Promoting Volunteerism in Nepal

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Every year, all over the world, the first week of December is packed with events of great importance.

To start with, the 16 days campaign against gender based violence reaches its peak and culminates in the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on December 10th; then the International HIV/AIDS Day is observed on December 1st while the International Day of Persons living with Disabilities is celebrated on December 3rdfollowed by the International Volunteer Day on December the 5th.

The entire week should be seen as a real festival of activism and active engagement where people from all walk of life come together to advocate for social justice and a more inclusive society.

The problem is that in these days only the usual social workers and civil society folks are mobilized while the rest of the society remains at the sidelines either unaware or disinterested.

The fact that the celebrations are organized as they were rigid “silos”, each disconnected from each other, certainly does not help.

The social sector is fragmented and compartmentalized. While it is important that social agencies have a clear and well calibrated focus, it is equally essential to create bridges among different sub-sectors related to a diverse but connected range of social issues.

For example, if you think of a thread uniting all the international days celebrated during the first week of December, with no doubt, we should turn our attention to social exclusion, with its determinants and its overarching implications.

The abuses faced by women like acid attacks, rapes and overall harassments, the precarious lives of persons living with HIV/AIDS and the multiple barriers faced by persons living with disabilities are all conducive to a status of high vulnerability that perpetuates discrimination and as consequence, creates more exclusion for millions of citizens.

Fortunately we have one special tool that while not a panacea is certainly uplifting and empowering.

I am referring to volunteerism, the foundation of any society that knows how to take care of those who are lagging behind.

You can have effective public policies and you can also have ethical private companies and yet it is the power of individual and collective efforts that can truly make the difference and turn the society into a place where everybody has a chance to thrive and those left behind are supported not towards dependency but self-empowerment.

The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) program recently published a new edition of State of the World’s Volunteerism Report that highlights how local communities, often enriched by the work of volunteers, represent the best defense against shocks, inequalities and hidden vulnerabilities.

I reserve the details and review of the report to another piece because now I would like to suggest some important steps that Nepal could take to promote volunteerism.

First of all, UNV Nepal Office has a new coordinator that is dynamic, driven and experienced and with a strong know how on human resources, essential for effective volunteering management but also equipped with an understanding on the complexities of INGO/NGOs sector.

It is a first time that a national got appointed to the position and the change is strength.

We need a strong, vibrant UNV that can fully understand, support and help the Government in harnessing the power of volunteerism.

Moreover UNV as part of the bigger UNDP is the ideally equipped to promote it in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs.

At the same time, UNV must be bold and progressive in engaging and, nudging, whenever needed, the authorities to step up their efforts for the cause.

Second, the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the National Youth Council are now fully in charge and must lead.

The Council must come up with a National Volunteering Strategy that is inclusive also of the small, informal groups of citizens who make the difference day in and day out but are unrecognized.

The National Development Volunteering Service, NDVS is now closed. The National Youth Council is in a position to come up with a series of new programs targeting youths that build on and expand the work of NDVS.

The focus should not be exclusively on full time experiences that are actually technically closer to standard jobs than real volunteering experiences.

At the same time the Ministry should ensure that volunteerism is valued and mainstreamed across the sectors, ensuring that also other ministries embrace it.

Perhaps if we really want to have a paradigm change, the Office of Prime Minister should also take charge and ensure that the National Planning Commission that has been running NDVS since its establishment and the recently established Niti Anusandhan Pratisthan or Policy Research Academy also think of volunteerism in a strategic way.

This is my third point and is of outmost importance because volunteerism could be strategically leveraged to create shared prosperity.

Any future development plans should include it, not as an annex but as a key component.

Some countries embraced volunteerism in such a strong way that they even have national laws promoting and safeguarding it.

It is just a matter of deep and unbiased discussion to see if Nepal needs or not a tailored made legislation in such regard.

Fourth is understanding volunteerism in all its forms and expressions.

While we should move ahead in a very pragmatic way, we must strive to fully comprehend volunteerism, how it works and the different ways of promotion.

Too often misconceptions and simplifications misrepresent its true nature: because in its purest forms is unpaid, it does not mean that is free.

Recruiting, training and managing volunteers require financial resources besides qualified human resources.  

Fifth is about the need to improve our understanding of the “return” of any volunteerism action: we need to design a system that can monitor and evaluate the impact of all volunteering efforts being carried out in the country.

A way to start this long journey in volunteerism promotion could be the creation of a national network bringing together organizations and groups genuinely interested and committed in enhancing and expanding a culture of service in Nepal.

Such network could be loose and not dependent on any special aid program but rather entirely rely on the commitment of its members.

The Ministry of Youth and Sports, the National Youth Council and UNV are the ones who can make this network happen.

Hopefully in 2019 the first week of December will be remembered for an incredible cross cutting mobilizations of citizens, an army of peaceful volunteers able to connect the dots among the different issues, all under the banners of the SDGs.

The 41st President of the United States of America, George H.W. Bush who recently passed away, understood how a culture of service makes the difference. He called for a new era of engagement and activism where every single volunteer could become a “point of light”, a sign of hope for the communities.

Nepal has millions of such lights but they cannot remain invisible and hidden for ever. Supporting and recognizing them should be a must.

Galimberti is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths living with disabilities. He can be reached at simone_engage@yahoo.com

 

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

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