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Inaugural ‘State of the World’s Volunteerism Report’ recognizes contributions of volunteers worldwide

© UNICEF Guatemala/2011
UNICEF volunteer Julia Noethiger (centre, blue vest) works with young people in Guatamala, helping them deal with issues including violence, lack of education and HIV. The first-ever State of the World's Volunteerism Report looks at volunteers' contributions to the development agenda.

By Chris Niles

NEW YORK, USA, 5 December 2011 – The United Nations General Assembly paid tribute to the work of its ‘unsung heroes’ today, launching the first-ever State of the World’s Volunteerism Report during a special General Assembly session.

Volunteerism was recognized as an important factor in development work ten years ago when the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution with many policy recommendations to promote and support volunteerism.

But a decade later, the contributions made by volunteers are seldom given their full due.

“At the same time as we mark the tenth anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers, the contribution of volunteerism is still only partially recognized,” said Executive Co-ordinator of United Nations Volunteers Flavia Pansieri.

'Volunteers can change the world'

It is estimated that each year about 8,000 people volunteer with UN agencies. Speaking at the General Assembly, Ms. Pansieri said volunteers’ work contributes to countries’ gross domestic product (GDP), but it is not just a matter of simple economics.

“Volunteers contribute to peace and social cohesion, to participation and social inclusion. They contribute to the well-being of a society by proving with their actions that there are other values driving human beings than simple self-interest,” she said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was unable to attend the assembly but sent a message of support to volunteers.

“With passion and commitment, they are helping to show how volunteers can change the world,” he said.

The General Assembly passed a further resolution to support and promote the work of UN volunteers. Launching the report, United Nations Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark said she hopes that the contribution of volunteers will be fully integrated into strategic thinking about development.

Solving main development challenges

The report looks at how volunteers can help solve some of the main peace and development challenges of our time. It also reveals who volunteers are. It found that they are mostly working with small local groups across a range of development sectors. They are rich and poor, skilled and unskilled, and men and women volunteer equal amounts of time.

It also reveals some staggering statistics.

“Since 1998, 20 million mostly local volunteers have been recruited under the global polio eradication initiative,” Ms. Clark said. “Together, they helped to immunize more than 2.5 billion children worldwide.”

She went on to say that volunteerism cannot remove the responsibility of states to take care of their citizens, but it is a significant complement, and it is an overlooked factor in helping to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

The report also emphasized that the benefits of volunteering go both ways. It is a mutual exchange that leaves the volunteers empowered and with a sense of fulfilment, self-worth and dignity. 

“Their engagement is not a condescending act of charity,” said Ms. Pansieri, “but rather the expression of the relation of reciprocity where both parties at the same time are recipients and providers of shared benefits.”



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