Diamonds in the roughVolunteering Australia, the apex body for the promotion of volunteerism within the commonwealth of Australia defines volunteering as “time willingly given for the common good and without financial gain”.
Volunteering Australia, the apex body for the promotion of volunteerism within the commonwealth of Australia defines volunteering as “time willingly given for the common good and without financial gain”. The definition was finalised in 2015, after several years of discussion among local and national stakeholders including volunteerism promoting agencies and centres mandated to promote and encourage volunteering activities locally. This definition offers a simpler and more holistic definition of what could be rightly considered as one of the oldest expressions of human solidarity.
Driven by passion
Previous efforts at explaining volunteerism, certainly not an easy word to catch or to understand, were too cumbersome and complex, with way too many details. They attempted to regulate a phenomenon that has been interpreted and implemented in many forms and shapes. The latest definition, as explained above, instead is straightforward and gets to the heart of volunteerism. You can consider yourself a full-fledged volunteer if you devote your time and efforts towards a higher cause, be it the environment, social stigmas, stray animals or whatever you wish, because you are passionate about the issue you are tackling. This new way of describing volunteering also successfully attempts to do away with tricky issues of financial compensation.
Because volunteerism can means different things to different people all over the world and because there are many programmes promoting full time forms of it, there have always been debates about what could be fairly considered volunteering and what instead should be more generally defined as a service experience that is monetarily compensated.
I often used the terms volunteerism and service interchangeably because I believe that the verb “serving” is easier to catch and, in many instances, more used. The assumption is that it does not really make sense to get bogged down too much by definitions and abstractions as long as the cause defining the experience is clear-cut and the philosophy and approach behind a person’s efforts expresses a strong “giving” dimension rather than a personal gain that is monetised. I believe that the best form of volunteering is something that is sustainable and can be carried out alongside normal, daily activities. In short, volunteerism should be promoted as a habit and a style of life rather than a one-off experience. Of course, there are many instances where local circumstances influence local practices of volunteering and there are some instances that require full time engagement that is often compensated with some sort of financial allowance or stipend.
Shaping the nation
The International Volunteer Day (IVD), held each year on December 5th, is an occasion to remind policy makers and citizens alike about the importance of volunteerism to make our communities more inclusive, resilient, and just.
Unfortunately, this occasion, much like other that are formally recognised by the United Nations (UN) command a very short span of attention among the general public. Once the day is over, everybody moves on with their own exclusive priorities, with very few instances where lasting impacts are made. For example in the first week of December, the calendar is rich with other very important occurrences, particularly International HIV/AIDS Day on December 1st and the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3rd but there is no coordination among the organisers of these initiatives. While these days can offer an opportunity to re-energise and reflect on particular issues related to the theme being observed, these celebrations should be planned as “loudspeakers”, not only to amplify key messages but also to present an action plan for the upcoming year and to introduce future plans. For example the IVD should offer a platform to the Government of Nepal (GoN) to explain how volunteerism can be harnessed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and contribute to reaching a Middle Income Nation status thanks to implementation of the Envisioning Nepal 2030 strategy. Moreover such occasions should help to dispel the misconception that volunteerism is just for local not-for-profits.
All over the world, you see great examples of strong involvement on the part of governments at both the central and local levels to promote volunteerism as an effective tool to overcome social problems. This special day for volunteerism should also offer a platform to hear back from the “base” that is made up of grassroots level organisations, many of whom are informal but locally active. Those groups that are genuinely interested in promoting volunteerism and those organisations that are ethically involving volunteers in their work as a key strategy should come together to promote new thinking and initiate a sharing of best practices that could lead to novel partnerships.
I recently read that the National Planning Commission is ready to invest in the National Development Volunteering Programme, the only holistic initiative of the government in this field. The GoN at the federal level and at the upcoming states’ administration level should do much more to promote volunteerism. They should take the lead, shape the way, and identify an area where Nepali citizens have already shown great insight and expertise, day by day and action by action. Volunteerism should not be seen as a stand-alone sector or a niche of sorts, but should be mainstreamed across the entire development spectrum.
The theme of this year’s IVD is “Volunteers Act First. Here. Everywhere”. It aims to celebrate the actions of volunteers during emergencies and natural crises. This is an area in which Nepal has a lot of expertise, as shown by the post-quake relief work.
Let’s celebrate all local volunteers active in the country, but let’s also take the opportunity to reflect on the future of volunteerism in Nepal and how it can help shaping a new inclusive and federal nation. Such a nation would be enriched by the actions of its ‘civic’ entrepreneurs who are passionate and engaged citizens, and are always ready to volunteer their time and skills for the common good.
Galimberti is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths living with disabilities; he can be reached at email@example.com