Executive Coordinator: Volunteer participation is 'crucial aspect of
HAVANA/BONN, 3 April 2001 -- Governments should recognize that citizens' active participation in society through voluntary effort is a "crucial aspect of good governance", said Sharon Capeling-Alakija, Executive Coordinator of the Bonn-based United Nations Volunteers (UNV).
Addressing lawmakers from 140 countries attending an Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) conference Monday in Havana, Cuba, Ms. Capeling-Alakija said governments can recognize the role of volunteerism in creating and enhancing economic and social capital. "They can take full measure of its role as a positive force for social development," she said.
Drawing attention to efforts of policy-makers during and beyond the International Year of Volunteers 2001 (IYV2001), she outlined five key challenges that face governments as they seek to foster and strengthen volunteer action and build social capital:
Frame volunteerism as something to be taken into account in national development strategies. People, communities and nations benefit when volunteering is seen as a resource acquisition strategy.
Reach out to vulnerable populations. Volunteerism can help the socially excluded to join the mainstream of society; the unemployed to gain marketable skills; the disabled to overcome stereotypes as passive recipients of care; and the ageing to have healthier, more productive lives.
Build an infrastructure for voluntary action. Governments can help to support the leadership, effective management, training, evaluation and continuous improvement of volunteer services. This infrastructure should support community-based voluntary action, as well as national and international volunteerism. As online volunteerism grows in importance, they can help to create the electronic infrastructure that makes this possible.
Support research. Governments can help to document and measure the impact of volunteerism. Some countries are now beginning to measure volunteer contributions in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), but it is also important to document the diverse forms that volunteer action takes around the world. UNV now has a toolkit that can help gauge the extent and impact of volunteerism in communities. (www.unv.org/prerels/2001/150201.html)
Encourage volunteerism without compromising the spirit of volunteerism. Governments can provide incentives for volunteerism, including tax incentives. Working with the private sector, the media, and education, they can promote the recognition of volunteers, help to dispel misconceptions about volunteerism, and encourage civil servants to take part in volunteer efforts. They can provide an enabling environment. Governments must avoid the temptation to control volunteering. In many cases, the most important thing governments can do is to get out of the way, that is, to eliminate legislative, policy, and organizational barriers so that more people can come forward and actively participate in their communities.
UNV and the US-based non-governmental organization, INDEPENDENT SECTOR, has released a guide on how governments, researchers and volunteers can measure the economic contribution of volunteering in their countries. "Measuring Volunteering: A Practical Toolkit" will assist countries, particularly those from the developing world, in producing their own empirical data relating to volunteerism.
To download the Measuring Volunteering Toolkit, visit the UNV web site at http://www.unv.org/activs/vol/IYVToolkit.PDF.
UNV is the volunteer arm of the UN system. It extends hands-on assistance for peace and development in nearly 150 countries. Created by the UN General Assembly in 1970 and administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UNV works through UNDP country offices to send volunteers and promote the ideals of volunteerism around the world. UN Volunteers have extensive experience in over 100 professional fields. UNV is the UN-designated focal point for the International Year of Volunteers 2001.
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