Helen Clark: Speech at the launch of the 2nd State of the World Volunteerism Report: Transforming Governance, UN ECOSOC Chamber

Jun 5, 2015

Thank you for attending this launch of the 2015 State of the World Volunteerism Report. This is the second such report – the first was launched four years ago. That earlier Report deepened our understanding of the role volunteers play in advancing peace and development.
This second report focuses on “Transforming Governance”, and looks at how volunteers can contribute to better governance.  It details how volunteers are helping to expand and improve services in poor and marginalized communities; and how their efforts can:

•    empower people with new skills and a stronger voice,
•    facilitate citizen feedback and help create checks and balances, and
•    inspire people to innovate, share, and debate ideas.

In such ways, volunteers can help make governance systems more effective, participatory, accountable, and responsive to people.

In the report of the Open Working Group on the Post-2015 agenda, Member States agreed that there should be an SDG on peaceful and inclusive societies, with the aim of building effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels. Volunteers can help engage people from all walks of life in making progress towards that goal a reality.  

Volunteers: Changing how people are governed

Hundreds of millions of volunteers are estimated to be at work around our world. This report tells us how some of them are already working to improve governance. The Report includes stories from Brazil, Kenya, Lebanon, Bangladesh, and other countries of how volunteers have worked to change laws and help implement policies, and stimulate appropriate responses from authorities.

In its work around the world, UNDP sees volunteers being catalysts for change, amplifying citizens’ voices, and facilitating participation in political processes. We work to support their efforts.

In Kenya, for example, UNV and UNDP teamed up to back a long-standing neighborhood volunteer scheme established to help ensure peaceful elections. Locally recruited UN Volunteers also launched a national campaign under the banner “Get Informed Get Involved”, giving Kenyan young people and youth organizations ways to be involved in the political process .

Often volunteers will initiate, innovate, and work with others to find solutions. The Report highlights the example of Ushahidi, an initiative originating in Kenya which emerged in the wake of the outreach of violence following the 2007 election. Convinced that fear and violence was often triggered and reinforced by a lack of accurate information, Ushahidi developed a crowd-sourcing platform which mapped outburst of violence using information forwarded by volunteers. Their initiative has been adapted to map and address related problems around the world.

Other examples in the Report include those of professionals in Brazil who volunteer to audit city contracts in an effort to address corruption, and volunteers in China who monitor pollution levels in order to direct attention to the need for better air quality.

Realizing the potential for people-centered development

The Report makes it clear that volunteerism does not relieve or lessen the responsibility of the state to deliver human development.

It illustrates, however, how volunteerism can play a complementary role by empowering citizens and strengthening the social trust and cohesion needed to realize the change people and leaders seek.

The Report notes how a number of countries - from Honduras to Mozambique and Peru have helped build an enabling environment for volunteerism - passing laws which promote it and encouraging volunteer participation in achieving national development goals. It records the Government of Togo’s efforts to encourage youth volunteers to get engaged in addressing the problem of youth unemployment.

People living closest to problems have important insights into what the solutions could be. So there need to be ways found to engage them in finding those solutions. Local volunteers can help ground the thinking and direction of regional, national, and global policy-makers in the reality of life in poor or marginalized communities.

The Report finds that volunteers are often prevented from having a beneficial impact because of the lack of a supportive, enabling environment. Those who benefit from the status quo can feel threatened by volunteers with drive and initiative and lock them out. The Report found that volunteer organizations often lack the resources or the influence they need to make an impact. The Report calls on governments to:

•    engage more volunteers in the process of developing policies as well as putting them into action;
•    protect the freedoms of speech and association which enable volunteers to contribute effectively; and
•    develop mechanisms to involve volunteers, women, and marginalised groups in local and national decision making.

Volunteers: force for sustainable development

Volunteerism needs to become an integral part of the way we do development. Where citizens are engaged and working to overcome the challenges they face, development gains and peace and stability will be more sustainable.

This was the thinking behind the UN’s decision to facilitate a global conversation on the post-2015 global development agenda.

More than 7.5  million people have voted for their priorities in the new agenda in the UN’s My World survey, and many thousands have been part of national consultations around the world. The good news is that the priorities which have emerged through this outreach are largely reflected in the proposed Sustainable Development Goals now being debated by UN Member States.

Those engaged in the consultations have been clear that they want to stay involved, to help implement and monitor the new agenda, and make it meaningful to their community or country. This suggests that people have already started to make the new agenda their own, and opens an opportunity to achieve broad ownership of it.

But to realize that, people need to be able to engage in their, their community’s and their country’s development. The Sustainable Development Goals will only be achieved with the participation of all parts of society. This is where volunteers come in. Volunteers can be conduits and catalysts, bringing a wide range of voices and views to decision-making tables.

At a recent meeting of volunteer organisations hosted by UN Volunteers and the Peace Corps, participants identified measures which could enable volunteers to make a bigger difference. One idea was to include volunteerism in the post-2015 development agenda. Doing so could also help governments measure the contribution of volunteers to sustainable development, and encourage governments to give support to volunteer efforts.

Development actors of all kinds can help by deciding to partner with volunteers and volunteer organizations. The Report points to diverse strategies being used by volunteer and development organizations to connect local constituents and volunteers with national and global decision-makers. Such partnerships can help development actors, including in government, to translate new opportunities emerging from global agreements and national and local policies into actions which meet people’s needs well.

Where volunteers are given space and governments are responsive there is a good chance of driving people-centred development. Both UNV and UNDP are committed to that.

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