Creating Collaborations among Volunteerism Promoting Agencies: The Way Forward

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The upcoming celebrations for International Day of Volunteerism, held every year on 5th of December, offer an opportunity to reflect and introspect about the level of cooperation and partnership achieved among volunteerism promoting organizations, local, national and international groups actively mobilizing volunteers while, at the same time, advocatingto harness volunteerism in the country.

The sector is incredibly powerful but also exceptionally small. What seems a contradiction is actually a reality if we consider how volunteerism is embedded at the local level all over the country with thousands of community groups, self-help organizations and NGOs but itsoverall achievements are hardly reflected in the nationaldevelopment’s narrative.

Unfortunately the vitality of this landscape, fruit ofinspirational commitment, vision and dedication of common citizens rising to the challenges in local school management committees, forestry groups and neighborhood associations, is not matched by a clear unified front glued together by a common vision and willingness to leverage these efforts through a positive multiplier effect.

Imagine having a football team with excellent players but displaying a dismal playing because all of them, being champions, are only focused on their own visibility and ego.

By not talking enough , they are simply not ready to make a collective effort to overcome their individual egos for a common goal.

The development sector in Nepal is a bit like this dream team and volunteerism reflects a bit the same trend despite the incredible level of civic engagement happening at the bottom.

Advocacy and campaigning can actually change this trend but for an effective effort to succeed, you need to have very strong coordination among volunteering promoting agencies.

This does not come easily; it requires dedication, unwavering commitment and will.

With the volunteering sector very strong at the informal level but weak in coordination andparadoxically, with few organizations truly proclaiming themselves to be engaged in volunteerism, we have a rare opportunity to create a unified platform among these few and slowly open up the sector to others.

In this effort, increasing the opportunities for volunteerism promoting agencies to come togetherwill be paramount.

In order to work together and forge partnerships, organizations needs to get to know each other, they need to meet either in formal or informal settings.

A few years back, a very loose coordinating mechanism, the Volunteering Sending Agencies (VSA) Working Group was active among international organizations, offering an opportunity to the membersto share their best practices and stay in touch.

Its “lightness” was probably its strength as efforts to make it more substantial with attempts of adding an advocacy dimension to the discussions failing, proving that the circumstances were not yet right for a more ambitious agenda.

Now the time is not only ripe to revive this working group but also to formally open it up to local organizations genuinely working with volunteers  interested in promoting volunteerism in the country.

With clear criteria, it won’t be difficult to put together these organizations, regardless of being national, international, multilateral or bilateral to agree to a minimum common agenda.

By starting with simple tasks like coordination, sharing of insights and best practices and logistical issues, momentum can be created to raise the stakes of the game, with  more strategic coordination at multiple levels.

First, priority should go to increasing the level of visibility and recognition of volunteerism in Nepal, highlighting the contributions of millions of unnamed volunteers spread all over the country.

A national award on volunteerism could be an effective way to engage the nation and make a case for broader recognition of the sector.

Second, create a common front for a strong national policy on volunteerism, a policy that also adequately reflects the spontaneous forms of volunteerism all around the nation. While formal and more organized volunteering is important, we should not neglect those who do not call themselves volunteers but are actually the best thing the country should be proud of.

Third, the members could combine their efforts for some joint implementation at the local level. It will take time and it can be achieved in a crescendo, step by step.

These ideas were already clear a few years ago when some organizations that were very committed to the cause,came together to form the Alliance for the Promotion of Volunteerism. While the effort did not pay off in the long run, the attempt, although premature, was worthy.

Now we have the opportunities to build on the work already initiated and create momentum for greater cooperation.

UNV is best positioned to take leadership in this ambitious process, ensuring that NDVS, the national program promoting volunteerism, can co-chair the group and progressively take stronger leadership.

With determination and resolve, we can create a national movement, capable of mainstreaming volunteerism within and beyond the development sector.


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

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