Viola Krebs, International Conference Volunteers (ICVolunteers)
Julie Archer, International Conference Volunteers (ICVolunteers)
Chair Ms. Viola Krebs of International Conference Volunteers introduced six panellists with international and regional experience in coordinating, promoting and funding volunteerism. They spoke about how to maintain the gains for volunteerism made during the UN International Year of the Volunteer in 2001 and provided some concrete examples of the effects of volunteering to developing and developed communities.
Ms. Liz Burns of the International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE) talked about the momentum that the UN-sponsored International Year of the Volunteer (IYV) in 2001 created internationally for the recognition of the value of volunteer work and also for increased communication between volunteering organizations. The extent and the impact of volunteering at the local level grabbed media and government attention, she explained, and this happened because resources were in place to support volunteers and encourage governments and local organizations to meet and work together.
Facilitating the development of volunteer organizations and maintaining an international network of expertise is the focus IAVE, which represents volunteers in 96 countries. They are working with United Nations Volunteers, CIVICUS and others on a strategic plan to maintain the successes of IYV 2001. One of their tasks is to contribute to a second UN resolution on volunteerism in 2002, which they believe will only be effective if it has the support and input of volunteer organizations and individual volunteers.
The second speaker, Mr. Papa Biriama Thiam from the Government of Senegal, is the president of a Senegalese governmental committee in charge of following up on IYV 2001. He indicated that his country is among the twenty poorest in the world with 60 percent of its population living below the poverty line and that nine million people benefit from volunteer efforts. His committee sees volunteerism as very important to economic development based on traditional values, the growth of a strong social network and better health care in Senegal. Mr. Thiam stated that IYV 2001 resulted in increased national and regional action on volunteerism in his country. Despite this, Senegal has few resources available for volunteerism. Mr. Thiam would like to see the establishment of a national volunteer centre and develop a strategic plan for Senegal to include ways to capitalize on the knowledge and experience of the country's retired citizens and encourage the mixing of generations in volunteer work.
Mr. Rafael Balsco Castany, representing the Foundation for Solidarity and Voluntary Work of the Valencian Community in Spain, discussed the ways his organization has been able to bridge the gap between public and private spheres and to work with not-for-profit groups at the regional level to promote solidarity in his community. The Foundation provides a legal framework and infrastructure for volunteers, including information and assistance, equipment, a documentation centre for publications support, and connections to the local press and radio. He noted that IYV 2001 provided excellent opportunities to work with mass media and NGOs and to look for new funding sources. He said that Valencia now has 500,000 volunteers, representing approximately 15 percent of the population, and that his organization is working with CIVICUS, United Nations Volunteers and many stakeholders follow up on the successes of IYV 2001.
Mr. Ad de Raad, the Deputy Executive Coordinator at United Nations Volunteers (UNV), agreed that IYV 2001 was a key year for volunteerism and said that UNV also used the year to look strategically at their own activities. He said that the purpose of the year was to give a much higher profile to volunteerism? the goals of volunteers needed to be recognized and much more networking between volunteer organizations needed to take place? and that IYV 2001 had facilitated this. He added that volunteer organizations need to prove their effectiveness by showing results and quantifying the value of volunteerism where possible in order to increase government recognition.
Mr. de Raad noted that all cultures have volunteerism in some form, regardless of their level of development or the name they use for it, and that UNV looks at applying the concept of volunteerism to regional economic development, not just by mobilizing volunteers, but by promoting volunteerism itself. He also said that at the Bonn Consultation on Volunteering, participants had agreed that volunteerism must be considered as a strategy for meeting the Millennium Development Goals; that partnerships are important and the networking momentum of IYV 2001 must not be lost; and that volunteering takes many forms and this diversity is its strength. Mr. de Raad concluded by emphasizing the importance of maintaining the progress made during IYV 2001 and of taking the opportunity to push the world's governments in December 2002 to take IYV and the first UN resolution one step further with a second resolution designed to truly facilitate volunteerism internationally.
The fifth speaker, Dr. Alfredo Sfeir-Younis from the World Bank, opened by saying that he felt a good communications strategy was necessary to maintain the successes of IYV 2001. He agreed with Mr. de Raad that volunteering is a form of capital, and that for economists, if something is not quantified, it is not valuable. He also pointed out that while volunteerism is an important and valuable function in society, he would not like to see volunteer organizations take over work that should rightfully be done by societal institutions. He explained that volunteerism is not and should not be a substitute for bad government and warned that when this happens, costs are borne by the wrong sector of society.
Dr. Sfeir-Younis also expressed concern about the over-institutionalization of volunteerism, saying, "The institutionalization of volunteerism could be the golden egg that kills the goose because the very basis of volunteerism is free will." He went on to talk about "empowered development," in which volunteer capital is as crucial as financial capital and that the key was to empower volunteers to do what they want to do, not as others think they should. He concluded by saying that the Millennium Development Goals will not be accomplished without volunteers because there are too many barriers (such as access to women and the extremely impoverished, etc.) for larger organizations or governments to succeed without them. For that reason, it is important to invest in volunteerism? not to determine what must be done but to support those who will do it.
The final speaker, Dr. Kumi Naidoo from CIVICUS, told participants that the act of volunteering is an individual act of compassion that contributes to the social good. He said that there are also benefits for the volunteer and that volunteering is not the one-way act with one giver and one receiver that so many believe it to be. He also observed that volunteering is a political act and is just as much a demonstration of democracy as the casting of a ballot. Volunteering provides and expresses values, meaning and integrity and CIVICUS promotes this opportunity for everyone, equally.
Dr. Naidoo also expressed the concern that the values behind volunteerism may be lost through over-institutionalization. He observed that free will is crucial to volunteering and gave the example of early Eastern European volunteerism, which was state-driven and resulted in a region in which it has been difficult to develop an infrastructure for volunteering. Dr. Naidoo said that the solution to this is that every volunteer must have a voice in public policy and that policy-makers, who often create policy in an "experiential vacuum," must turn to those with experience and knowledge in order to create higher quality policy. He concluded by cautioning that volunteer organizations must hold governments to account in order to avoid the UN declaration on volunteerism becoming merely a meaningless collection of words.
Ms. Burns told participants that volunteers are the key to a strong and healthy civil society, and that the regions of the world where volunteerism is weak or underground are also the regions with a weak civil society.
Mr. de Raad observed that the UN resolution in 2001 was extremely powerful when you realized that the last time the General Assembly had talked about volunteerism was to form United Nations Volunteers thirty years before! He also said that generally ten to fourteen percent of a nation's gross national product was due to volunteerism, and that once it was quantified in those terms, suddenly national governments and the private sector sat up and took notice.
One delegate asked for an explanation of the difference between volunteering and volunteerism. Mr. de Raad said that he sees volunteering as the act of doing and volunteerism as the concept of civic engagement.
Another delegate asked Dr. Sfeir-Younis what he meant by investing in volunteerism. Dr. Sfeir-Younis replied that he included investing in skill development and ensuring that there are means for the sharing of local expertise internationally. He also said that institutional or corporate money is not always the best source of funding and that funding from individuals may, in some cases, be better because it is free of the political influence that accompanies, for example, money from an individual government.
Panellists concluded that volunteer organizations must be strategic in keeping volunteerism on the international agenda because once it moves off, the momentum of IYV 2001 will be lost. They also supported the push for a second UN resolution in December 2002 to "add teeth" to the resolution of 2001. As well, most of the panellists and many delegates proposed the continued use and even the expansion of existing websites and other communication tools that were created for IYV 2001 in order to provide easily accessible information and to facilitate the exchange of information between volunteer organizations. It was suggested that the existing IYV 2001 website could become a "volunteer portal," a kind of virtual resource centre. Finally, panellists agreed that more research needs to be conducted into quantifying the results and the impact of volunteering to prove its effectiveness and garner government support.