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Voluntary action is 'fourth cornerstone' of sustainable development: UNV chief
30 August 2002

Johannesburg: Delegates to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) have directed their attention to the three recognized cornerstones of sustainable development: economic growth, environmental protection and social development. In a statement at the WSSD, the head of the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) has proposed a fourth cornerstone to empower and stabilize development strategies: voluntary action.

"The implementation of Agenda 21 requires the everyday, voluntary actions of millions of people," said UNV Executive Coordinator Sharon Capeling-Alakija in reference to the programme of action from the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

She noted that unobserved acts of generosity and "heroism" are taking place in countless places around the globe, from transporting safe water from distant wells to caring for children in need.

"But the fact that good deeds grow in the wild does not free us from the obligation to cultivate them," she said. "Like the other cornerstones of sustainable development, voluntary action must be studied, understood, planned for, and facilitated. The barriers that impede volunteerism must be identified and moved out of the way. The value of volunteer efforts needs to be measured, documented and communicated."

UNV, she added, is working to promote the growth of a vital, global volunteer movement. The International Year of Volunteers, commemorated in more than 120 countries last year, has helped make the movement stronger. "Many more countries have an improved infrastructure for voluntary action as well as policies and legislation aimed at facilitating volunteerism."

Alluding to ongoing efforts to promote volunteerism at the national level, she recalled that in South Africa, President Mbeki has declared 2002 the National Year of the Volunteer, with the slogan, "Arise and Act".

The UNV Executive Coordinator urged every organization represented at WSSD to rethink its own efforts and to take full account voluntary action as the "fourth cornerstone" on which sustainable development rests: "Our hope is that every plan and every policy you shape will take full account of the power of one idea: I am because we are."

Read the full text of the UNV Executive Coordinator's statement:

Read more about UN Volunteers and the World Summit on Sustainable Development: