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Volunteering and the UN Sustainability Development Goals


Tuesday, 15th March 2016 at 11:00 am
Peter Devereux
Volunteering under the banner of the new universal sustainable development goals provides an opportunity to bridge the different worlds of national and international volunteering, writes Dr Peter Devereux from Curtin University.

Tuesday, 15th March 2016
at 11:00 am
Peter Devereux


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Volunteering and the UN Sustainability Development Goals
Tuesday, 15th March 2016 at 11:00 am

Volunteering under the banner of the new universal sustainable development goals provides an opportunity to bridge the different worlds of national and international volunteering, writes Dr Peter Devereux from Curtin University.

When people in Australia think of volunteering they may think of volunteering in their kid’s school tuck shop or helping with a local beach or river cleanup, supporting kids with disabilities. Increasingly people also think of the growing volumes of voluntourists volunteering as part of overseas holidays – doing some tree planting, working with disadvantaged youth or caring for turtles.

Both these conceptions of volunteering are most often based on the idea of service or helping which is important and definitely the dominant way of thinking about volunteering in countries like Australia, the US and England but not the only way of thinking about volunteer activity.

The United Nations has recognised since 2001 at least four different types of volunteer activity: mutual aid or self-help, service to others, participation or civic engagement, and advocacy or campaigning. This is highlighted also in both the 2011 and 2015 State of the World’s Volunteerism reports and is particularly pertinent for the end of what might be termed an old binary view of the world of “developed” and “developing” countries.

The new world view is evident in the rise of new economic powers like Indonesia and “the BRICS” (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and the issues of inequality and poverty in some “developed countries” after the 2008 economic crisis. This changing world highlights the opportunity for tackling together common challenges and opportunities. The shift from a global focus on MDGs in developing countries to universal SDGs in all countries reflects this new context with its challenges and opportunities.

As part of deliberations for a Post 2015 agenda beyond the Millennium Development Goals the UN Secretary-General’s Synthesis Report, highlighted volunteering as a “powerful and cross-cutting means of implementation” of the SDGs, able to “help localise the new agenda by providing new spaces of interaction between governments and people for concrete and scalable actions”. As a result volunteer groups are now a stakeholder in the High-level Political Forum (HLPF), the UN body that follows up and reviews the implementation of sustainable development commitments – this gives volunteer groups the authority to contribute in an official capacity to shape the implementation of the new sustainable development goals.

As a result the sustainable development goals provide significant opportunities for volunteer groups to demonstrate the difference volunteers make and use this to strengthen an enabling environment for volunteers and volunteer involving organisations. This is both for volunteer themselves as well as their communities tackling climate change and inequality, enhancing health and wellbeing, and building stronger partnerships between people and institutions at global national and local levels.

Groups like UN Volunteers, the International Association for Volunteer Effort and the International Forum for Volunteering in Development are leading the charge at international levels but more work is required to make the national and international connections and bring the two worlds together.

What the SDGs open up is an opportunity to connect the work of Australian groups facilitating international volunteering like AVI and Scope Global in the Australian volunteers for International Development program with those like Volunteering Australia which promote and advocate for national, state and local volunteering.

SDG 10 for example focuses on reducing inequality within and between countries which provides an opportunity to combine the complementary experience and expertise of national and international volunteer involving organisations. A successful example of such partnerships between AVI, Volunteering SA & NT, and the Aboriginal community of Oodnadatta enabled the successful roll out of a pilot community-based, Aboriginal youth-led Volunteer Program in Oodnadatta.

The Aboriginal volunteer program recorded many positive achievements including improvements in school children’s literacy and cultural competency as well as the confidence and skills of the volunteers and strong community ownership through a whole of community approach. As the 2015 report stated: “The Aboriginal Volunteer Program’s approach is on the cutting edge of the world’s new Sustainable Development Goals to reduce inequality in all forms, everywhere by “acting in collaborative partnership” and utilising “volunteering as a cross-cutting means of implementation.”

The upcoming Volunteering Australia conference in April provides a forum to discuss how Australia can through volunteerism build a sustainable future under the SDGs-connecting Australians with each other, our region and the world. The SDGs can give significant policy level leverage for Australian volunteer groups and Australian volunteers in the breadth of their work to create “new spaces of interaction between governments   and people for concrete and scalable actions”.

About the author: Peter Devereux is a part time Research Fellow at Curtin University’s Sustainability Policy Institute advancing the Doctorate of Sustainable Development focussed on the new UN Sustainable Development Goals. He has focused as a researcher/practitioner on volunteering for development for over 25 years. Previously he worked in United Nations Volunteers; lectured in the School of Sustainability at Murdoch University; worked as a volunteer university lecturer and NGO environmental adviser in Nicaragua, UN Volunteers Programme Officer in the UNDP multi-country office in Fiji, and State Manager for Australian Volunteer International’s Perth office.

Want to know more?

Executive Webinar : International Trends in Volunteering. 11am, March 23.

Before their keynote address to the 2016 Australian Volunteer Conference, US and Australian volunteering experts Tobi Johnson and Peter Devereux will discuss the current shifts in volunteering.The 60 minute webinar will consider ways to address the decline in volunteering, new ways of engaging volunteers, recognising the impact of voluntourism and opportunities for volunteering in the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals. Book here

Find out more about 2016 Volunteering Australia Conference, Build the Future, here


Peter Devereux  |  @ProBonoNews

Peter Devereux is a part time Research Fellow at Curtin University's Sustainability Policy Institute.


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One Comment

  • Rosy Canas de Gallardo says:

    Hi, I would like to be a volunteer in supporting kids with disabilities. I just finished my Certificate III in Disability Services

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