By Simone Galimberti
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Dec 6 2022 (IPS)
The International Volunteer Day, a worldwide event commemorated every year on the 5th of December, comes at the end of a long line of special commemorations, each of them relevant and paramount to achieve the UN’s Agenda 2030.
The commemorations included the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25, World AIDS Day on December 1, the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery on December 2 and the International Day of Persons with Disabilities December 3.
After many years of work in the volunteering sector, I feel it is high time for some sort of evaluation of where we are in terms of promoting and fostering what I call the BIG V, a terminology that I feel better express the potential and dynamism of volunteerism.
Focusing on the potential of the BIG V is probably the best place to start such review.
On the one hand, all the achievements carried out by the country in the last two decades could not have been possible without the thousands and thousands of citizens involved and engaged, with passion, drive and zero economic interests, in trying to make the country better and more inclusive.
Who am I talking about? Who are these persons? Think of those who selflessly and silently and far from social media do something for the place where you live.
These are the persons who are always at hand and ready to help when there is an urgent need within the community. These are the persons who take the lead in liaising with local authorities and try to find small but essential solutions in our daily lives.
I am not fantasizing them, these are real persons though perhaps their number is shrinking especially in the urban areas. I am also talking about activism, a form of volunteerism, where simple citizens and members of tiny NGOs are pushing for a just and noble cause, be it a better public health, a stronger education system, the preservation of the soil or the defense of the rights of those who are the most vulnerable.
So, considering this vast multitude of engaged and active citizens, we would not be surprised if a country like Nepal has a huge potential in terms of leveraging its social capital, the element that provides the foundations above which civic engagement, of which volunteerism is one of the greatest expressions, thrives on.
From this perspective, there is no doubt that whole country should really be proud of their volunteers, even if many of such unsung heroes, do not even bother to define themselves in a such way because what they know is that actions, at the end, are the ones that count.
On the other hand, if there are plenty of volunteers everywhere, we also need to pay attention at the dynamics unfolding within the society especially the ones affecting youths. One hour on social media is one hour taken away from studies, sports but also it is an hour stolen away from a possible volunteering action.
This is a problem because we must be clear that volunteerism is not just good for the society but it’s also good for ourselves. The reason is simple: volunteerism helps becoming better persons, more emphatic and altruistic, qualities that are now proven to be also indispensable for a successful career.
In a way volunteerism is path to personal leadership and mastery because we can learn so much from it. It is a school of humbleness that teaches to value the small things that we often take too much for granted and also helps us appreciate the work of others, especially those who are not in close to us, those are different from us.
In short volunteerism can really bring us together and enhance national cohesion and cohesiveness. That’s why it is so important that the Nepal puts a whole of nation effort to really elevate volunteerism and perhaps we should start with rebranding it, making it easier to talk about it and easier for the youths to connect with.
That’s why the term BIG V could be a better way to spread the message and convince more people to get involved. It is also essential that we work at system level and the new Federal Government should at the earliest discuss and review the draft national volunteering policy that is taking dust since more than two years.
On this regard, it is extremely encouraging that some of the Provincial Governments like Gandaki have already a volunteering policy in place.
Yet approving a document is going to be meaningless if there is no political will to act upon it. The point is that the BIG V should really become a priority, that essential factor that can support and help locally elected officials to perform their duties.
Think about it: federalism is built on the premise that citizens will be more active and engaged and volunteering, in all its diverse ways and forms, can be the indispensable ingredient to help achieve a better form of governing, one centered on the citizenry.
Around the world, mayors have been leveraging the power of volunteerism, harnessing the commitments of their citizens to supplement and strengthen the implementation of local publicly funded interventions.
We need a strong coordination system to promote and implement volunteering efforts, an issue that the draft national policy already partially covers. On this point, it is essential to ensure the creation of adequate “’volunteering supporting structures” at federal, provincial and local levels, that can really help mainstream volunteerism across all the areas of national governance.
It might be a coincidence that this special commemoration falls after so many other equally important special “days” but perhaps it was all intentional because volunteerism is the platform and the means through which the humanity can solve some of its most obstinate and hard challenges, including climate change.
The latter is an issue that, without the activism of millions of youths across the world, would not have come to commend the public and the leaders’ attention.
In short volunteerism is a force of good and Nepal needs it. But we can’t keep take it for granted. We need to highlight it, we need to truly make an effort to make it easier for persons of all ages and groups, to give their time and skills and help the society become a better, more inclusive and sustainable place to live.
The Author is the co-founder of ENGAGE and of the ‘Good Leadership, Good for You & Good for the Society.’
IPS UN Bureau