IAVE’S diaries ( DAY 1-22nd Nov)

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I am in Kuala Lumpur to attend the Asia Pacific conference of the International Association for Volunteer Effort in short IAVE, the global association promoting volunteerism around the world. It is going to be an exciting marathon that will allow me to better understand the latest trends and best practices from the region in the area of volunteerism, civic engagement and service.

Today I have attended a sort of warm up, the IAVE regional youth conference that will conclude tomorrow, paving the way for the 3 intensive days of the regional conference, an event packed with presentations and discussions that will end on Sunday.

What are the main takeaways of today?

  1. The Malaysian Government is damned serious about promoting volunteerism as a strategic tool to strengthen the skills and competencies of the local youths. There are a couple of big organizations strongly linked to the government, in particular the ministry of youths who are pushing a lot the volunteering agenda in a very practical and tangible way.
  2. This might imply some sort of “top down” approach as volunteerism is holistically embedded with the national policies, especially the Higher Education National Policy.
  3. For people that might not be so keen to work in such a framework, for those more used to bottom up, grassroots level kind of work, the approach requires some adjustment and adaptation and this should not be a big deal, it possible.

Both conferences, the youth focused one and the bigger one, are organized by Salam, a not for profit that is strongly linked to the government but an another organization Yayasan Sukarelawan Siswa (YSS) or Student Volunteers that is fully owned by the Ministry of Education, is heavily involved.

While Salam’ outreach is vast and wide, targeting multiple age groups involved in a myriad of initiatives, YSS/Student Volunteers is exclusively focused on students and as far as I understand, the focus is on higher education students, therefore those attending colleges or universities.

Both of them are the government’s pillars for promotion of volunteerism all over the country. There is actually another big organization or better a movement, always linked to the government called IM4Y that has a well spread out network of youth centers across Malaysia.

These are the three big ONES….

With such level of government’s involvement, you should now understand the point I was making some paragraphs above when I was saying that the approach can look a bit top down.

With such “infrastructure” in place, this is inevitable but not necessarily bad provided the following conditions are in place:

  1. Flexibility ensured: if among the above mentioned organizations, the local units have a certain level of autonomy and flexibility in the decision making to better responds to the local needs, the volunteering efforts being promoted by the government can really deliver tangibles. It is not that the actions being undertaken locally should not be linked to the national priorities or national goals. This is actually something that should be encouraged. What I am talking about is more about autonomy to better tailor make an action responding to the local needs. I am referring to the ability of the students within the branches of each of the 3 big “ones”  to decide, with a certain level of autonomy, on what is most important to be carried out at local level because they know better. If this happen, if a certain degree of local decision making is not only allowed but also promoted, then, the approach could really create positive changes, helping the nation to move on, truly harnessing the power of volunteerism to achieve big national goals.


  1. Local independent initiatives should be allowed to thrive: the existence of big programs promoted by the government should not hamper the growth and development of smaller, independent actions set up locally.

In conclusion both dimensions, the one promoted by the government and more spontaneous one can co-exist and thrive together. Perhaps the big efforts of the government could inspire local actions: the 3 big ONES could support and partner with local actions disconnected from the system without any “strings attached”.

A win win in short would be ensured with the national efforts promoting volunteering bringing about positive trickle down effects not only in terms of outcomes that fit into the national plans but also in terms of nourishing and sustaining those “willing” youths who have determination and spirit of initiative but often lack connections and resources and want to run the show themselves, independently.



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

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