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Innovations in Civic Participation: Interview with Simona Costanzo Sow, Project Manager for IYV+10
13 August 2010
by Sarah Budriunas

The first International Year of Volunteers occurred in 2001 after the UN General Assembly announced that the need for volunteer effort was greater than ever, and proposed that a year designed to enhance the recognition, facilitation, networking and promotion of volunteer service could make a significant contribution to generating increased awareness of the achievements and further potential of volunteerism. The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) Programme was designated as the international focal point, which it remains today. The Year was considered an enormous success, and volunteering remains an area of interest within the UN, with several follow-up resolutions passed during the intervening decade.

As the global volunteer community prepares to build on the successes of the 2001 IYV during the next year, Innovations in Civic Participation (ICP) Intern Sarah Budriunas talked with IYV+10 Project Manager Simona Costanzo Sow from UNV about the goals and activities of IYV+10.

ICP: What are the main ways that UNV plans to engage young people in activities related to the International Year of Volunteers+10?

Dr. Simona Costanzo Sow:  UNV acts as a focal point for IYV+10 in 2011. We promote the year together with international stakeholders such as international NGOS, foundations and other UN agencies that develop and implement the global plan of action for IYV+10 and run their own campaigns within the global framework. There are also national multi-stakeholder committees that create joint celebrations and action plans in order to engage people around the world. Also, young people, organizations and any interested groups can come up with their own events related to volunteerism, brand them with the IYV+10 logo and use the documents provided to promote them. The global community can consult the worldvolunteerweb to access the tools and background information already posted to help create ideas and promote their own events. UNV just asks that those who choose to use the logo for their events and documents, refer to its Terms of Use and  report back, so UNV can keep track of all events and activities related to IYV+10.

: In your opinion, what are the most important underlying aspects of the IYV+10?

Dr. Simona Costanzo Sow
:  Going back to 2001, there were four pillars established for IYV. These pillars were kept for IYV’s tenth anniversary and reinforce the way forward in volunteerism: 1) recognition 2) facilitation 3) networking and 4) promotion of volunteerism in all its diversity. IYV+10 provides an opportunity to recognize and value the multitude of volunteerism schemes from local ad-hoc initiatives to structured, long-term full-time engagements. The tenth anniversary will highlight the great diversity of volunteer profiles showcasing volunteers of all ages, origins, socio-economic backgrounds and experiences. It is important to underline that everyone can be a volunteer and everyone has something to contribute. In fact, volunteerism is not a new concept; traditional systems of self help have always sustained community efforts for the common good. Volunteerism is relevant all over the world, it is an expression of our common humanity.

ICP: What are some overarching goals that UNV hopes to accomplish during IYV+10?

Dr. Simona Costanzo Sow:  One of the main goals is to show how volunteering contributes to peace and development. IYV+10 encourages people to take responsibility for their immediate environment and their communities and to be active citizens in their countries. Volunteer action has a two-way effect on the communities where it takes place but also on the volunteers themselves, their capacities and outlook on life.

Young people have an important role to play in volunteerism, as agents for change today and tomorrow. Young people who volunteer take responsibility for their community, feel ownership for the society they live in and are more likely to play a constructive and competent role as active citizens. The question of ownership is particularly relevant in increasingly mixed societies, where people of different origins and socio-economic backgrounds live side-by-side. Volunteer projects often use approaches from non formal education, involving the volunteers in a learner centered pedagogic process allowing them to develop crucial capacities, attitudes and skills.

Volunteer efforts are complementary to governmental policy and to external expert interventions. Volunteer action renders the expert intervention more sustainable as it creates ownership at the community level and allows inducing durable change. Volunteerism is not just a nice little “extra”; if it is incorporated in national development plans as one of the ways to achieve the national development objectives, it can play an important complementary role. Countries need to think about ways to create a favorable environment for volunteerism. UNV plans to profile the diversity and contribution of volunteerism on a global level through the State of the World Volunteerism Report (SWVR). This report will have more scientific evidence than previously seen, engaging focus groups worldwide. It will be the first report of its kind, and will be similar to the Human Development Report. We hope to release it December 5, 2011, and then continually on a three year basis.

ICP: What are some key ways that practitioners and organizations around the world can participate in IYV+10?

Dr. Simona Costanzo Sow:  There are a number of ways to participate, even though IYV+10 is still currently it its preparation phase. We are in the process of examining what is on the ground already, and which national committees formed for the first IYV are still active so that we develop a list of coordinating bodies. The first way to participate is to fill out our survey to provide information on service activities and coordinating bodies in your country.

Secondly, everyone can be an online volunteer by registering at Online volunteer opportunities posted by organizations worldwide might include helping an organization build a website or develop promotional material. Eventually specific IYV+10 related opportunities will be posted there as well.

Third, you can link with international stakeholders. We are building a database country by country with information on national committees and other coordinating bodies. The World Volunteer website that I mentioned earlier lets any organization use the promotional material and the IYV+10 to brand and promote their own volunteer activities. There will also be an online calendar of events that will show an overview of what is going on worldwide and the activities that are linked to IYV+10, as well as a launch of debates.

Furthermore, where UNV has field offices these will serve as focal points for IYV+10. UNV will also feature a number of UN Days (i.e. World Health Day, World Refugee Day, World Environment Day etc) and work with the related UN agency to feature how volunteerism is contributing to these issues. Organizations worldwide will be encouraged to contribute with their ideas, pictures, stories etc. The examples, figures and good practices that result from these features will be uploaded on the website and we will publish booklets on each issue selected.