One 1 million Volunteer: another false start or what?

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It is not surprising to hear that the government is planning to mobilize one million volunteers in all 75 districts of Nepal to contribute to the national development process

After all it is not the first time that the Cabinet has presented its annual policies and programs in Parliament with a strong emphasis on promoting volunteerism in the country.

In the last few years, several plans have been announced to mobilize the power of citizens to revamp and improve local communities across Nepal proving that volunteerism is an “all seasons” favorite of different governments, regardless of their ideologies and political spectrum.

With implementation only then will volunteerism become something “cool”, something bipartisan, worthy to invest in, something for which all the political parties are serious about. You name a government and you will track down some plans to invest in national volunteering.

So all those supporting the idea of a “volunteerism inspired society” where service becomes a habit, a way of living, should be celebrating the recognition given to the sector by the state of Nepal.

Wait a minute and think: is this really the case? Is there anything we should be cheering for in matters related to volunteerism in the country?

Unfortunately in all instances, nothing has really happened and volunteerism is just an “easy” and ‘sellable” item that fits well into the government's propaganda, nothing else.

I might be wrong but I would be ready to bet that that the government did not carry out its due homework before making another mega announcement.

For example, what does the government mean by volunteering?

When it proclaims the ambitious goal of mobilizing one million volunteers, does the government imply the involvement of full time volunteers with a monetary allowance or instead does it refer to part time, flexible volunteerism that is actually nothing new for the country?

How would the plan come to implementation? Would the Government decide to partner with civil society and with the private sector?

Most importantly, is the plan feasible? Is it really possible to reach the 1 million persons goal within a year? Would it not be better to plan a multiyear strategy to reach the target?

The questions do not have any easy answers. It will depend on the existence or not of real political will to implement.

If we look at the Clean Bagmati Campaign, actually a bottom up initiative initially kicked off by the private sector and primarily endorsed by the Chief Secretary of the Government that slowly got traction among other sections of the bureaucracy, then it will be possible.

If instead there is no proper planning or better no real resolve in coming up with a strong strategy, I am afraid to say that the recent announcement will be just a populist measure that won’t see any real implementation.

Interestingly I am wondering if NDVS, the national volunteering program under the National Planning Commission, will have any real role in the campaign? It would be a pity if it does not.

Indeed what is really needed is a national volunteering strategy that lays the foundations on how the country can harness the power of volunteering to achieve national development, prosperity and well being.

NDVS, if properly strengthened and equipped, could offer a strategic volunteering “infrastructure” that is essential to promote, recognize and celebrate national volunteers. I am not here talking about folks living well as “volunteers” but rather local agents of change that have a special vocation and sense of duty in doing their own bit to improve the places where they live. These are the real volunteers.

As it is NDVS is just a program with a budget allocated by the National Planning Commission. This is not enough to carry out any ambitious campaigns and plans. We need a national autonomous public entity in charge of promoting and monitoring volunteering efforts in the country.

A timely, ambitious National Volunteering Policy could offer the first step in the right direction for making volunteering a national pride project. All the rest is just nonsense and a waste of time.

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

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