Promoting a SAARC Capital of Volunteerism

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With the arrival of 2014, Barcelona has become the European Capital of Volunteerism.

The initiative has been promoted by the European Volunteer Center, CEV (, a pan European network of agencies promoting volunteerism and it has been supported by the European Union under the framework of European Year of Citizens 2013.

The basic idea is to to spread the spirit of altruism and service within the EU by highlighting best practices at local level through partnerships between local civil societies and local administrations.

Overall four candidates from three EU countries competed for the prestigious honor that will allow Barcelona to be under the spotlight as the continental hub for volunteerism and service for the entire year.

A series of high level events aiming at promoting best practices to foster not only what I call the Volunteering Inspired Society but also nourish a common sense of solidarity among Europeans, will be hosted by the local government of Barcelona, bringing new momentum to the volunteering agenda in the old continent.

What about the SAARC? Do we have a regional conversation about volunteerism and service? Does anyone in the region share the opinion that, through volunteerism and service, we can create a platform to strengthen a sense of common belonging and create a more equal and fair society?

But first of all, do we as south Asian, truly understand the real meanings of volunteerism?

Unfortunately interregional cooperation among SAARC countries, especially people to people partnership, is still at a very early stage. Obviously it is undeniable that a certain level of activities has been carried along the last decades but surely nothing has been really done to promote a common understanding of the power of volunteerism in the region.

I find initiatives like the European Capital of Volunteerism as relatively easy and simple to be implemented. We need just a commitment from a bunch of organizations and networks across the region to come up with something similar.

And if you think about the activism of countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and India with its millions of NGOs, we will definitely reach the conclusions that South Asia as a whole is not lagging behind Europe in terms of social capital and civic engagement.

Just think the level of resilience so common among the South Asian citizens. Imagine the number of social innovations created by South Asian citizens.

The bottom line for me is that volunteerism is part of regional fabric. We do not need to reinvent the wheel, maybe we should be proud to be at the cutting edge of it.

Instead what we lack is a real understanding of the potential of volunteerism in the region, its positive implications and most importantly what we do not have is a strong “volunteering infrastructure”, a system in place that can nourish, sustain and promote the dedication and commitment of all the volunteers in the region.

Living in Kathmandu for more than 6 years, I believe that capital of Nepal could be a great candidate to become the first SAARC Capital of Volunteerism. Just imagine the high number of youth organizations based in the capital, just think about the Save Bagmati Campaign, just recall how the latest international day of volunteerism, commemorated every year on 5th of December, has been celebrated here. I believe Kathmandu offers a perfect “cocktail” to promote a renovated culture of service and altruism.

I admit to be a bit biased while promoting Kathamandu as future capital of volunteerism in the region. I wish I could just launch a challenge and see which other capitals or towns in the region feel the worthiness to compete for such a noble title.

One question: where is the SAARC Secretariat? Would be any interest from its side in setting up such plan?

While certainly volunteerism is not on the top of the agenda of regional integration, a push from the bottom can help the political leaders and top regional officials understanding its real added value. At least we can try.


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

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