Volunteerism for peace and development

Sep 21, 2016

UNV Programme Officer, Ambrose Toolit

The 21st September each year, the International Day of Peace is observed around the world. The General Assembly declared and devoted this day to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals were unanimously adopted by the 193 Member States of the United Nations at an historic summit of the world’s leaders in New York in September 2015. The new ambitious 2030 agenda calls on countries (individual) efforts to achieve these goals over the next 15 years.

There is a general acceptance that there can be no lasting peace without development; and there is no development without peace human rights. Of course the SDGs are integral to achieving peace in our time, as development and peace are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.

The International Day of Peace is a chance to contemplate the two inseparable factors of this year's theme, “The Sustainable Development Goals: Building Blocks for Peace” and also the role that development and volunteerism play in both.

The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme being the UN organization and administered by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) contributes to peace and development through volunteerism worldwide is critical.

The UN Resolution “Integrating volunteering into peace and development: the plan of action for the next decade and beyond”, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly in November 2015, recognises that volunteering can be a powerful means of implementation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

UNV contributes to peace and development by advocating for recognition of volunteers, working with partners to integrate volunteerism into development programming, and mobilizing an increasing number and diversity of volunteers, including experienced UN Volunteers, throughout the world.

Peacekeeping and peacebuilding are as closely associated with the United Nations and the United Nations Volunteers. UN Volunteers play a key role in supporting these United Nations peace and development missions in places where others are often unable or unwilling to go.

The UNV volunteers provide vital civilian support to UN peacekeeping efforts around the world, safeguard human rights, support UN work with refugees and communities displaced by violence, and help ensure democratic processes gain traction.

What is volunteerism?

The terms volunteering, volunteerism or voluntary activities can be used interchangeably. It refers to a wide range of activities, including traditional forms of mutual aid and self-help, formal service delivery and other forms of civic participation, undertaken of free will, for the general public good and where monetary reward is not the principal motivating factor

Within this conceptual framework, at least four different types of volunteer activity can be identified: mutual aid or self-help; philanthropy or service to others; participation or civic engagement; and advocacy or campaigning.

Volunteering in South Africa is an integral part of the culture rooted in social, cultural, and community daily practices of belonging and caring for one another. Which is understood through Ubuntu - I am, because of you.

In essence, volunteerism is an old and yet new approach to development, based on people participation and free will, which applies to all culture and countries - ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ - in a universal manner.

Volunteerism is a powerful means of engaging people in tackling peace and development challenges, and it can transform the pace and nature of development. Everyone can contribute their time, skills and knowledge through volunteer action, and their combined efforts can be a significant force for achieving peace and development.

In South Africa the UNV programme started in 1994 (UNDP – South African government cooperation agreement) where 200 sets of UNVs participated in the historic election that marked the end of apartheid as electoral observers.

Today the number of UNV (Nationals and internationals) have grown, serving within the various UN agencies; including the UN Volunteers doctors supporting the health sector reform programme to address the acute shortage of medical doctors in the rural areas.

Volunteerism and young people for peace and development.

There are more than 1.2 billion young people (defined by the United Nations as between 15 and 24 years of age) in the world today, the largest group in history. They are among the most affected by the multiple and often interlinked forms of violence.  

Young people can be important drivers and agents of change in the development of their societies. This may be because they demonstrate openness to change, feedback and learning; tend to be more future-oriented; more idealistic and innovative; and more willing to take risks.

Young people are the future, and hence they have an indispensable role to play in the achievement of sustainable development. Sustainable development cannot be achieved through institutional action only. It is crucial that young people are involved from the planning stage when governments and institutions align their plans to the SDGs. 

Volunteerism is an important, and increasingly popular, mechanism for young people to bring about positive change in society, and it is becoming more and more relevant as a mechanism to engage young people in global peace and sustainable human development.

Today’s societies especially young people need to come up with creative ideas and determination to drive innovation and reform for dialogue to co-develop solutions to address development challenges. As Einstein put it, “we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Youth participation in peace and development interventions is central to the social economic, political and cultural transformation of any institution or community. Lack of effective youth participation in governance and development interventions undermines the achievement of the SDGs development agenda.

Some of the challenges gracing our countries today are fairly as a result of failure in the early mainstreaming young people in the leadership system from the beginning. The influences and experiences young people have during youthful period are essential in building blocks for peace and shaping their outlook as adults. 

Nurturing young people for peace and development therefore means giving young people the opportunity to develop the knowledge, skills, qualities, values and experience that will enable them to effect positive change whether it is at the level of their family, among their peers, in their community or wider society.

Finally, Building Blocks for Peace is a call for action and volunteerism that counts because, it is only your value based contributions that can shapes culture, prejudice, biases and a fountain of honour that will last for generations.