New UN report highlights contributions volunteers make to development goals

05 Dec 2011

imageUnited Nations Volunteers in Thailand

BANGKOK — (United Nations Volunteers) – Volunteerism provides an important path out of poverty as well as a means to overcome social exclusion, as the State of the World’s Volunteerism Report (SWVR) illustrates.

There are numerous examples from the developing world of how volunteering can empower the income poor by building up social, human, natural, physical, financial and political capital. This is based on growing evidence that the income poor in developing countries are both givers and receivers of support. Through volunteer action, a broad range of the assets of the income poor are made available to the community. These assets include their knowledge, skills and networks of relationships.

This illustrates the necessity of including people who are poor in poverty reducing projects and programmes, stresses the SWVR.

Volunteerism can be especially empowering when resources in local communities are pooled. This way, they can address immediate development problems stemming from poverty. However, as the report notes, in order to move people out of poverty, there is a need for supportive linkages with the external world and investments to provide a favourable environment.

The SWVR notes the contributions of the Wellbeing in Developing Countries research group, which focused on the relationship between poverty, inequality and quality of life. For some developing countries, poverty persists and even has deepened. Application of the framework was tested in Thailand, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Peru with local partners.

In Thailand, “helping one another” was identified as having an impact on quality of life and well-being. Volunteerism can reduce the risk of isolation and social exclusion, the Report notes.

Migrants who are facing challenges in overcoming exclusion can practice language skills and build social networks that can lead to greater inclusion. People living with HIV/AIDS are able to fight the stigma of the pandemic, build self-esteem and enhance their well-being, as the report highlights.

The report highlights the power that faith-based organizations (FBOs) and their volunteers have. In Thailand, the Interfaith Network on HIV/AIDS mobilizes volunteers from Buddhist, Muslim, Catholic and Protestant communities across the country to organize home-based care activities for people with AIDS living in remote areas. Thailand has been very successful in lowering HIV infection rates through the years. From a high of around 140,000 cases in 1991, the number of new HIV infections declined to an estimated 19,000 in 2003, or just 1.3% of the adult population by 2009.

There is much to be done, the report concludes, to enhance the opportunities that volunteerism provides. On the one hand, volunteerism needs to be fully recognized in order to give this resource the place that it deserves in the public debate about social inclusion. On the other hand, governments could make greater use of volunteerism as a complementary tool for social policies. 

“We need to stop focussing on the perceived ‘disabilities’ of excluded people and recognize their capabilities. Then volunteerism can contribute enormously to overcome barriers to the well-being of nations,” UNV Executive Coordinator Flavia Pansieri said.