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United Way Blog

United Nations Volunteers: Recognizing the Role of Volunteers in Eradicating Poverty

Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, perfectly summed up the important role volunteers play in our world.  Volunteering, he said, “is a source of community strength, resilience, solidarity and social cohesion. It brings positive social change by fostering respect for diversity, equality and the participation of all. It is among society’s most vital assets.

In addition to mobilizing more than 7,700 United Nations volunteers annually in 130 countries, United Nations Volunteers (UNV) is making sure that volunteering is recognized as a central approach to positive social, economic and environmental change, and is integrated into national and global plans, policies and strategies. For example, UNV is promoting the recognition of volunteers in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were adopted in 2000 by 189 countries to drive progress in eradicating poverty by 2015. Over the past 14-plus years, time and again it has become clear that in order to be sustainable, development must look beyond technical and financial assistance to approaches and solutions created by people who will live with the outcomes for years to come. Volunteers and volunteer groups are the backbone of this approach, but have not received the credit they are due.

One highly visible and inclusive form of recognition is 500 Days, 500 Ways, which features a different volunteer story every day throughout the last 500 days of the MDG framework. The stories highlight the wide variety of ways in which volunteering supports sustainable development in some of the world’s poorest communities. Organizations submit their own stories relating to achieving the MDGs.

Looking beyond 2015, UNV is leading the way to position volunteers at the heart of the UN’s “Post-2015 Development Agenda.” A UNV working group of nearly 30 national and international volunteer organizations signed an open letter to UN Member States advocating for including citizen-led engagement in setting new development goals and implementing the agenda to achieve them.

There’s no doubt volunteers will continue to help deliver a variety of services aimed at eradicating poverty and that volunteer groups will play a critical role in mobilizing community participation and engagement in monitoring and evaluating results. As important, volunteers will empower people to be part of their own development. For poor and marginalized people, the opportunity to volunteer is a chance to move from being a passive recipient to being actively engaged in charting their own destiny, and advancing the common good in their community, country and world. Being one of society’s “most vital assets” is something we all can strive to be. LIVE UNITED.