UNV-VSA panel at SIDS conference agrees: volunteerism strengthens partnerships to achieve sustainable development goals

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Speakers on the panel discussion jointly hosted by UNV and the Volunteer Service Abroad (New Zealand) in Apia, Samoa agreed that volunteerism strengthen partnerships aimed at achieving sustainable development goals. The panel discussion was held during the Third Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) which drew more than 3,000 participants to the South Pacific and closed having produced a draft outcome document that recognizes the relevance of civil society role in sustainable more development for its members.

During the Conference of Small Island Developing States held in Apia, Samoa in September, 2014, UNV and the New Zealand Volunteer Service Abroad jointly hosted a panel discussion on volunteerism and partnership. Panel members included, from left to right, in the back row, Giles Romulus, National Co-ordinator, Global Environment Fund, UNDP (St Lucia); Le Tagaloa Junior Ulu, International Programme Manager, Volunteer Service Abroad (New Zealand); Luke Daunivalu, Deputy Secretary (Policy), Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation/Fiji Volunteer Service (Fiji). In the front row are Rachel Nunn, volunteer and young professional, Pacific Emerging Environment Leaders (Hawai’i); Ulla Gronlund, UNV Programme Officer, UNV Fiji Field Unit; Dr Gillian Greer, CEO Volunteer Service Abroad (New Zealand); Maiava Visekota Peteru, President, YWCA Samoa (Samoa); and Tagaloa Eddie Wilson, President, Samoa Association of Manufacturers and Exporters. (Angie Enoka, communications volunteer with VSA (New Zealand), 2014.

Volunteering is an effective avenue for creating constructive partnerships between nations, communities and individuals and between governments, civil society and the private sector. The role volunteerism plays in making development genuinely people centered should be properly recognized.


These were the messages emphasized by speakers at the panel discussion jointly hosted by the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme and New Zealand’s Volunteer Service Abroad during the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States  (SIDS) held in Apia, Samoa last week. Over 3,000 delegates gathered to discuss the future of a group of small island countries that face particular challenges for sustainable development in view of their unique and particular vulnerabilities to the rising sea levels caused by climate change.


Two small but significant achievements towards advancing the integration of volunteerism in development policies and programmes were reached during preparatory regional fora of Youth  and Major Groups and other stakeholders  where volunteerism was recognized in their respective outcome documents. 


The SIDS Conference acknowledged in its outcome document the need for broad-based participation and capacity development for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), recognizing the relevance of civil society’s role.


“Volunteerism has a critical role in providing people and communities a possibility to directly engage in their own development and at the same time have on impact on the global development results,” says panelist Ulla Gronlund, (Finland) UNV Programme Officer in Fiji.


“The work of volunteers does not replace the social services of each nation, but does strengthen or complement some of those services. In addition, volunteering goes beyond service delivery for example by reinforcing social cohesion”, she continued, adding,  “It plays a crucial role  at the local and national level in all SIDS  on issues such as climate change, disaster management, gender and youth engagement, but the contribution it brings too often goes unrecognized.”


The panel discussion showcased a number of successful partnerships in volunteerism from the Pacific and the Caribbean. Deputy Secretary Mr Luke Daunivalu from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation represented Fiji Volunteer Service, which is the first formal South-South volunteer scheme in the Pacific. Through the scheme, a number of retired teachers have been mobilized as volunteers to Vanuatu, Nauru, Tuvalu and Marshall Islands to support capacity building of the educational system, mentoring and skills development.

“Our scheme taps into experienced citizens’ willingness to engage in development,” the Deputy Secretary highlighted.


Ms Maiava Visekota Peteru, the President of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of Samoa, emphasized how volunteerism is at the heart of YWCA in Samoa, and reminded all participants of why volunteerism plays a crucial role in linking new sustainable development goals with the local level.


“YWCA is a village based organization. It is our volunteers who link us to the community,” Ms Peteru said.


Mr Giles Romulus, the national coordinator for Global Environment Fund UNDP in St Lucia showcased how UNDP’s Small Grants Programme has addressed global environmental problems through engaging thousands of people in local communities in environmental initiatives. Tagaloa Eddie Wilson, President of the Samoa Association of Manufacturers and Exporters called for building an environment conducive for partnerships between the business sector and volunteer based organizations, to ensure that the impact of volunteerism creates benefits to the right stakeholders and prompt sustainable volunteering initiatives.


Ms Rachel Nunn from Hawai’i discussed her experiences as a volunteer in the Pacific Emerging Environment Leaders (PEEL) network, which has implemented a number of initiatives in partnership with local communities in the Pacific, including the Marine Environment Education Programme in Papua New Guinea and community-based waste management programmes in a number of countries. She highlighted how young volunteers are already active development partners, creating sustainable results within their communities.


While the discussion highlighted a number of inspiring examples of how volunteerism already brings together different partners for common development efforts, participants also agreed that there is still a lot to do to effectively harness and enable engagement of all citizens in global development. Apart from recognizing volunteerism, its effective facilitation and integration into national policies and programmes are also needed.


The facilitator of the panel, Gillian Greer, CEO of New Zealand’s Volunteer Service Abroad and also the chair of the Post2015 Volunteerism Working Group said: “We should not focus on measuring and the recognition of volunteerism alone. We should focus on the impact of volunteers and their assignments and the extraordinary achievements that come out of volunteering, even beyond their assignments. It is worth exploring how we work with governments and private organisations to recognize the value of volunteering, so people start to take it seriously and engage with it. This is all part of the conversation for economic development in the SIDS Conference.”


Some members of the panel talked about how volunteering changes the lives of volunteers, the host country and recipients. This triple win is found in volunteers acting as catalysts for sustainable, people-centred development.


“The Post-2015 development era is just around the corner, and we should not miss the opportunity to properly support volunteerism and include volunteer groups as essential partners for the implementation of the new development agenda particularly at the local level”, UNV PO Ulla Gronlund said.


For more on the panel discussion, read


  • the blog entry by New Zealand VSA Volunteer Angie Enoka;
  • the UNV Issue Brief on Environmental sustainability and volunteerism.

Ulla Helena Gronlund (Finland) is the UNV Programme Officer in Fiji.  Jasmine Subasat (Japan) is the UNV Programme Officer in Samoa.


For more on UNV activities in the region read the latest Pacific newsletter (pdf) below.