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ILO notes the importance of volunteerism statistics
09 July 2007

Geneva, Switzerland: Volunteerism is an important contributor to economic development and needs closer measurement, says the Director of the Statistics Bureau of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Mr. Sylvester Young.

A better understanding of the scope and contribution of volunteer work would improve policy-making and help raise living standards, Mr. Young told a taskforce at ILO headquarters in Geneva, which is meeting to review the challenges and opportunities for including "volunteer work" in labour force surveys.

“There is no doubt that volunteer work contributes significantly to the ILO objectives,” Mr. Young said. “The volume and value of volunteer work is required to better understand the amount, characteristics and trends of the participants in the labour market and to plan and implement labour market policies,”

The contribution of volunteer work is recognised by society and by policymakers as essential for the well being of any society, Mr. Young said, but there is shortfall in measurable data. “Its volume, value and characteristics still do not feature much in mainstream information systems. Currently, only the volunteer work that leads to the production of goods or to the production of services for market enterprises or for non-profit enterprises operating in the market (e.g. some schools and hospitals) are considered as part of the SNA production boundary, and so employment. It leaves out many other volunteer activities such as the production of services by volunteers for non-profit enterprises not operating in the market or for households. Thus sometimes the anomaly that providing voluntary services to a public or community school is not recorded in employment statistics, but doing exactly the same activity for a private (fee-paying) school would be included.”

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe UNECE Task Force on Measuring Volunteer Work drew experts on volunteering from around the world to discuss the practical concerns related to the measurement of volunteer work, including conceptualization and definition of volunteering, target measures of volunteering, survey platforms, instrument design, and accuracy of measurement.

Mr. Young asked the taskforce to advise the ILO on some key areas that still impede the correct measurement of voluntary activities, including “fuzzy” definitions of volunteer activities, problems in valuing the time spent volunteering and difficulties in accurately measuring the amount of volunteer work that occurs.

He noted that many countries currently measure the volume and value of unpaid domestic work and should do the same with volunteer work. “Given its greater closeness to economic work, in terms of both the nature of the work and the conditions under which it is carried out, identifying and using equivalent market activities should be easier than for unpaid domestic work,” he said.

The ILO is cooperating with the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies, in collaboration with UN Volunteers, to develop a Manual on Measurement of Volunteer Work to guide labor force statisticians in measuring volunteer work as part of official labour force surveys throughout the world. The Manual will be presented for review and potential adoption to the International Conference of Labour Statisticians scheduled to convene in Geneva, Switzerland, in December 2008. A Technical Experts Group on Measurement of Volunteer Work was convened to discuss the Manual during the UNECE Task Force meeting in Geneva.