On 6 July 2017, the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme in Serbia jointly with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) hosted in Belgrade a conference entitled Volunteerism for the Sustainable Development Goals. UNV Serbia facilitated the NGO, CSO and VIO joint-meeting to share knowledge, connect networks, and draw on best practices.
Participants, representing many national volunteer involving organisations, showed great interest in creating an enabling environment to promote volunteerism as an instrument to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the country. They reiterated their enthusiasm in working jointly with UNV and UNDP to promote volunteerism at the institutional-level and to push for improving the national Law on Volunteerism and promote the Plan of Action (2016–2030).
Ms. Jelena Maric Lukovic, a national UN Volunteer in Serbia, took to the stage to share her story, providing inspiring insights from her assignment with UNDP assisting refugees and host communities and the difference the project is making within communities where she serves:
Refugees and locals came together to prepare for, and prevent impacts of, future natural disasters, creating more resilient and more cohesive communities. The words of migrant volunteers still resonate loud and clear for me. They said that this was the best day of their life ever since arriving in Serbia, that working together made them feel part of something meaningful, part of a team that does good.”
An important element of the conference was the discussion of the current legal structures that govern volunteerism in Serbia. Participants noted the need for reform to allow for wider participation and stronger impacts of volunteerism as a driver of the SDGs. They noted as principle shortcoming of the current law its emphasis on formal and long-term volunteering, ignoring short or ad-hoc forms which are needed by CSOs in their daily work. The obstacle, they argued, is that the current law prescribes minimum requirements of time in its definition of volunteerism and sets as a requirement a minimum of 10 hours per week within a three-month period to qualify an activity as volunteer service.
Representatives from VIOs and CSOs called for a need to change this definition of volunteerism included within the law to better understand and support national volunteer solutions in Serbia. Participants discussed the progress of a working group lobbying the government to amend the law and are now waiting for official responses to their submitted report.
Participants also welcomed expanding the scope of official channels for volunteerism in Serbia adding that only the Ministry of Youth and Sports currently includes volunteering as a part of its National Strategy for Youth and supporting activities that mobilise youth volunteers focused on youth issues. A working group consisting of civil society representatives and UNV was proposed to give joint-recommendations to authorities concerning the Law on Volunteerism.
Complementing these discussions, an energizing speech was delivered by Kostapanos Miliaresis, a TEDx speaker and Co-Founder/General Director of the Greek volunteer mobilisation platform Ethelon. He shared examples of skillsets and healthy habits that empower people to overcome obstacles when volunteering. He shared best practices and echoed the value of volunteerism in Greece. “40% of today’s high school students will have jobs that don’t yet exist,” he stated. “Besides altruistic reasons, this is one more reason to volunteer and gain experience. Go for what makes you happy, ask the question why, and walk the extra mile.”