The very essence of volunteerism is also the underlying human dimension and force of what we call Information Society. The word "volunteer" comes from Latin vol+ens, meaning free+will. A volunteer is thus driven by his or her free will. As such, the concept of volunteerism touches on the very essence of individual motivations of human beings and groups to achieve goals. This was the recipe that made the International Year of Volunteers a success, and allowed the Global Polio Eradication Initiative to mobilize ten million people to vaccinate 550 million children in 2000. This is also what drives the open source community, creators and publishers of web contents, and so on.
For volunteerism to be successful, it is always based on an exchange, a multilateral relationship. In a similar way, multi-stakeholder processes and Public Private Partnerships (PPP) cannot succeed if they are based on unilateral principles. Because different sectors are driven by different motivations, there is the need for a more genuine understanding of each stakeholder of what the other party expects and would like to get out of the equation. Therefore, I believe multi-stakeholder partnerships could actually draw on and benefit from some of the experience developed in the volunteer sector and the driving force of volunteerism: free will, the fact that one is doing something not out of obligation but individual or collective choice.
For volunteerism to actively contribute to the construction of multi-stakeholder processes, it first needs to be understood better. There is a need to acknowledge that the scope of volunteerism is much broader than is often understood and goes well beyond the common stereotype of cookie baking. Volunteerism includes social activists, open source software programmers, and others making very real impacts on social, political and economic levels. It is an essential factor in turning youth into active citizens of tomorrow, and giving retirees a place to continue making use of their skills and knowledge acquired over a lifetime.
As to civil society, one stakeholder of multi-actor partnerships, it needs to fully understand what its specific nature is and where its strengths reside. One of the strengths of civil society is that many of its constituencies are structured into networks and sometimes even networks of networks. Mobilizing networks from all around the world typically means that more people are involved than live in one single country. For civil society to participate in international negotiation processes, involving multiple stakeholders, such as governments and the private sector, it, however, needs facilitators, accommodators and coordination mechanisms. Furthermore, such participation requires discipline among a group that, by nature, is very diverse.
Even if the WSIS process is still far from its end, we can already say that it has been a good testing ground for the multi-stakeholder approach. The information society, and with it, globalization, have changed our ways of operating and interacting. It has given more power to individuals then they have ever had as publishers and disseminators of information. As such, national approaches are no longer sufficient, more integration and cooperation are necessary and essential. It appears, in fact, that multi-stakeholder approaches are the only hope for a more sustainable future, where responsibility sharing seems the only solution to environmental destruction and other global issues. Also, in any global process, there needs to be a clear understanding of how to work at the governance, policy and operational levels. It is my hopes that volunteerism as a concept and volunteers as human capital will be closely associated to any such process.
(1) Among these were ATD Quart Monde, CIVICUS (World Alliance for Citizen Participation), the European Volunteer Center (CEV), the International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Netcorps-Cyberjeunes, OneWorld, and ICVolunteers (International Conference Volunteers). The latter has to date served as the focal point and secretariat of the WSIS Volunteer Family. Throughout the entire first phase of the WSIS, the civil society volunteer family also closely collaborated with the United Nations Volunteers Programme (UNV).