Towards a new approach to volunteering
22 April 2011
Harnessing the power of volunteering will require clearer understandings of what it means, a proactive approach to policy and legislation, and even stronger partnerships, an eclectic range of voluntary organizations has agreed.
The second Regional Consultation Meeting under the flag of the tenth anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers was held in Ankara, Turkey, from 18-19 April 2011. Delegates attended from 23 organizations and government ministries from across Europe, the Arab Region and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
This diverse group moved towards several common positions on varied topics: from advocating and recognizing volunteering and its impacts, to creating legal frameworks and influencing public policy. With events in the Arab region fresh in many minds, the delegates renewed a focus on youth and citizen participation through volunteering.
Among the draft summary of recommendations that emerged were calls for a clearer understanding of what ‘volunteerism’ really encompasses. Different groups conceptualize civic engagement in different ways, and a better mutual understanding of volunteering in all its diversity could lead to clearer and more effective messages for all volunteer-involving organizations.
Meanwhile, the conference recognized the potential of new communications media in highlighting volunteering and what it can do.
There is room for volunteers and voluntary organizations themselves to take a bigger role in policy development, said the delegates, since governments and civil society should continue acting in partnership on this issue. The sheer strength of the civil society lobby when acting in unison has great potential for influencing agendas and improving mechanisms for exploiting voluntary action to its best effect.
Echoing previous consultations this year, the delegates recommended the creation of a practical shared ‘knowledge platform’, which could enable better governance systems for volunteer management. Meanwhile, they said, it was important to reflect on the particular needs of a particular country while drafting or amending laws, rather than seeking ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions.
Moreover, the Ankara attendees considered that a ‘volunteer charter’ listing common principles and a code of conduct could still act as a guiding framework for creating such legislation. They also called for frameworks that took national needs into account, accompanied by realistic plans and processes to make volunteering laws a reality.
Lastly, the delegates reemphasized the importance of illustrating the ‘inspiring change’ that volunteer action can bring about for peace and development. Recording this impact might require the creation of not only partnerships but a shared database, while major publications such as the Human Development Report were noted as possible ‘entry points’ for disseminating the volunteer story even wider.
By bringing together Volunteer-Involving Organizations of every kind and from every region, the series of regional consultations aim to help the volunteering community gain strength and perhaps ultimately speak with one voice as a ‘World Volunteer Coalition’.