Volunteering for a sustainable development

We believe volunteering has an important role to play when striving towards a sustainable development. The role volunteering can play in contributing towards this has been researched by the ‘Institute of Development Studies (IDS)’ and the ‘Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO)’ in 2015. This research has been presented in the report titled “The Role of Volunteering in Sustainable Development”. Volunteering has been found to produce the following benefits:

Inclusion: extends the reach of public services to the poorest and most marginalised

Volunteers can reach places and people that others are not able to, providing an important bridge between communities and formal service provision. They play a key role in strengthening the capacity of the existing workforce and can provide a flexible resource to respond to emergencies. By addressing gaps in public service provision that disproportionately affects the poorest and marginalised, they not only provide critical and valuable interim support until the state is able to improve its services, but also demonstrate how those services might be delivered.

Innovation: creating new forms of collaboration that lead to social innovation

Volunteers can be simultaneously on the “inside” and the “outside” in a way that few other development practitioners are. By acting as intermediaries, they can broker access to information, networks and resources within and beyond the community, encouraging new forms of collaboration. The merging of outside and indigenous knowledge and skills can help generate new solutions to existing problems that are locally appropriate and sustainable.

Ownership: strengthens local ownership of development processes

A key value of volunteering is not just what volunteers do but how they work with organisations and communities to support change. The direct immersion of volunteers within the communities and organisations in which they are working enables them to forge strong personal as well as professional relationships. This helps build trust, solidarity and a connectedness with others, which are important requisites for change to be instigated and sustained. These soft outcomes are as important as the imparting of technical skills or delivery of hard outcomes.

Participation: creates a pathway to people’s participation and active citizenship

Volunteering is often one of the first routes through which individuals become more actively engaged in their community. It provides individuals with the initial opportunity to practise social action and take on new roles and responsibilities within a more informal environment. Volunteers’ active interest in an issue can also serve as a catalyst, encouraging others to take action and sparking a more collective spirit. Over time, this can strengthen or reinvigorate notions of contributing to community and country.

Inspiration: modelling different norms

In addition to instigating social action, volunteering can inspire new ways of thinking and being. Exposure to people from different cultural contexts can make individuals more reflective of their own culture, and their personal aspirations and relations with others. Volunteering has been shown to be powerful in supporting peer-to-peer learning, particularly within the context of gender and youth participation.