What is a volunteering organization? ( Part II)

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It is important now to draw our attention to what makes a volunteering organization unique from the rest in a context like the Nepal.

We are all aware that the landscape of non state actors is extremely diverse with thousands of not for profit organizations rooted all over the country.

Overall, Nepal can count on a very strong civil society that despite some structural limitations and various criticisms centered on its effectiveness, has been playing a very important role in the national development.

To start with we should recognize that all non state entities, either associations, community based organizations and NGOs, formally registered or not, have embedded intrinsic volunteering aspects that cannot be neglected.

Almost by default, by being initiated upon the free will of their founders, these institutions are a clear expression of a voluntary dimension that is a sine qua non condition for any volunteering organizations.

At the same time, all these NGOs or associations rightly claiming a legitimate role in the development landscape of the country do not necessarily qualify as volunteering entities.

It is therefore a pressing need to lay out a common denominator for any undertaking, formal, informal, group wise or individually led to better understand when it can qualify as a “volunteering” organization.

Two are the key main features:

  1. Mobilization and use volunteers to achieve the organization’s mission and goals
  2. Promotion of civic values such as altruism, selflessness and collective engagement as a way to solve problems at community level

The first characteristic, mobilization of volunteers, is relatively straightforward with organizations qualifying as “volunteering” actively making use of volunteers to reach their goals.

Importantly it should be noted that these volunteers should not be seen as substitute or alternative to qualified paid staff but as key component to implement the organization’ philosophy and as a strong manifestation of fundamental institutional values.

The volunteers are not seen just as “complimentary” assets to achieve the goals of the organization but they are at the center of it, playing a very important and strategic role.

An example could be the way the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement all over the world is mobilizing its volunteers to offer primary services as part of its core “business”. We can really say that volunteerism is an intrinsic value to the entire Red Cross and Red Crescent movement. Without volunteers, the movement would simply not be what it is famous and renowned for.

Indeed volunteerism is a key value of the entire organization and the entire Red Cross and Red Crescent movement is placing high value on issues related to volunteerism management, training and retention because volunteers are so central to its mission.

Moving ahead, in relation to the second defining aspect, promotion of values strongly inherent to volunteerism, you might find organizations that, as part of their overall mission, actively get engaged in advocacy and policy making to promote a culture of solidarity through volunteerism and service.

An example could be Innovations in Civic Actions that promotes a culture of service and learning around the world or Volunteering England or Volunteering Australia. This means that you can have an institution that instead of being focused on the direct implementation of social actions through volunteers, decides to focus more in the role of facilitator, promoter and enabler. In some cases these organizations, besides their networking and advocacy, do get involved in grant making at grassroots level to support local volunteering initiatives.

You can also find organizations pursuing both missions, actively mobilizing volunteers and also working in terms of policy and networking for the promotion of volunteerism.

In my personal understanding of the volunteering landscape in Nepal, it is not so common for an organization mobilizing volunteers to decide to actively “invest’ resources in promoting what I called a volunteering inspired society, putting efforts and energies at policy level.

This represents one of the greatest limitations of the sector. The reality is that very few organizations actively working with volunteers as part of their core mission see the urgency to get engaged in time consuming and long term policy making activities.

These same activities, instead, should be seen as preconditions to lay the foundations for a vibrant volunteering movement.

Unless we offer these organizations a strong rationale to get involved in policy making about volunteerism and unless we engage them proactively, the scope of volunteerism in Nepal will remain limited and well under its full potential.

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

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