Photo: The 383rd meeting of the Committee took place on 8 August 2017. Over 36 Committee Members/Observers were in attendance in addition to several civil society organizations. - Photo: 2021

Volunteerism Must be at the Centre of Our Common Agenda

Viewpoint by Simone Galimberti

The Co-Founder of ENGAGE, a not-for-profit NGO based in Nepal, Simone Galimberti, is one of the participants at the IVCO 2021 conference.

KATHMANDU, Nepal (IDN) — The ambitious plans put forward by UN Secretary-General António Guterres with the recent launch of Our Common Agenda, are based on key universal values and principles fostering better humane relationships.

In his remarks to the General Assembly, the SG could not find better words: “It is an agenda driven by solidarity—the principle of working together, recognizing that we are bound to each other and that no community or country, however powerful, can solve its challenges alone.”

As a blueprint that dares to re-imagine better, more cooperative forms of multilateralism while re-thinking the relationships between state and citizenry, the initiatives envisioned are bold and transformative especially because they put youth at the centre of policy making.

From a new High-Level Summit of the Future, to enhancing the youth office at the UN and the appointment of a Special Envoy for Future Generations, the list is long and ambitious.

There is one thing that can turbo-charge such new transformational approach to global development and it is one of the best tools that can bring us closer to achieving the Agenda 2020.

It is called volunteerism.

Embedded in the local fabrics across the continents, a unique feature of many cultures and societies especially in the South, volunteerism can truly become an enabler for a better, more equal and greener life.

Though it is practiced in multiform ways, often informally and it is a constant way of life for millions of people, it is only when the toughest times hit that its gleaming shine gets noticed.

During the ongoing pandemic, millions of unnamed volunteers from all the walks of life and everywhere, made the difference, bringing hope and often saving lives.

Perhaps less noticeable now but their efforts did not stop, they are still tirelessly ongoing.

Awe and gratitude towards these unglamorous gestures often fills the headlines but then again, as we move on, people and policy makers’ attention turns away.

This must change.

That’s why we are now in a unique juncture where hope for a better world could be matched by a collective resolution to improve our societies.

It is here where volunteerism, with its universal values that are the foundations of Our Common Agenda that can truly become a game-changer.

With commitment and resolve, volunteerism can be turned into a central piece of a new policy agenda, helping build forward better, propelling new ideas that, instead of being panacea, can innovate and experiment new courses of action while complement and reinvigorating existing ones.

Now policy makers have huge responsibilities at all levels to ensure that volunteerism gets the recognition and with it, the resources it deserves.

National and local legislators can push forward ambitious investments to reduce inequalities and carbon emissions, truly giving traction to the idea of localizing the Agenda 2030, the only way to realistically achieve the Sustainable Development Goal that comes with it.

We must leverage the potential of volunteerism in these strategies that, hopefully, will lead to a better, fairer tomorrow.

There is no better way of doing so than by involving and engaging citizens in this process of building forward better and that’s why volunteerism must find its way in the “arena” of policy making.

We need a global debate about the differences volunteerism is making and can further make if enable to flourish and thrive, not just as a nice add on but as a smart and strategic “thing” to pursue.

That’s why the IVCO virtual conference organized by the International Forum for Volunteering in Development (Forum) and hosted by Action Aid, Greece, taking place October 16 to 20 is so significant.

As the biggest annual gathering for volunteerism for development, practitioners, policy makers and activists will share experiences, discuss best practices and brainstorm on effective ways to propel volunteerism at the centre of global recovery

The event has potentially a huge role to help connecting the dots because we cannot solve the climate crisis or the poverty crisis if we do not talk and discuss about volunteerism and how we mainstream it and support all the way.

The organizers could not find a better theme in “Inclusive Volunteering for Global Equity” clearly reflecting the role volunteerism can have in the quest for social justice.

The choice of the host, Action Aid Hellas is also emblematic.

Greece, after years of austerity causing increased levels of vulnerability and marginalization, is slowing bouncing back and it dealt with the pandemic better than other nations.

It is an important symbolism, a sign of hope for a new narrative, one that shows that breaking with the status quo is possible and volunteerism is an indispensable part of the equation.

Yet practitioners, activists and development experts involved in promoting volunteerism in the South as well as in the North must come forward with a stronger unified front in order to catapult volunteerism at the centre of global policy making discussions. 

“IVCO 2021 aims to broaden and deepen this discourse by exchanging best practices, discuss the barriers that prevent inclusive volunteering on the side of institutions, societies, organizations, and volunteers, and to recommend solutions” shares Gerasimos Kouvaras, Country Director of ActionAid Hellas and Member of the Forum Board.

He adds: “The conference will focus on three burning issues: decolonization, digitalization, and directionality of volunteering—seen through the programmatic, organizational, methodological, policy making lenses, amongst others”.

It is mistaken to think that it is just the duty of experts and practitioners to push for change and ensure volunteerism gets its due acknowledgement. It is also not realistic to just expect policy makers, those in the rooms of power, to act and invest on volunteerism.

This is a common duty; it is truly our common agenda and perhaps this is the biggest challenge ahead. We need to make sure that the people, starting from the youth, embrace volunteerism as their best shield against the multiple crises’ humanity is facing.

Only a joint front that rises from the grassroots, making a vocal case for more and better volunteerism, coupled by forward looking policies inspired by the actions at the bottom, can bring a desired change many of us aspired to a world where volunteerism truly becomes a way of living, a way that changes lives for better. [IDN-InDepthNews – 17 October 2021]

Image credit: IVCO 2021

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