Are we ready to reinvent volunteering?
GTM2020 was all about reimagining volunteering for the 2030 Agenda - is #EYVplus10 the perfect time to do that?
In 2020, representatives from over 60 countries came together in the Global Technical Meeting (GTM2020) to “Reimagine Volunteering for the 2030 Agenda”. Participants coming from the UN system, civil society, academia, the private sector and intergovernmental organisations were joined by volunteers to assess what the most sustainable volunteering structure would be, to help us navigate the global pandemic and be on track to achieve the 2030 Agenda.
2020 marked the beginning of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. And if we listen to the message delivered by the UN Secretary-General, we can all agree that would never be possible without the contribution of volunteers, across the world.
Indeed, in 2020 most of our attention was captured by the global pandemic and we were able to see the impact volunteers had in tackling this great challenge. However, volunteers were there before the pandemic, contributing to dealing with protecting our environment from climate change, with emergency and crisis contexts, rising inequalities, military and civil conflicts and their extreme consequences such as migration and displacement. Volunteers are always there, responding to the immediate needs and helping relentlessly to ensure no one is left behind or disregarded, not one person and not the environment.
The presence of volunteers is very often taken for granted and rarely do we stop to consider not only their real value, but the great risk of not enabling them to contribute in the most effective way, wherever they are needed.
Amongst many other things, 2020 made us reflect on that – the role and value of volunteers. It has become increasingly clear to people and governments that we cannot fail to consider volunteering as a key tool to achieving equality and sustainable development everywhere.
As our societies evolve, so do volunteering actions and solidarity efforts. Without a system of support for volunteerism, it cannot fulfill its key role in supporting development efforts – volunteering can no longer be considered as an add-on, but rather as a key component of development efforts everywhere. That is why volunteering needs to be reinvented.
The GTM2020 centered on that very idea as experts from across sectors discussed what is needed for volunteering to be integrated into the development agenda. The consensus was that we need to create and adopt new models of volunteering. Moreover, to acknowledge and respond to the changes in volunteering patterns and in the journey to achieving sustainable development, new partnerships and structures need to be created for enabling volunteering to happen with the highest impact.
Having benefited from contributions from over 6000 online participants, the GTM2020 event concluded with a Global Call to Action, which includes finding solutions for the big challenges faced by volunteerism, such as inequality in access to volunteering opportunities, gaps in covering the costs for volunteering, safety and security of volunteers and psychological and physical support for volunteers in the most vulnerable areas of the society.
It all comes down to finding the innovative and inclusive approaches to volunteering, through the right partnerships, and by defining the most inclusive policies and securing enough resources and financing to deliver volunteering at all levels of society. This is what the future of volunteering looks like.
In practice, we have to consider perspectives from across the world to understand what this vision will translate in terms of a balance between the above-mentioned key elements of volunteering, reimagined.
At GTM2020, regional breakout groups worked to define that balance and pinpoint the number one priority in their respective region. In Latin America and the Caribbean, volunteering is indicated to be a strategic approach to current social tensions. Thus, to maintain a safe volunteering environment, the immediate need is to build strategic partnerships to ensure all areas of society are represented and weighed in.
African representatives focused on volunteering for peace and development, identifying integration of traditional and digital-based volunteering tools with the national development agendas as key for sustainable development. Asia and the Pacific region carried the message of the need to ensure inclusive volunteering, truly leaving no one behind. The Arab States representatives spoke about needing to prioritise the integration of volunteering policy agendas, as well as training and inclusive digitalization, to create ‘a peaceful, prosperous and equitable future’.
According to the representatives from Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States breakout group, the future of volunteering needs to be inclusive and socially responsible, and it should have its foundation on a data-based approach.
Do we have all that we need to start building this future for volunteering? By pledging to take action as defined in this GTM2020 call for the next decade, every region should focus on what they identified as the priority moving forward. For Europe, the focus is on acquiring relevant data to ensure volunteering policy and structure are meeting the needs of European citizens. This data should be captured at local, national and regional level. The Decade of Action requires an immediate response and so Europe must leap into formulating a framework for comparative data gathering and analysis. The challenge is the diversity of volunteering policy and practice at local level. A diverse set of criteria and indicators have to be identified, and a clear benchmark set as a starting point for data analysis. At the same time, the opportunity in Europe lies in the possibility to share and adapt data gathering and analysis methods, through regional bodies within the civil society and governmental agencies.
What Europe would mostly benefit from is a clear signal from the European level policy makers to the EU Member States, and Council of Europe members more broadly, that they should make commitments to gathering comparative data on volunteering on a regular basis and enter into suitable cross sector partnerships to deliver that.
This year, in Europe, we are invited more than ever to take action and help build this foundation for the future of volunteering in Europe, particularly through the development of the Blueprint for European Volunteering 2030 (#BEV2030). In 2021, the 10th anniversary of the European Year of Volunteering, #EUVplus10, with countries taking the lead to strengthen volunteering ecosystems through national programs and campaigns, there is no better time to come together, across fields and sectors, to ensure we solidify volunteering policy and practice across Europe. Volunteering holds the potential to be a transformative force for sustainable development. The question is – will we leverage it?