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UN Report Paints New Picture of Volunteerism

“It is essential to understand and appreciate volunteerism in terms of the focus which it places on people centred approaches, on partnerships, on motivations beyond money, and on openness to the exchange of ideas and information.  Above all, volunteerism is about the relationships it can create and sustain among citizens of a country. It generates a sense of social cohesion and helps to create resilience [which] are often the mainstay of a decent life for which all people strive. Volunteerism is an act of human solidarity, of empowerment and of active citizenship.”

This is one of the closing remarks of the 2011 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report, an informative and enthusiastic testament to the value of volunteering in all corners of the world. The report is the United Nation’s first on volunteering and marks the 10th anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers.

While the focus of the report is on how volunteerism contributes to peace and development globally, the insights it shares are certainly applicable right here in Alberta. The report defines ‘development’ as much more than economic growth, instead it sees development as “expanding the choices available to people so that they may lead lives that they value”. This definition challenges us to think about volunteering differently, to see it as even more powerful than many of us in the voluntary sector believe.

The Volunteerism Report dismisses the idea that volunteerism is a one-way street where the volunteer gives and someone else benefits. Instead advocating an understanding of volunteering as a reciprocal relationship where volunteering works to benefit the volunteer and their community simultaneously.

With this in mind, the report provides a wide range of examples of how those engaging volunteers around the world are changing their techniques to achieve their goals.  Rather than only sending volunteers from developed countries to developing countries, international volunteering programs are involving people from developing countries as volunteers themselves. Volunteers living in poverty remind us that while a lack of income may restrict their opportunities, they also have knowledge, skills, labour, and networks. Through volunteering, they are able to improve their own lives while sharing these assets with their communities. These are lessons that we can apply here in our own province.

A quick glance at the 2010 Canadian Survey of Giving, Volunteering, and Participating (CSGVP) statistics, released last month, shows the pronounced effect volunteering has on our communities. For volunteers, the benefits of getting involved are numerous; volunteering offers people an opportunity to change the society they live in, for example, through political lobbying and activism. Volunteering provides individuals with skills and values they can bring with them into the workforce, or to continue to use a lifetime of knowledge. There is a correlation between volunteering and improved mood, life satisfaction, self-respect, and increased physical health. Alberta is great because of our volunteers, but volunteers may just be the biggest winners of all.

Join us in celebrating volunteerism in Canada and all the good that it represents during National Volunteer Week, April 15th–21st.

If you’d like to find out more about world-wide volunteerism, you can read the 2011 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report here.

Sam Kriviak
Program Coordinator

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