Shalina Miah (right), Manager of UNV's regional office in Asia and the Pacific with Namchok Petsaen, UN Volunteer Communications Assistant at the regional office in Bangkok, Thailand.
Shalina Miah (right), Manager of UNV's regional office in Asia and the Pacific with Namchok Petsaen, UN Volunteer Communications Assistant at the regional office in Bangkok, Thailand.

Promoting volunteerism and inclusion for the Sustainable Development Goals

An estimated 1.3 billion people – or one in six of the global population – experience a significant disability today. The Asia-Pacific region is home to over 700 million persons with disabilities, who continue to face significant barriers to their full and effective societal participation. Upholding their rights and ensuring their full inclusion is not only a moral imperative, but a practical necessity.

The disability inclusion strategy of the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme enables UN partners to include persons with disabilities in their workforce, thus expanding opportunities, diversity and representation.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development put forward 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which reflect the rights of persons with disabilities. This vision of a better future can only be achieved with the full participation of everyone, including persons with disabilities.

To broaden its diversity and inclusion agenda, in 2018, UNV launched a joint Talent Programme for persons with disabilities with the UN Development Programme (UNDP). This pioneering initiative gave young and mid-career professionals with disabilities an opportunity to join the UN system.

Volunteering allows persons with disabilities to utilize their potential, make meaningful contributions to the development agenda and impact communities. They also help leverage disability inclusion among their peers, because they understand better the issues affecting them. --Shalina Miah, Manager of UNV's regional office in Asia and the Pacific

In 2022, UNV recruited 205 UN Volunteers with disabilities from 89 nationalities and connected them with 26 UN partners in 86 countries globally. Of these, 54 (or 26 per cent) served in Asia and the Pacific. From community, youth and specialists to experts, they dedicated their skills and expertise to support the work of nine UN entities in 17 countries.

I have had the privilege to witness the work of these dedicated UN Volunteers with disabilities – and their contribution is unmatched. One of them is Suvd Bold, a national UN Volunteer who is supporting the UN Resident Coordinator’s office in Mongolia as a Humanitarian Affairs Officer. During emergencies, she collects data on locations where humanitarian support is needed. Suvd identifies the number of people affected and helps ensure that humanitarian support reaches those in need.

UN Volunteers with disabilities, like Nichakarn Kaveevorayan, who serves with UNDP in Thailand, are the true definition of inspiration in action. Nichakarn's reaches out to diverse groups of persons with disabilities to understand their issues and help UNDP advance disability inclusion.

In Indonesia, I Made Wikandana is one of five UN Volunteers with disabilities whose dedication to making positive change is unwavering. As a Disability Inclusion Officer with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), he opens spaces for persons with disabilities to advocate for issues affecting them.

In my office, Namchok Petsaen is an active member of our communications team, leading on disability inclusion and managing our social media channels. Before that, Namchok served with UNDP in Armenia as part of the UNDP/UNV Talent Programme for Young Professionals with Disabilities. 

Through UNV's Online Volunteering service, Online Volunteers with disabilities work with UN entities, governments, public institutions and civil society organizations to tackle today’s sustainable development challenges – from any device, anywhere in the world. Last year, 30 of them contributed their expertise in education, communication and IT for inclusive collaboration in Asia and the Pacific region. They took part in the development of an e-commerce platform for local farmers in India, raised awareness on the importance of youth voting in Nepal and dedicated their time to support English learning for underprivileged children in Viet Nam.

Despite the progress made in engaging persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, there is a strong need to constantly involve them at all levels and value their contributions. With seven years to go to the 2030 Agenda, "leave no-one behind" should not just be a slogan, rather a call to collective action. As the saying goes, nothing about us without us, so my question is, how many persons with disabilities have you included in your team?