Why volunteerism can help us achieve sustainable development goals

International Volunteer Day was designated by the United Nations in 1985 to celebrate the power and potential contribution of volunteerism in positively transforming lives, and communities.

This year’s International Volunteer Day theme, “The world is changing. Are you? Volunteer!” is challenging us to be part of implementing the new Sustainable Development Goals adopted by heads of government at the September UN General Assembly in New York City. The 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 global goals, is a plan of action for ending poverty in all its dimensions, irreversibly, everywhere.

The implementation of the Millennium Development Goals demonstrated that sustainable development cannot be achieved by governments only. The 2030 agenda recognises that traditional means of implementation need to be complemented by participatory mechanisms that facilitate people’s engagement, and explicitly names volunteer groups as actors in their own right among the means of implementation. Volunteer groups can be brokers of and provide spaces for engagement, connecting institutional initiatives with volunteer action at community level.

Through people’s engagement and community action, volunteerism fosters local ownership for development solutions, builds resilience and strengthens preparedness. Volunteering also transforms both the volunteers and the people they work with.
Government’s inclusion of a strategy on volunteerism in the draft National Community Development Policy (2011) is a recognition of the essential contribution that volunteerism can make to improve people’s lives and to build community and national resilience.

A great example of the impact of volunteerism is the Let Girls Be Girls campaign in Uganda. UN volunteers have supported the Ministry of Health on decreasing the rate of teen pregnancy through an awareness campaign on the need for better education and healthcare for girls. These efforts have led to community champions aocating for girls staying in school longer and explaining how this leads to improved lives for all. Through involving people in such a development initiative, real impact is seen through lasting changes in communities.

Voluntary action is deeply embedded in most cultures, especially in Africa – often manifested through long-established traditions of sharing, mutual aid and self-help, philanthropy, community service, civic participation and aocacy, without expecting personal gain. A good example is the community-driven road maintenance popularly known as Bulungi bwa nsi in Buganda.

In the same spirit, on December 5, the UN volunteer programme in Uganda will undertake general cleaning of Nakawa Market and its surrounding areas and donate cleaning equipment and gear to the market’s management. This activity is aimed at demonstrating practically the potential of volunteerism to contribute to the wellbeing of people, and the environment are central in achieving the new Sustainable Development Goals.

More than 80 UN volunteers will participate in this activity, many mobilised from the UN family in Uganda, Voluntary Services Overseas, Japanese International Cooperation Agency, US Peace Corps, Uganda Local Government Association, and Uganda Red Cross Society, among others.

Some 7,545 UN volunteers from 154 countries are contributing their time, skills, experience and talents in more than 134 countries.

The UNV programme in Uganda, which currently works through UNDP country offices, coordinates over 130, both national and internationals. Of these, 45 are on-site volunteers placed within UN agencies and government ministries and 85 are on-line volunteers. When people volunteer their time, skills and energy, they are addressing inequality, innovating, and working with a broad range of partners to accomplish the global goals. Through volunteerism, we bring people into the implementation process. Volunteers create spaces for people to engage, acquire voice and contribute to saving the planet and humankind.

On International Volunteer Day 2015, we commend volunteers everywhere who are already making a difference in a changing world, and showing the power of volunteerism to move towards sustainable development. Let us all harness the potential that volunteering has to making global sustainable development a reality. It speaks to each of us to play a role, one volunteer action at a time. “The World is Changing. Are you? Volunteer”!

Mr Mwamanga is the Programme Officer, and Representative of the United Nations Volunteers Programme in Uganda. christian.mwamanga@undp.org

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