In November 1997, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2001 as the International Year of Volunteers (IYV). United Nations Volunteers (UNV) was designated as the international focal point. With its main objectives of increased recognition, facilitation, networking and promotion of volunteering, IYV provided a unique opportunity to highlight the achievements of millions of volunteers worldwide and encouraged more people to engage in volunteer activity.
The idea for IYV came out from deliberations among several major international NGOs in the early 1990s. The concept first emerged within the United Nations system during a Policy Forum held by UNV and United Nations University (UNU) in Japan in 1996. Through the UN Secretary General, the Japanese Government's proposal in February 1997 was placed on the agenda of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in July 1997. ECOSOC recommended to the UN General Assembly to proclaim 2001 as the International Year of Volunteers. The General Assembly -- in its 52nd session on 20 November 1997 in Resolution 52/17, co-sponsored by 123 countries -- approved the ECOSOC resolution.
The premise underlying IYV 2001 was that voluntary service is needed more than ever to tackle problems in areas of social, economic, cultural, humanitarian and peace-building, and that more people are needed to offer their services as volunteers. For this to happen, there was a need for greater recognition and facilitation of volunteer work, more vigorous promotion of voluntary service, and drawing upon the best initiatives and efforts -- the "best practice" -- of volunteers, networked to optimize lessons learned. The designation of an International Year of Volunteers by the UN General Assembly provided a valuable framework and established a favourable environment for the growth and more strategic use of volunteer contributions.
Objectives of IYV 2001
The IYV 2001 had four primary goals: promotion, recognition, facilitation and networking of volunteer service.
Recognition: Governments and local authorities could ensure that they have mechanisms for drawing the voluntary sector into the consultation process. Recognition will be ensured by a country study which will describe and quantify the contribution of the voluntary sector to national welfare and advance; by awards instituted for the best examples of individual, small group, local community and national NGOs -- and perhaps also international -- volunteer action..
Facilitation: Each society is best placed to define what would encourage or inhibit volunteer action among its people, so that the following are no more than examples of measures, which might commend them in different circumstances. The State might put its training facilities at the disposal of volunteer efforts on a concessional basis, to encourage technical competence, sound management and accountability in the voluntary sector. It could ensure that volunteers from duly recognized bodies are afforded legal status, insurance cover and social welfare protection on a par with other workers. Public servants and private sector employees might be accorded special leave of absence to undertake volunteer service. Tax deductibility might be extended to taxpayers supporting voluntary initiative. Volunteer service might be accepted under appropriate conditions as an alternative to military service. A proportion of resources -- such as cement, roofing, textbooks, medical supplies and funding -- might be set aside for use specifically by volunteer bodies.
Networking: Television, radio, the print media and electronic media could assist in relating and exchanging the achievements of volunteers, thereby enabling "best practice" and best procedures to be replicated, and avoiding the need for each local community to reinvent the wheel. This exchange can be local of course, but is also feasible at provincial level and with immediately neighbouring countries, and internationally, too, with the assistance of electronic media.
Promotion: The effort might be aimed at attracting more requests for the deployment of volunteers, at attracting offers of service from new candidates with a view to enhancing operational activities, and generally creating a climate of public and official opinion even more supportive of voluntary action. This can also be linked back to some of the activities suggested under recognition, notably awards schemes, and under networking, notably in terms of media features. The competence and professionalism of volunteers might be stressed. The benefits accruing to society from their activities (such as blood donation, literacy campaigns and environmental clean up drives) can also be underscored.
For more information, visit the IYV 2001 website