Volunteering is a powerful tool for inclusivity and I’ve been promoting its power in my speeches and events. I got the chance to speak at the UN Volunteers Global Technical Meeting.
The entire event was under the topic of how we can reimagine volunteering for the 2030 SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) and I wanted to share my insights from my plenary session and discussion with you.
We need more joint hands, ambition, and commitment especially now. Volunteers are a critical help in serving governments and communities, risking lives. At the same time, volunteer contribution is still undervalued and not acknowledged enough.
After all, there are one billion people volunteering. In Finland alone, the monetary value of the work volunteers do is estimated at 3 billion — 1,5% of the GDP.
Volunteering is one of the main ways for people to participate in development processes. It’s a vehicle for participation, inclusion, and consultation of people from all backgrounds. At the same time, we need to ask if it is enough as volunteers to be invited to take a seat at the table that discusses how to leave no one behind in the next 10 years?
How are the voices of volunteers heard and for what purpose? I think there’s a gap still on how we ultimately influence decision-making, policies, and planning for the next decade of action.
That is why I want to share my five suggestions on how volunteering can be relevant during the next ten years:
1. We need to push a social capital narrative for businesses to promote community building, talent recruitment, and retention
Volunteering is a key tool in gaining social capital in a society. Through engagement, (international) talent gets connected with stakeholders and potential employers. At the same time, business communities need to promote community building and talent recruitment.
A major struggle in many Western countries is the retention of (international) talent. How we connect in communities and grow together as a group or a team is central in keeping important talent in the country.
2. We need to link volunteering to job opportunities & professional orientation for young immigrants and underrepresented groups
Volunteering is also a thriving inclusion tool for integration. But we need everyone to have access to opportunities to volunteer and get the benefits from it.
Further on, we need targeted investment into the resilience of communities of volunteering. You can go faster with volunteering as a mechanism for all societies to accelerate solutions on the pressing global challenges such as inequality and climate change.
At the same time, you offer a channel for different voices and a sense of ownership particularly for women and girls, persons with disabilities, indigenous people, refugees, and any other group often considered excluded.
3. Civic Engagements & participation is at the bone of grassroots movement to exercise human rights and we should all protect that
Volunteering is not only a tool for economic empowerment but also a tool to fight for human rights and against racism and inequality. It will thrive in a place where the rule of law is upheld. We need respect for civil society and grassroots organizations, and for many countries, there is still room for improvement.
For businesses, volunteering means collaborating to win together. When we use a participative approach to problem-solving, we can tackle the SDG through the efficiency of the system. We can include nonprofit organizations and companies to fix it and plan for better policies. One initiative I can highlight is a Finnish Innovation Fund’s Sitralab which addresses wicked problems (I took part in addressing child and youth social inequality) and engages with stakeholders including grass-roots organizations to create new working cultures by conducting various experiments.
Another networks that do highlight cross-sectoral development work to accelerate on SDGs and progress are: OECD Observatory of Public sector innovation and UNDP Accelerator Labs. There are plenty of organizations that speak the cause of volunteering and cross-sectoral cooperation, and this requires for the decision-makers to demonstrate a new level of ambition to go from words to actions.
The key is how consultation with the participation of volunteers and those who support volunteering translate into something that can be owned by all of us. Policymakers need to offer better support for their volunteers. It will naturally help position volunteering as an accelerator for change and championing humanity. I have been lucky to try various enriching volunteering experiences in Denmark and Finland and get this know-how to Uzbekistan where a law for volunteering was passed just last year. 60% of the young population has heard about the SDGs for the first time.
Some of the biggest challenges are remote education, we are struggling with the digital divide — even in Finland — and inequalities between rural and urban areas. To prompt growth and connectivity and affordable access to ICT solutions needs to be one of our prior goals.
Through new forms of collaboration and purpose-driven innovation, people can engage in the form of voluntary ownership.
4. We need to measure the impact of volunteering
We have one billion volunteers and even for a Global Dignity NGO community, there are a lot of activities where SDGs are integrated but not measured. We need to find a way to measure that impact and make it quantifiable.
Right now we desperately need the recognition of volunteering as a constructive force in the work of cities, regions, regional governments, and member-states. The strengthening of civil society goes through the volunteer infrastructure. We need to enable a fruitful environment on the national and international levels.
A major struggle is corruption and lack of democracy because it removes trust in volunteering. At the same time, we are all invited right now to use volunteering to fight the inequalities we face such as domestic violence, #blacklivesmatter, the migration crisis, or access to water. It’s legitimate to bring the dignity perspective in all the SDGs tying all the volunteer work together.
Volunteering needs to be appreciated and acknowledged
Volunteers need to be acknowledged and offered a form of appreciation. We have a volunteer day but it goes largely unannounced and unnoticed. We need to strengthen the narrative on what impact volunteering and make it to headlines. I say no funding money is wasted when it is channeled to make volunteering stories louder, volunteering (SDG) contribution more clear and visibility in the media stronger.
You are not paid as a volunteer and are therefore a risk-taker. You have no guarantee of what you will get out of it. Volunteers are true risk-takers and real change-makers. We need to recognize their voice instead of taking advantage of them to fit them into a political agenda.
If volunteering is taken advantage of it can be a dividing subject of unpaid labor to promote structural racism. We have to discuss dignity values and it’s the role of authorities to include policy-making that ensures that systemic racism and inequality are not part of the system.
Community resilience and volunteering are the watchwords of the century. We can leverage this momentum by:
- Increasing cross-sectoral collaboration to share knowledge and tools.
- Raising the funding for volunteer organizations to connect and meet. Through the knowledge of how they impact SDGs, they can connect and be more sustainable.
- Including volunteer organizations, grassroots movements, and those who offer informal and formal volunteering opportunities as an official stakeholder in all official documents in organizations that are responsible for the local implementation of SDGs such as cities or local governments. They also need to be included in policy papers and voluntary national reviews. These are national reviews of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals reported annually at the UN’s High-Level Political Forum by member states.
Do follow the hashtags #GTM2020 #VolunteerSDGs on social media and read a summary of a 4-day massive event with representatives from 40 countries.
If you care about this topic and want to take action, get in touch for potential cooperation and solutions for your organization. I support businesses and nonprofit organizations with inclusion and diversity, talent recruitment, and retention with volunteering at the core.