Mainstreaming Volunteering ( Part III)

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While it is important to differentiate a volunteering organization from the “mass”, it is equally important to ensure that volunteerism can spread across all the social spectrum rather than being seen as a niche, standing alone area.

Honestly speaking this will require a fine balancing act to avoid the risks associated with the “differentiators” just above discussed. The reality is that it might be difficult to ensure a net separation between volunteering organizations and not volunteering but always not for profit entities.

Pushing too much on this direction could even backfire and generate further gaps in understanding the complementariness but also the differences between volunteering organizations and other agencies.

One interesting example of mainstreaming was the celebrations of 2013 International Volunteer Day where an informal group of agencies active in the field of volunteerism decided to team up with organizations from HIV/AIDS and disability sectors in order to jointly celebrate the respective international commemorations that fall in the same week of December.

Especially in reference to World Disability Day, a very unique partnership emerged between organizations working in the disability field and other volunteering promoting agencies. Joint initiatives were rolled with an unparallel combination of strengths.

The partnerships created are a clear example of how volunteering agencies should try to get engaged and involved in cross cutting initiatives with social stakeholders not used to involve volunteers.

A real win win situation can emerge for all players involved in these cross sector collaborations highlighting the relevancy and indispensability volunteerism can have in all different dimensions of the society.

At the same time one possible ‘side” effect of the mainstreaming volunteering along all the spectrum of development sector is the risk of falling in what I called the “development approach to volunteerism” trap, a natural extension of the structured and formal way of volunteering discussed earlier.

The development approach to volunteerism tends to consider volunteers as little more than free of cost manpower to be mobilized according to the national poverty alleviation goals.

The approach tends to consider volunteers “only” as technical experts involved in full time basis offering services and know how in exchange of either a living allowance that covers their basic needs or through below the market remuneration.

While this approach could be justifiable in contexts of extreme poverty and inequalities, it should not be taken as the only prescriptive model available or as the only dominating volunteering paradigm.

Here the issue at stake is not disputing the effectiveness of mobilizing volunteers in such fashion or casting doubts over their achievements but rather making sure that their contributions are really valued for what they really are and the values and principles underpinning their actions, including importantly their motivations, are fully comprehended and taken in consideration.

Possibly it would be better to define these programs as “service” experiences rather than pure volunteering, offering a useful compromise that will recognize the social value of the initiatives while also highlighting the skills and competences used by the volunteers.


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

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