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Inaugural ‘State of the World’s Volunteerism’ Report Released

15 December 2011 at 9:40 am
Staff Reporter
A world first report by the United Nations into global volunteerism has called for greater measurement of the contribution of volunteering to be carried out, and says that misconceptions around volunteerism must be addressed.

Staff Reporter | 15 December 2011 at 9:40 am


Inaugural ‘State of the World’s Volunteerism’ Report Released
15 December 2011 at 9:40 am
Flickr Image: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by stef thomas

A world first report by the United Nations into global volunteerism has called for greater measurement of the contribution of volunteering to be carried out, and says that misconceptions around volunteerism must be addressed.

The ‘2011 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report (SWVR)’ – the first report on global volunteerism – was commissioned by the United Nations Volunteers (UNV), to mark the tenth anniversary of the International Year of the Volunteer and to acknowledge the contribution and impact of millions of volunteers around the world.

Launching the report, United Nations Development Program Representative Knut Ostby said that volunteerism is more than a tool for development.

 “As a result of voluntarism, communities become more resilient; they seem to become more capable to face natural or human made disasters. Children do better at school. The social fabric determines whether people live in relative wellbeing, connectedness and with a sense of cooperation at the community level.” Ostby said.

The report says that reliable data – to compare and benchmark volunteerism at regional and global levels – and addressing misconceptions are vital challenges for moving volunteerism forward.

The report says despite volunteerism being universal and massive in terms of numbers, misconceptions and the lack of standard measuring methodologies obscure its reach and scope.

Flavia Pansieri, Executive Coordinator of United Nations Volunteers (UNV) program said “In order to live up to its full potential, volunteerism’s true dimensions and values need to be generally acknowledged as an essential component for the sustainable and equitable progress of communities and nations.”

The report uses a number of recent studies to give an idea of the scope of volunteerism.

  • The Gallup World Poll (GWP) concludes that 16 per cent of adults worldwide volunteer for an organization.
  • The Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project (CNP) finds that if volunteers represented a country they would constitute the ninth-largest nation in the world with 140 million people
  • The CNP also finds that the economic value of volunteerism represents an average of 1.1 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of a country. This amounts to 400 billion US dollars annually worldwide.

The report says there is a positive trend in research on volunteerism – however it says governments are still too often unaware of the true volume of volunteering, in all its forms, in their countries and of the value that it creates.

The report says that more measurement is needed around demonstrating the economic value of volunteerism, there is also a need to measure other impacts including social capital and cohesion, personal development and empowerment – which can be harder to measure.

Addressing misconceptions

According to SWVR, a number of misconceptions obscure a proper understanding of the values and universal nature of volunteering. The report says that “volunteerism permeates every aspect of life and every culture,” and does not only happen through legally recognised NGOs, nor is it exclusive to developed countries, unskilled and inexperienced amateurs, as is the widely held perception.

The report says “many public sector services worldwide rely on volunteers. Private sector volunteer engagement has also been growing steadily since the mid-1990s. Furthermore, volunteerism is not the preserve of the well-off and well-educated: volunteerism is widespread among the income poor.”

“Misconceptions about volunteerism are a major obstacle to embracing its values,” Pansieri said. “Without an accurate understanding, this important resource for development cannot be exerted to its full potential. It is time to change it.”

The cliché that young people do not volunteer is also misplaced. According to the SWVR, while the participation of young people in formal organisations is declining, civic engagement remains strong. There appears to be a shift to less structured situations, such as political and social activism, that provide informal and non-hierarchical opportunities to engage.

The report shows that volunteering is not always face-to-face as it was in the past. Instead, volunteering via the Internet is on the rise offering volunteers more opportunities to donate their time and services.

The report also addresses the traditional misconception that volunteerism is free. It says that “while volunteering action is not primarily for financial reward, reimbursement of expenses and some payments, such as for meals, may be justified.”

The SWVR concludes that research about volunteerism is at an early stage. It says governments must do more empirical study and that one public body should be in charge of measuring volunteering in a country in place of sector by sector counting.

It says as a further step, national bodies should agree on minimum standards and a methodology in order to ensure international comparability of data.

“Though the economic value is only a facet of volunteering, there is an urgent need to move forward with internationally agreed standards of measuring,” said UNV head, Flavia Pansieri.

To download the full ‘2011 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report (SWVR)’ click here [PDF]

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