UNV Executive Coordinator Richard Dictus addresses the more than 100 participants from UN Member States, UN entities, regional organizations, volunteer involving organizations, civil society stakeholders and the private sector, at UNV's first Partnerships Forum held in Bonn, Germany on 30 September and 1 October 2014 while Forum moderator, Amina Said, UNV Communications Section, looks on. (Celine Bolton/UNV, 2014)

UNV first Global Partnerships Forum a success

UNV's first Partnerships Forum has lived up to its theme "Innovation for Volunteer Action", attracting a multi-sector assembly of more than 100 partners and donors to Bonn, Germany on 30 September and 1 October 2014 to strengthen old partnerships and build new ones.

"The UNV Partnerships Forum has lived up to its theme—Innovation for Volunteer Action," said UNV's Executive Coordinator Richard Dictus as he closed the event held in Bonn, Germany on 30 September and 1 October 2014.  Attracting more than 100 people from around the world, participants discussed the theme, within a stone's throw of UNV headquarters, in the historic Wasserwerk (meaning "waterworks") building which housed the German Parliament from 1986 to 1992..

By all accounts, the UNV Partnerships Forum, the first of its kind, was a resounding success, drawing participants from partner UN Member States, UN entities, regional organizations, volunteer-involving organizations, civil society stakeholders, and the private sector. The two- day forum was organized by UNV in collaboration with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the Federal City of Bonn with the aim of providing an open platform where existing partnerships could be strengthened and new ones built.

Ms Maria Eugenia (Gina) Casar, the Associate Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), scheduled her first mission to UNV Headquarters to coincide with the Partnerships Forum.  "Today, an inspiring global conversation is taking place on an agenda for the next 15 years," Ms Casar said upon officially opening the event. "The consultations on the post-2015 development agenda have demonstrated a revitalized desire for increased voice and participation."

"People want and need to be seen as both agents of change and beneficiaries in achieving sustainable development and poverty eradication.  Volunteerism, as a way for people to engage, is one path to inclusive dialogue on the formulation and implementation of any new global development framework." 

In welcoming participants, Deputy Mayor of Bonn Mr Reinhard Limbach cited "the fruitful partnership" and "strong links" between Bonn and UNV—in which "UNV has played a special role in... endeavors to strengthen Bonn's international profile."

Numerous other high level speakers and discussants participated in the different plenary discussions, dialogues, and the panels, which were moderated by UNV Deputy Executive Coordinator, Ms Rosemary Kalapurakal. The Ministerial panel discussion on Youth Volunteering for Peace and Development, included Ms Victoire Dogbe, Minister for Community Development, Craft and Youth Employment in Togo; Mr Thomas Silberhorn, Parliamentary State Secretary with BMZ; Dr Takahiro Shinyo, Vice-president of Kwansei Gakuin University in Japan; Ms Ayaka Kurehara, a UN University Volunteer in Japan; and Dr Martial De-Paul Ikounga, Commissioner on the African Union Commission.

On the panel "New Frontiers of Volunteering and Civic Engagement", Mr Fréderic Kaboré, Secretary General of the Ministry of Youth, Employment and Vocational Training of Burkina Faso, joined the DEC, along with Ms Kathi Dennis, Executive Director of the International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE); Ms Dimity Fifer, Chief Executive Officer of Australian Volunteers International and Ms Geri Lau, Head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

The panel on "Partnering to Innovate and Promote Volunteering for Peace and Development" included Ms Chhaya Kapilashrami, Director of the Field Personnel Division of the United Nations Department of Field Support; Ms Luiza Carvalho, UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative for The Philippines; Mr Hans ten Feld, Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); Mr Juan Carlos Reyes, Director of the Presidential Youth Programme in the President's Office in Colombia; and Mr Ibrahim Ouédraogo, Regional Coordinator for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Regional Office in Burkino Faso.

The open dialogue scheduled at the end of each panel discussion elicited further valuable input from more, often equally expert, contributors.  

For most of the attendees, including UNV staff present, the highlight of the Partnerships Forum was the session on the first day called Inspiration in Action—Blue Room Talks. Eight UN Volunteers from across the globe took center stage to share their stories and provide inspiring insight into their assignments, and the difference they are making within communities every day.

Chosen to represent the over 6,000 UN Volunteers and the breadth of UNV's various geographic and programmatic areas, the UN Volunteers included international and national UN Volunteers, a UN Youth Volunteer and a UN Online Volunteer.

Dr. Bip Nandi, from the United Kingdom, shared his experience as a UNV Pediatric Surgeon in Malawi. Ms Li Wei, a national UN Volunteer in China, spoke about her deployment to a forest management project near Beijing. Mr Moses Zangar Jr., a journalist from Liberia, explained why he thought being a UNV Communications Officer with UNDP Zambia was the best thing to happen to him. National UN Volunteer Ms Samar Mohamed Wahba expressed her joy teaching teachers with UNICEF Egypt's community kindergarten which served the "poorest children in Egypt".

UN Online Volunteer, Ms Kirthi Jayakuma, a lawyer in India, spoke of how her UN Online Volunteering opportunity to write a blog for a Nigeria-based website, Delta Women, led her to advocate for the construction of a school in one the communities she was writing about. Mr Ioseba Amatriain Losa, from Spain, spoke about the amazing young people he has encountered during his current assignment as a fully-funded UN Youth Volunteer in Colombia.  

National UN Volunteer Ms Sathaboramana "Mana" Kheang, now a graduate student in the US, recalled serving as an LGBT Human Rights Officer for "Being LGBT in Asia", a joint regional initiative funded by UNDP Asia, Pacific Regional Centre and USAID, based at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia.  Mr Bobbie Baker, from Ireland, joked that as a UN Volunteer Water and Sanitation Engineer in Sudan, he felt quite at home in the forum's location in the Waterwerks/Pumpenhaus building, where he shared his experience providing clean water to 130,000 refugees across 13 camps.

All of the volunteers spoke from their hearts and all provided their eye witness perspective on how volunteering is transforming their communities and changing themselves. Their poignant stories of dedication, innovation, courage and always humanity brought many listeners to tears and touched everyone.

"With the Forum, UNV is demonstrating its capacity as a convening organization," said Dr. Peter Failer, Director General for International Development Policy with Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) He noted, "UNV has helped Bonn to be an international center for sustainable development and environment." His ministry, BMZ, collaborated with UNV and the Federal City of Bonn to hold the Forum. Overall, Germany is one of UNV's principal donors.

"Volunteerism needs the support of national governments and international agencies," Dr. Failer said to the participants. "My Government will continue its strong support for the (sic) fund and encourages other UN Member States to do so."

UNV's EC said the Forum achieved its aim to strengthen existing partnerships and build new ones.   "We have discussed how we can jointly shape the implementation of the new UNV Strategic Framework together with partners.  We have discussed the importance of volunteerism in the post-2015 development agenda and of consolidating volunteer knowledge and innovation.  And we have discussed UNV's new enhanced approach to partnership engagement," Richard Dictus stated during the closing. "All of us here today—we are the community who support volunteers to do what they can do.  I believe we all know that we now need to go back to our responsibilities and talk about volunteers."

UNDP's Associate Administrator officiated various sessions, expressing her support and interest in the testimonies and proposed initiatives with steadily mounting exuberance throughout the Forum.  By the end, Ms Casar said, "I am positive volunteerism has a key role to play in the post-2015 agenda.  I offer to be your Goodwill Ambassador and will include, as much as possible, the mention of UNV, UN Volunteers and volunteerism in my speeches."  The UNV EC thereafter referred to the globe-trotting UNDP executive as UNV's secret weapon in the international arena.

Ambassador Martin Frick with Germany's Federal Foreign Office referred to the Forum's historic setting in the Wasserwerk building, next door to offices of the 19 UN entities based in Bonn, when he told participants, "This UN campus is the place where Germany learned democracy.  It was only in 1973 that Germany joined the UN and now we host the United Nations...which makes me proud every time I come here."   Ambassador Frick said that UNV’s tagline may be "Inspiration in Action", but that "inspirational policy" was the nature of the work that Forum participants do.