The case for investing in volunteerism in Nepal

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The most advanced nations in the world realized how important is to invest resources in the promotion of volunteerism.

From the member nations of the European Union to United States of America, Canada to the nations of South America to Hong Kong, South Korea and Australia, you can find a wealth of initiatives and programs, mostly driven by civil society organizations but mostly backed by the respective governments.

Even the African continent too often ignored or given for granted as a “basket case” can count on several initiatives centered on leveraging volunteerism.

There is a common understanding that promoting, sustaining and backing volunteerism is an investment at short and long term.

On the short term, volunteering actions can often provide the missing support to pressing and impeding issues, including natural disaster outbreaks.

Imagine a group of neighbors coming together with some little support of the local authorities to deal with local issues or think of local citizens mobilizing their free time to clean a local park.

They are driven to spend their spare time in such actions because they have a direct interest and often a desire to solve or improve a problem. Many of them also are motivated by a deep sense of passion for the cause they are trying to deal with.

On the long run, volunteerism strengthens the social fabric, creating the foundations of a more cohesive society.

Imagine, tiny action after tiny action, persons involved in volunteering actions, come to know each other, familiarizing among themselves and building inter-personal trust.

In November last year the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal body in charge of promoting volunteerism ( or service as it is called in the USA), released a new study showing that volunteerism hit a new record high in 2018 with 77.34 million adults being involved in some forms of volunteerism.

The economic value of such actions is even more stunning as nearly 6.9 billion hours of service are worth an estimated $167 billion.

Yet this windfall does not come free: you need consistently to allocate adequate resources and the state must realize that such kind of investment can really make the difference.

You also need to be able to build innovative partnerships among different actors, including the civil society organizations.

In countries like Nepal you hear of volunteerism intermittently, more often than ever when an emergency occurs or a natural disaster strikes the nation.

In such circumstances, volunteers are the cheap laborers of the society, those who can make miracles while being remaining unpaid or provided with token allowances.

These are deep misconceptions at the center of a profound misunderstanding about the power of volunteers.

First of all, volunteerism can be impactful in short term when it is totally driven by citizens.

When often volunteers take the initiation to bring some positive changes in the society, it is because there is neither other option nor any other forms of support the government is ready to provide to solve a particular issue.

This form of “bottom up” service is truly effective but it needs to be sustained and supported by the state if we want to see a long term impact while ensuring that these efforts are not stifled by the rigidity of the system.

Second, when the initiation of promoting a volunteering action comes from the government, say to reduce the level of analphabetism among adult populations or to provide primary health counseling at grassroots levels or to create awareness on natural hazards, there is neither long term strategic thinking nor preparation in how to identify, train and mobilize volunteers.  

This is when you read stories about the government’s decision to mobilize volunteers as if they are all a silver bullet, the agents capable of solving the most intricate problems in the shortest imaginable span of time and of course, for free!

Any volunteering action instead requires deep preparations.

Here it is when a farsighted government would understand the importance in investing in the so called “volunteering infrastructures”, the elements that include regulations, budget support, “one stop” centers for volunteerism promotion and other enabling factors that make volunteering sustainable and impactful on the long run.

Nepal still lacks such infrastructure: The National Development Volunteering Service, NDVS, has been disbanded and all its responsibilities have been taken over by the National Youth Council.

It still remains to be seen what the implications of such change are.

If the National Youth Council will be able to fully utilize the expertise developed by NDVS and if it shows leadership and commitment, then volunteerism can have a rosy future in Nepal.

Certainly we have an opportunity to conduct a proper national dialogue within the society to reboot and re-launch volunteerism in the country, rethinking its meanings and its role strategically, fully grasping its potential in in the development of the nation.

The only way to reinvigorate volunteerism is to think long term.

This is the only way we can fully harness its power.

Let’s hear from citizens, let’s have our youth take the lead in such exercise.

Let’s make it inclusive and open for all because volunteerism does not know barriers and can play a vital role in making Nepal a truly level playing field.


Simone Galimberti, Co-Founder, ENGAGE

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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