Celebrating volunteerism. Article written with Martina Voss, UNV, Nepal

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Today the world over celebrates the International Volunteer Day, a special occasion to acknowledge the spontaneous gestures and acts of millions of citizens of all ages and stripes in all the corners of the planet.

In a period of time where people in north and in the south of the world alike are becoming more and more disillusioned with the way institutions and systems work, we should not be surprised that the Eldman Global Trust Barometer 2016 shows an increasing divide among classes in relation to the way institutions are generally trusted.

The study talks about “inequality of trust” through which common citizens are losing their confidence towards institutions that should instead play a fundamental role in their lives.

This is the reason why “# Global Applause-give volunteers a hand”, the theme of this year International Volunteer Day could not have been more fitting to respond to the existing challenges faced by humanity.

Recognizing and acknowledging the achievements of volunteers across the world, the theme supports the idea that volunteerism is a real empowerment agent that, while often neglected, can activate the passion of millions of people and be the first step in solving the most challenging issues, positively impacting on the level of social cohesion locally, making communities more united.

Citizens, if adequately supported in delivering civic actions in their own communities as well as outside their own respective countries, can play an important role in making societies better places to live: more equal and fairer, greener and safer for all their members, especially those living in vulnerable and disadvantaged status.

By applauding the acts of volunteers around the world, we take an important step towards raising the profile of volunteerism and therefore, we are calling for more attention and additional resources to truly harness its positive effects throughout the local communities.

We are “pitching” for a quantum leap to make it easier for people, of all genders, abilities and economic status, to contribute to the society.

Richard Dictus, the outgoing Executive Coordinator of United Nations Volunteer, says  ”Volunteerism gives communities hope, it gives structure when there is none, it provides critical resources to the communities and countries that need them the most”.

These words sound very true for Nepal. In this country supporting volunteerism should not be that difficult. After all, the nation counts on one of the highest levels of social capital with traditions of self help and community services well ingrained locally and practically everywhere.

With the country moving towards a federal set up and amid discussions on how to restructure the local administrative units, we are risking to forget that local citizens can often make the difference in the ways programs and services are delivered and implemented.

Here we are not talking just about their role in increasing the level of public accountability, but also about the direct contributions volunteers can make in running activities of common interest.

Just imagine the community where you live without the presence and activism of volunteers. think about the many ways of serving locally with groups active in your wards or your neighbors, with students organizing health and cleaning campaigns or with a group of elders supporting the development of the local community school.

You will soon realize that you are surrounded by people who might not call themselves volunteers but nevertheless are contributing to the prosperity of your own community.

They do this simply motivated by a strong sense of purpose and an unselfish desire to do whatever in their power to eradicate poverty, increase equality and inclusive wellbeing.

With the Government working toward the formulation of its Vision 2030, it looks at an ambitious blueprint that is hoped will help the nation leapfrog towards a new phase of national development and reconstruction. There is an urgent need to work at policy level to embed volunteerism in the national development plans.

Volunteerism, as a tool, can directly contribute to any of the Sustainable Development Goals. From gender equality to resilient communities to enhanced quality education to the creation of a national health system, citizens acting as volunteers can truly make the difference, not replacing or substituting the government or the actions of non state actors but by complementing them.

Most importantly, everybody, including persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, can and should contribute and be part of this bottom up “call for actions” to improve and better the communities across the nation.

We need to create a stronger volunteering “architecture” around the country from the grassroots levels, up to the soon to be created provinces and the centre.

We have to make it easier for people to volunteer and directly contributing to the national development.

It is not only an issues of resources to be dedicated specifically to nourish volunteering actions but it is also about changing attitudes and designing and developing cross-sectoral programs that have  volunteering components integrated and acknowledged.

This requires also strong leadership with implemented and strong regulations and policies that would undoubtedly help developing volunteerism not as a standalone sector or niche but rather as an integral element within the existing development framework.

We need to build bridges and new coalitions to bring the government at its different levels to work together with the non state actors and its people in a tripartite alliance for national prosperity.

The private sector has obviously an important role to play and unquestionably it has a lot of catching up to do with the global best practices that see companies promoting employers volunteering programs who are not tokenism but instead make a real difference.

Today we are starting a long term journey in harnessing the power of volunteerism by recognizing the gestures of all volunteers across the nation.

In a special conference organized by all volunteer sending agencies with great support from their partners, where discussions will be focused on the role and contributions of volunteerism towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, we will “applaud” the most significant examples of volunteerism through the first edition of the National Volunteer Award.

The conference itself and the award constitute two small but important steps to bring volunteerism back at the center of development action.

Martina Voss is the UNV Program Officer

Simone Galimberti is the Co-Founder of 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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