With little support and no pay, big results: volunteers return surprisingly tangible results

06 June 2002

What do you get when you take people from 126 countries and ask them to work extra long hours on weekends and holidays for a year, without pay and with little instruction of what to do? In most cases, if you answered "chaos", you would be right. But all of last year volunteers around the world proofed that this is not the only answer and that not all is about money. And after doing work estimated to worth 15% of the world economy, the volunteers have gathered what they have learned into a 135-page report, web site and CD-ROM to do it even better next time.

The United Nations proclaimed the year 2001 International Year of Volunteers to highlight the achievements of millions of people who donate their time without expectation of financial reward worldwide.

Over the course of the year, 125 IYV National and 77 Regional Committees self-organized to implement the Year's four objectives: recognition, facilitation, networking and promotion of volunteering. Committees were encouraged to draw on local talents, kills and most of all creativity to show other volunteers and the world how volunteer are making an impact in their local communities, businesses and governments.

  • In Jamaica, Reggae Star Tony Rebel wrote and recorded and donated a song "It's not all about Money" to inspire and remind people that they make a difference in their own societies.
  • In Denmark, volunteer toured the country-side in a specially pained double-decker bus, raising awareness and inspiring individuals, especially young people to get involved.
  • In Hong Kong Administrative Region of China?were labor statistics can sometimes be mysterious- volunteers conducted a scientific enquiry to document how important volunteers are, especially to families.
  • In Germany, volunteers used television, radio and posters to spread the message that volunteering is cool for both young and old, making retired people more active and healthier.
  • In India, volunteers collaborated with the World Health Organization to vaccinate 550 million children against polio.
  • Even private businesses got involved: the famous clothing manufacturer Benetton launched a powerful poster campaign in collaboration with United Nations Volunteers Programme, staring one of our own Swiss volunteers, Naya Joffre from Geneva. The mobile phone giant announced a partnership with the IFRC* to send its employees on volunteer missions in developing countries.

At the end of the year, the volunteers regrouped in Geneva to share their successes and challenges and to brainstorm about how to make volunteer activities even more effective in the future. Over the course of four days at the International Symposium on Volunteering (ISV 2001), more than 550 delegates from 126 countries followed nearly 200 presentations, on subject ranging from examples of local campaigns, thoughts on access to and the use of the Internet, partnering with governments and the private sector, and even how volunteers save millions of lives through efforts in conflict zones, hospitals and natural disasters.

With such a diversity and density of information?and few journals in which to publish results- how could one possibility grasp the importance of volunteerism to our global social, economic, political communities?

Working in pairs, volunteer reporters of International Conference Volunteers (ICV) attended every session of the ISV 2001, took notes, and summarized the primary conclusions and interesting results. These reports from the basis of the Report from the 135-page Report from the Symposium, which serves as an important contribution to the final report on IYV 2001, which will be presented to Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan in December 2002. Illustrated with approximately 300 photographs, quotations, statistics and local examples, the Report provides an exciting "snapshot" of the role of volunteers worldwide. The Report is also available as a CD-ROM and on the web (http://www.isv2001.org).

Under Secretary-General Kofi Annan who has particularly stressed the importance of volunteers internationally, the United Nations received the 2001 Nobel Peace Price for its achievements that depend strongly on volunteer work.

For more information, for interviews or for a copy of the Report, contact:
International Conference Volunteers
Viola Krebs, President of the Symposium Organizing Committee
Phone: 079 679 16 93 or 022 800 14 36
Email: viola@icvolunteers.org
Web: www.isv2001.org and www.icvolunteers.org

Interviews may be arranged with Sharon Capeling-Alakija, Executive Coordinator of the United Nations Volunteers Programme in Geneva from Monday 24 to Thursday 27 June 2002. Viola Krebs, Co-Editor of the Report, is also available for questions.

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