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United Way Blog

Volunteers: Building Back Better from COVID

As we continue to grapple with the impact of COVID and its variants across the world, it's more important than ever to appreciate those who are helping their neighbors cope. Healthcare, transportation, food, and other service industry employees are helping people the world over live safe and productive lives.

But did you know that more than 1 billion volunteers are also helping communities respond to the pandemic? And they're doing so in meaningful ways, while advancing the world's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). So it was especially gratifying to help lead an event with people from around the world who recognized those volunteers and shared new research about volunteer engagement during COVID-19.

United Nations Volunteers (UNV) partnered with the Volunteer Groups Alliance (VGA) during the recent High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development to hold a virtual event on the theme of “Volunteers and COVID-19: How volunteers help build back better during the pandemic to achieve the 2030 Agenda.” In addition to the research, representatives from governments and volunteer organizations around the world shared their experiences of engaging volunteers during the pandemic. You can watch the recording of the event here.

Two key takeaways: an astounding number of people volunteered during the pandemic and plan to continue to do so, and COVID has changed everything for organizations that engage volunteers. UNV research found that 2020 volunteering levels across 8 countries among adults 15+ ranged from 75% (Lebanon) to 98% (Senegal)!  Many reported having plans to volunteer over the next year, and there appears to be a greater interest in doing even more to participate in civic affairs and work with others on innovative solutions, as much as two or three times than seen previously. You can find more details in UNV's new paper: From care to where? Understanding volunteerism in the global South: A multi-country study on volunteering before, during and beyond COVID-19.

The International Association for Volunteer Effort also shared its research into how volunteering had been affected by the pandemic and how volunteering leadership structures help advance the 2030 SDG Agenda. Nearly all survey respondents said COVID had changed the way they use technology and social media, and 84% have revised their strategic approach to work through online support and engagement with VIOs and volunteers. About 62% said COVID-19 changed the way their organization operates and that these changes will not be reversed in the future.

The bottom line? Volunteers and the organizations that lead them help build back better, during and after a pandemic, a natural disaster, and any traumatic event. No matter where you are in the world, reach out to your local United Way or another organization that can help you find your place in this important work. This is truly how we can all #LiveUnited.