them to escalate community solutions. By bringing together the voices, experiences and knowledge of volunteers, it facilitates inclusive and sustainable solutions.