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A Global Perspective on Volunteering

More than 1 billion people volunteer worldwide, most of them working in their own countries. While I often use this space to shine a light on the great work that volunteers are doing at the local level, today I want to share some exciting news about the way the value of volunteering is being recognized on a global scale.

According to a new report from United Nations Volunteers (UNV), volunteers are playing a vital role in making governments more accountable and responsive to their citizens. The State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2015 – Transforming Governance is the first global review of research about how volunteers contribute to improving the way their society is governed. The key takeaway? As leaders of wealthy nations consider the best ways to end poverty, promote prosperity, protect the environment and address climate change, we will achieve those development goals only if the voices of all people are included.

The report draws on evidence from countries as diverse as Brazil, Kenya, Lebanon and Bangladesh to show how ordinary people are volunteering their time, energies and skills to improve the way they are governed and engaged at local, national and global levels. Volunteers are working with governments and civil society to hold those in power accountable, to influence policies and laws and to represent the voices of those who are often left out of development decisions such as women, youth and marginalized groups. The end result, the report says, is more inclusive and effective development.

I just returned from a convening in Bonn, Germany hosted by UNV, the International Forum for Volunteering in Development and Washington University’s Center for Social Development about developing a strategic global research agenda and a written roadmap to communicate the priorities for volunteering for peace and sustainable development over the next decade. Researchers and practitioners came from every continent, including countries such as Argentina, Australia, China, Kenya, India, Mexico, Norway, Russia and South Africa. It was wonderful to interact with these professionals and discuss concrete plans for better understanding why and how volunteers can facilitate lasting change. With organizations like the United Nations investing serious time and attention to the value of volunteers, we are on the right path to addressing some of the world’s greatest challenges.