REPOST: Volunteering must be recognised in UN Sustainable Development Goals

Kate Turner, UN youth blogger and VSO volunteer, reports about the United Nations conference for civil society held in New York. In her blog featured in The Guardian, she emphasizes the need for the UN to include volunteering in its sustainable development goals.

Countries with high levels of volunteers are more economically and socially vibrant and better placed to meet global challenges. | Image Source: theguardian.com

Countries with high levels of volunteers are more economically and socially vibrant and better placed to meet global challenges. | Image Source: theguardian.com

This time last month I was in New York, filing my last piece as a UN youth blogger at the 65th United Nations conference for civil society. I’d been selected to write about disability and inclusion, gender and volunteering – my three interest areas in my current role as a VSO volunteer in Rwanda.

More than 2,000 people from 902 organisations and 117 countries swarmed over the UN complex to help shape an action agenda on the next set of UN development goals post-2015. These will be the next step on from the Millennium Development Goals and will be known as the Sustainable Development Goals or Future We Want.

The conference was an opportunity for civil society to really engage ahead of intergovernmental negotiations on the goals next year.

I was interested to see how volunteering would be incorporated into the new framework, especially as it didn’t feature in the Millennium Development Goals, despite its key role in delivering and implementing them.

The post-2015 dialogue is people-focused, so it makes sense to include volunteering when it comes to fleshing out how to implement the goals, especially as volunteering can of course support social, economic and environmental change and is a driver of civic engagement.

Yet the current draft of the new goals does not include volunteering. This may be shortsighted as the International Forum for Volunteering in Development states that countries with high levels of volunteers are more economically and socially vibrant and better placed to meet global challenges.

In my UN blog, I examined the current draft of the SDGs and questioned whether Goal 17, which looks to “strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development” could be supported by volunteerism.

Not only can volunteers help build networks within communities, they can reinforce the implementation of the goals, by mobilising citizens to get involved in the issues that affect them. It’s an important accountability tool to empower people to challenge their government on the status of the development goals.

At the event, I was fortunate to be asked to speak at a UN Volunteer workshop about my experiences in Rwanda and motivations to volunteer. I also explained why I chose to volunteer with VSO and how important to me it was that my skills and experience were deployed in a sustainable way.

Volunteering is not cost-free as many of us know, but it is resource-efficient. I tried to get across what a huge source of skills, experience and energy it can offer. In a resource-tight world that urges people-centred development, I would like to see volunteerism more at the forefront as we head into the next 12 months of inter-governmental negotiations.

Civil society representatives recognised the importance of this in the closing conference declaration, which outlines its response to the draft SDGs. The importance and role of volunteering in implementing the goals and creating accountability was reiterated throughout. We can only hope that is built upon and carried through to form an important part of the final goals.

Randy Wooten believes that volunteering has the capability to save and change other peoples’ lives. Follow this blog to read more about his volunteering endeavors and find out how you can do the same.

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