KATHMANDU, Nepal, Dec 02 (IPS) – International Volunteer Day, Dec. 5, isn’t just one of the many days the United Nations celebrates annually.
Its importance is much broader especially because volunteerism can really become one of the most important tools available to us to promote a different development model and to overcome all the challenges exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic.
It also represents one of the top priorities set by the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, of creating a new social contract that can reshape relationships between governments and citizens, and create new places for people to participate in the public. Life, especially from the perspective of new ways of thinking about policy-making.
In this sense, volunteerism is an agent of change because it is one of the best expressions of civic engagement, and therefore it deserves more attention and with it much more resources to help solve the most fundamental issues facing humanity.
This is why the role of UN Volunteers, the role of UN Volunteers will be pivotal. As a semi-autonomous agency, officially part of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), UNV can truly become an engine for the promotion of volunteerism, a concept that includes many activities from mutual aid to direct service advocacy.
Over the past two years, UNV has undertaken a major process of rethinking the role of volunteerism. In July 2020, UNV, in partnership with the International Federation of the Red Cross/Red Crescent, catalyzed the global volunteering community with a major exercise to discuss and frame the role that volunteerism plays in achieving the 2030 Agenda.
Titled Reimagining Volunteerism, the event, formally known as the Global Technical Meeting, led to the definition of the Action Plan for integrating volunteerism into the 2030 Agenda, which is “Under the auspices of the United Nations (UN) through which governments, volunteer organizations, UN agencies, the private sector, civil society and academia come together to promote people’s ownership of the 2030 Agenda and integrate volunteerism into national strategies and policies“.
One of its most notable outcomes is the Call to Action, an inspiring document that directs the international community to harness the power of volunteerism for the greater good.
As part of this ambitious process, UNV has also opened several community groups to discuss key issues, including, most recently, just concluded, on ways volunteering can become more inclusive and accessible.
The fact that UNV is opening up and soliciting suggestions and ideas is a very important development, and an effort that should be acknowledged and commended. It is also something that holds a lot of potential for creating a global community of practitioners involved in ways in which volunteerism can be promoted and expanded.
Towards the end of this year, UNV is also set to release a new multi-year strategic plan, and while details of the new plans remain unreleased, it is important that the leadership at UNV makes this process as open and transparent as possible.
Open and accessible consultations are one of the best ways to allow practitioners and social scientists alike to contribute to shaping the next milestones for UNV.
The future strategic goals of this semi-autonomous agency must align with the overarching outline launched by Secretary-General Guterres in September, our common agenda that represents an ambitious set of plans to revitalize multilateralism. A key aspect of this plan is for the United Nations system to strengthen its work and engagement with youth, and as a result, the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth will be strengthened in the coming years and a new Youth Office will be established.
This is an important development because in the past UNV has also played an important role as a kind of youth focal point within the United Nations, an interesting but also complex proposition because we know that volunteerism transcends age groups.
So, one of the key questions in the new UNV Strategic Plan will be how to contribute to advancing the youth agenda within the UN system without alienating other key stakeholders who can still play a significant role in promoting and implementing volunteerism around the world.
Certainly, youth can be a means, and a bridge to reach other age groups, an insight that UNV certainly takes into account in its strategic planning process.
In the same UNV program needs to be strengthened and provided with more resources in order to help achieve the sustainable development goals and to play a critical role in defining the limits and characteristics of the new social contract.
More resources will allow UNV to open more country offices. For example, a country like Indonesia, which has a strong volunteer culture and a major international player, still does not depend on the UNV office.
Additional resources will allow UNV to pilot new programs that can promote inclusive forms of volunteering, particularly because it is now widely recognized that volunteering can be an equalizing factor and a tool through which young people can develop personal leadership.
It is also essential to enable UNV to play a much stronger role as an advocate and advocate for volunteerism wherever the UN is active, with the necessary expertise and resources to support governments to implement volunteering on the ground, despite specific policies or legislation.
An empowered, stronger and louder UNV program will not only need much stronger support from the international community. The risks will also require updating the UNV program to become more and more flexible, faster and open to local communities.
This will require a change in the culture of work as UNV reflects many of the positive aspects of the UN system in terms of professionalism and high standards, but it is also imperative that it incorporates the less positive aspects that typically characterize large international organizations.
The changes made in terms of creating community groups to talk and discuss policies can be expanded and made easier and more user-friendly. But that’s just one aspect that needs improvement.
In order for UNV to expand its role, we need an organization that is able to typically exit the “balloon” and into some scope, inevitably associated with the United Nations. To some extent, you need to adopt the kind of startup culture that is symbolized by more informality and openness to failure and risk.
In short, the T-shirt culture rather than the traditional McKinsey & Company dress code that almost ended up characterizing the entire UN system.
The UN plays a huge and vital role in every place it operates, but it is also known for its complex, often opaque working structures, and its tendency not to be exactly what the concept of “value for money” means.
In short, bureaucracy and red tape can distort and diminish the important work being done globally, and UNV can become a vehicle for setting direction within the broader UN community for a more dynamic work culture.
The upcoming launch of the State of the World’s Volunteerism report will be another milestone for UNV. With that, we will have a more comprehensive understanding of what volunteering can help achieve if it is promoted and adopted around the world. The United Nations Volunteers Program is a force for good within the international development community.
Its potential remains untapped and in order to do that we need a bolder, more creative and fast agency, one that can set the standards for a more effective development system.
Simon Galimberti Co-founder of ENGAGE, a non-profit NGO in Nepal. He writes about volunteerism, social inclusion, youth development and regional integration as a driver for improving people’s lives.
© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service