Mr Olivier Adam, Executive Coordinator of the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme, addressed the UNDP/UNFPA/UNOPS Executive Board in a virtual session on 4 September 2020. Below are his remarks as delivered.
Thank you, Mr Associate Administrator, for your introduction and your – and the Administrator’s – commitment to volunteerism and your strong support to the United Nations Volunteers programme.
Mr Associate Administrator,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I would of course have preferred to be in New York with you and to meet you all in person, but the continuing Global COVID-19 crisis prevents me from that, and I look forward to presenting our report to you virtually.
Over the next 10-15 minutes I will present our key results achieved in 2019, the second year of the UNV Strategic Framework 2018-2021, and I will give you a brief readout of the Mid-Term Review of the Strategic Framework, a few thoughts on the way forward, including our response to the COVID-19 crisis and the potential impact on UNV of this global crisis.
First, let me say that 2019 was a record-breaking year for UN Volunteers – with 8,282 volunteers serving with 54 UN missions, agencies, funds and programmes in 153 countries and territories across the globe. Never before, in the nearly 50- year history of UNV, have we deployed so many volunteers. We have in fact already exceeded the 7,500 target for the end of the Strategic Framework in 2021. And it doesn’t end there. Another historic milestone was reached on 15 July 2019, when we achieved gender parity for the first time among serving volunteers, and over the entire year, 51 percent of UN Volunteers were women.
Under outcome 1 of the Strategic Framework, UNV promotes volunteerism as a means to implement the 2030 Agenda.
Never has UNV’s mandate been closer to the priorities of a global development framework than with the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals. The Decade of Action calls for citizen engagement and local action. And around the globe, we see volunteers and volunteerism expanding the space in which we achieve the future we want – by engaging greater numbers of people in local and national planning and action for achieving the SDGs.
Madame President, out of 47 Voluntary National Reviews presented during the Highlevel Political Forum on Sustainable Development in 2019, 28 reflected the contributions of volunteering to the SDGs. I commend the Member States for recognizing the role of national and local volunteer groups for achieving the SDGs.
In 2019, UNV provided technical expertise to 11 national and regional volunteer schemes. Partnering with the Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan programme for youth in India and the Pan American Games in Peru, among others, we engaged half a million local non-UN volunteers supporting activities at the grassroots level. Eleven volunteer schemes is lower than the target of 13 due to UNV’s deliberate effort to move away from small, stand-alone projects. As you may note from the report, UNV has instead focused on strengthening capacities for volunteer action to reach scaled results – and on this indicator UNV, in contrast, has performed above the target.
During 2019, UNV partnered with all five UN Regional Economic Commissions and during their annual Regional Forums on Sustainable Development we held regional consultations on Volunteerism and the SDGs. This laid the foundation for the Global Technical Meeting on Volunteerism under the Plan of Action to Integrate Volunteerism into the 2030 Agenda which took place virtually in July this year with over 5.000 participants from across the globe.
Throughout 2019, UNV also promoted knowledge on volunteerism. This included research on the role of gender in volunteerism for community resilience; a conference in India on data and measuring the economic value of volunteer work; and a roundtable on the contribution of volunteerism to peace and development in the Sahel.
Under outcome 2, UNV supported the UN system by deploying the record number of 8,282 UN Volunteers who have been directly involved in the UN’s humanitarian, peacebuilding and sustainable development work.
Forty-nine per cent of our UN Volunteers in 2019 were national volunteers. This reflects the long-term trend towards increased opportunities for National UN Volunteers in line with QCPR and enables the UN system to further strengthen national capacities in all 17 goal areas. As a side note, on 15 April this year, the share of national volunteers overtook the share of international volunteers.
Volunteering is a powerful means of implementation for the SDGs, as was also recognized by the UN Resolution "Integrating volunteering into peace and development" of November 2015. Last year, 43 per cent of serving UN Volunteers reported to have contributed to SDG 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions and 21 per cent said their focus was on SDG 5 on gender equality. Rounding out the Top5 contribution list were SDG 17 on partnerships for the goals, SDG 3 on good health and wellbeing and SDG 10 on reduced inequalities.
To confirm the impact UN Volunteers are having, in 2019 UNV surveyed its UN partners. The vast majority responded that they deploy UN Volunteers because the global UNV pool offers the talent they need to fulfil their mandates within Agenda 2030. UN Volunteers add gender, ability, geographic origin, age and language diversity to their workforce, and present a cost-effective talent solution. Ninety-one per cent of respondents would recommend UN Volunteers to others, and 87 per cent declared to be satisfied with UNV service delivery.
UNDP, UN Peacekeeping and Special Political Missions, UNHCR, UNICEF and UNFPA are the top five UN entities recruiting UN Volunteers. In addition, between OCHA and the Resident Coordinator Offices, 244 UN Volunteers, 60 per cent of them women, have supported humanitarian and development coordination, thus providing daily contributions to UN development system reform.
As mentioned already, after many years of focused efforts, in 2019 UNV reached gender parity among volunteers. Women now make up 51 per cent of UN Volunteers. UNV achieved this by seeking and recommending highly qualified women candidates to UN partners and conducting targeted talent outreach for women professionals.
During 2019, 13,186 Online Volunteers served through UNV: 58 per cent being women, and 5 per cent living with disabilities. They provided remote services to 33 UN entities and 183 public institutions and civil society organizations. Highest demand was for Online Volunteers for translation, writing and editing, design and research.
Mobilization of Online Volunteers declined in 2019, when UNV introduced a paid subscription to access the service platform. Given the decline and taking into account the positive financial results for UNV overall, we resumed the provision of the service at no cost from 2020 onwards. Registration of new non-governmental organizations has reopened with a strengthened due diligence process. This year we expect a growth in demand for our Online Volunteers.
Moving now to institutional performance. The total financial volume of UNV activities in 2019 amounted to $221.3 million, a 10% increase from 2018.
UNV continued prudent management of our financial resources. In 2019 we reduced our costs by 5 per cent compared to 2018. Coupled with increased volunteer mobilization this has led to an increase in our extra-budgetary reserves to twelve months of expenditure, complying with the Board-approved UNDP policy on minimum reserves.
UNV received contributions to the Special Voluntary Fund, amounting to $4.5 million. In 2019, contributions to the Fund came from Bangladesh, China, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Sweden, Switzerland and Thailand. I want to thank these Member States and those who have contributed to SVF in the past. The Fund remains critical for UNV’s innovation and research and for upgrading our services to Member States and UN partners. It also enables us to make timely and critical investment, as has been the case this year when we invested US$ 1 million of these critical resources to immediately deploy 74 UN Volunteers to support coordination, information management and public health function in countries severely affected by the crisis. I would like to encourage all Member States to take a stand for volunteerism by contributing to this strategic fund.
To improve its efficiency, UNV continued to streamline business processes. In 2019 we reduced the average recruitment time from 55 to 51 business days, from vacancy approval to entry on duty of a UN Volunteer.
Madame President, at the end of last year UNV commissioned the independent Mid-Term Review of our Strategic Framework. The review concluded that the deep organizational transformation undertaken in 2018-2019 has unleashed UNV’s capacity to deliver. The global restructuring, regionalization, professionalizing of country-level capacity, streamlining of business processes, diversification of volunteer modalities and UNV’s talent pool – all of these strengthened our focus and agility and led to record numbers of UN Volunteers under Outcome 2. The review also found that nurturing UNV’s comparative advantage on evidence, knowledge exchange among Member States and advising policy and legislation on volunteerism resulted in better global and national advocacy under Outcome 1. A fuller summary can be found in the Report.
Based on the Mid-Term Review, UNV proposes to revise its Results Framework 2018-2021 as highlighted in Annex 6: through upwards revision of the already exceeded targets and the introduction of a gender equality indicator. We will look forward to the Board’s consideration of these revisions.
Looking ahead, and taking into consideration the findings of the Mid-term Review, the report presents five key highlights for the second biennium of the current Strategic Framework:
- UNV will continue to promote volunteerism as an SDG accelerator. We will facilitate the sharing of best practices among Member States, the UN system, and participating volunteer organizations.
- Strengthening volunteerism within the UN system will continue to be central to UNV. Mobilizing UN Volunteers for the system is key to promote the power of volunteering and to maintain financial sustainability of UNV.
- The ongoing Digital Transformation of UNV will ease processes for identifying, recruiting and deploying UN Volunteers to partners. UNV will concurrently align its institutional setup with the new business-process reality based on a Unified Volunteering Platform as a one-stop-shop for our services, automation and the integration of artificial intelligence.
- By the end of this year, we will complete the review of UNV Conditions of Service, after a comprehensive consultation process, including with all UN entities through the UN Human Resources Network under the auspices of the High-level Committee on Management. This review will simplify volunteer management and ensure duty of care of UN Volunteers.
- Finally, as a common UN service, UNV will continue to champion United Nations reform through even closer collaboration with the UN resident coordinators and country teams. As a source of cost-effective, flexible and community-oriented talent solutions, UNV will support the preparation and the implementation of the new generation of United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Frameworks.
Madame President, now allow me to brief you on UNV’s response to the global COVID19 crisis. The pandemic calls for UN entities to work closely with Member States in responding to this crisis. Globally, volunteer action is filling gaps that governments and other stakeholders cannot meet alone.
From the start, UNV has supported the UN system with surge capacity to tackle the health emergency and to minimize its economic, social and health impacts. In particular, National UN Volunteers helped meet the UN system’s capacity gaps in countries with travel restrictions. Some have been deployed or reassigned immediately to help UN entities as medical officers, WASH specialists, information management officers and procurement assistants.
Today, close to 1,200 UN Volunteers are working or are about to start working in COVID-19 response assignments in 93 countries, directly supporting RCOs, WHO, UNDP and another 20 UN entities.
UNV’s Online Volunteering platform enables global citizens to support the COVID response from wherever they are. As of today, over 4,000 Online Volunteers delivered communication materials for increased awareness, data mapping, translation services and other location-neutral tasks to help fight the pandemic.
As mentioned earlier, to strategically augment our support, UNV has allocated US1 million from our Special Volunteer Fund to deploy 74 National UN Volunteers within the UN’s COVID-19 response. Experts in public health, coordination and information management, they are working with Resident Coordinator Offices, and country offices of WHO, UNDP and OCHA in 56 countries.
Going forward, UN Volunteers will be equally suited to help long-term recovery efforts, from livelihoods to strengthening health systems. UNV is fully committed to support integrated UN system efforts thanks to over 200,000 candidates in our global talent pool in more than 100 professional profiles and our speedy deployment timeframes.
Before I conclude, I would like to say goodbye and thank you. This is my last Executive Board meeting as UNV Executive Coordinator and my last few months in the organization after 33 years of service. I would like to thank all Executive Board Members for your close and constructive partnership over the past 4 years. Thank you for the support given to us to take UNV forward and for the trust given to us to undertake these critical reforms.