e-CIVICUS 418 - Issued 05 December 2008 

5 December: Great day for volunteers’ unity
By Joyce Yu, Deputy Executive Coordinator, United Nations Volunteers (
UNV) Programme

Volunteers and volunteer-involving organizations around the world celebrate International Volunteer Day on 5 December in order to increase recognition of the contribution of volunteerism to peace and development.  

The International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development (IVD) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution A/ RES /40/212 on 17 December 1985. Since then volunteers and volunteer-involving organizations have joined with governments, NGOs, UN agencies and other partners to celebrate volunteerism and lay the ground for future activities.  

Yet volunteerism remains under-recognised, and under-utilised, as a resource for development. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his IVD message this year, “rarely… is volunteerism fully recognized as a potentially vast and powerful resource to engage people in the pursuit of peace and development.”  

For that reason, we must continue to make every effort to raise awareness, measure impact, and prove to communities, to governments and to volunteers themselves, that their voluntary efforts are making a positive difference.  

Sending a message especially to volunteer-involving organisations, governments and UN agencies, Mr. Ban urged "all members of our global community to tap this great reserve of energy and initiative". There is every reason to argue that they should. With the support of United Nations Volunteers, research conducted by Johns Hopkins University, the International Labour Organisation and the UN Statistics Division has found that approximately five percent of the economic output of developed countries comes from non-profit activities, including volunteerism; greater than that of the utilities and financial sectors - before the current financial crisis. The figure is likely to be higher still for developing countries, where volunteerism is an invaluable part of development programming.

During my participation in the eighth CIVICUS World Assembly in June this year, I was again reminded of the contribution that volunteerism can make to global civil society and its role in expanding participation, access and representation. Volunteerism involves many different people with diverse objectives. It encompasses activities ranging from activism to charity work. As was noted in a joint publication "Volunteering and Social Activism: Pathways for participation in human development" earlier this year by CIVICUS, IAVE and UNV, volunteerism can influence agendas, policies and decision-making and representation. It can also promote social change and contribute to personal transformation. Volunteering and social activism both foster participation by a wide range of people and they contribute to the involvement of people in the achievement of development objectives, such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  

This year, on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is useful to note the substantial contribution of volunteers in this vital area. Whether working with refugees and internally displaced people, addressing discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients and other marginalized communities, or helping to combat female genital mutilation, volunteers represent our collective conscience on human rights. UNDP Administrator Kemal Derviş paid tribute in his IVD message to the work of UNV volunteers who, he said, "ensure that governance is grounded in the principles of human rights, access to justice, inclusion and gender equality." Many other volunteers around the world are also involved in the daily struggle for human rights and the rule of law. IVD is their chance to reflect on those challenges and celebrate the achievements that they share.  

Not all of these volunteers are working directly on location, however. Increasingly, we see people going online to contribute their ideas and to connect people and locate resources. The surging popularity of online volunteerism is seen in the launch this year, on IVD 5 December, of the UNV Online Volunteering service in French and Spanish. UNV Executive Coordinator Flavia Pansieri noted that more than 1,000 development organizations were already using the service in English, and that the new websites should expand the service substantially.  

Ms. Pansieri also noted that 2011 will mark the 10th anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers in 2001, and encouraged volunteer-involving organizations to take this chance to advance their work in volunteerism. "Let us expand recognition of the action of volunteers and encourage their engagement in order to help countries reach the Millennium Development Goals," she adds.  

Activities to mark IVD are being organized worldwide. In Haiti, devastated by a series of hurricanes earlier this year, UNV and its partners are rehabilitating a damaged school and are organizing a disaster preparedness event. In Indonesia, national UNV volunteers will help young people in East Kalimantan learn about ecosystems and plant new mangroves. In Kazakhstan UNV volunteers will give 'clown therapy' to children in orphanages and hospitals, and in Uganda, UNV and partners are putting together a week-long series of events to engage partners and the broader public, culminating in an award ceremony for volunteers of the year.  

But events are not limited to the UN or to the developed world. Volunteers are celebrating throughout Europe and North America. In the United States, a coalition of volunteer organizations is heralding a new era of community service at home and abroad and pledging to double the number of volunteers in the field.  

Wherever we look, people are acknowledging that volunteerism is hard work, and that it also provides a valuable, meaningful and welcome contribution to our communities and to our shared efforts to tackle major challenges.  

Organisations celebrating IVD are encouraged to share information on World Volunteer Web www.worldvolunteerweb.org  (info@worldvolunteerweb.org), and to put their videos on the YouTube group IVD2008: www.youtube.com/group/ivd2008.  

Official statements from the UN Secretary-General, UNDP Administrator and UNV Executive Coordinator are available on the UNV website, www.unvolunteers.org.  

* ‘Volunteering and Social Activism: Pathways for participation in human development’, click here.     


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