The exciting future of volunteerism from the South, for the South


Many Southern countries now have national and international volunteer programmes defined and led by the South. Photo: UNDP India

I was excited to participate in an international conference on South-South Cooperation which took place in India in March. With roughly 80 percent of UN Volunteers selected from the South and serving in the South I feel that the future of volunteerism has a big role to play in the region.

Leading up to the conference, I was really looking forward to learning more and seeing what value and relevance we could bring to the discussions. Surprisingly, this was one of the first times that UNV was invited to participate on a South-South panel of this kind. Most previous discussions have been held between governments and academia.

As a member of the civil society and private sector panel, I was pleased to see the diversity of actors engaged and how many of them also work with volunteers. It did not take me long to see the momentum that has built up for volunteerism to now play a dominant role in South-South Cooperation.

It is probably not a coincidence that UNV was invited this year, as the recently adopted SDGs are clearly calling for a more participatory approach, focused on collaboration and leaving no one behind.

Furthermore, the key principles of South-South Cooperation (SSC) - solidarity, mutual benefits and a win-win approach - clearly resonate with the core values of volunteerism. Also, many participants suggested that in addition to the discussions on macro policy issues, special attention is needed to strengthen people-to-people approaches to ensure the rich and diverse nature of SSC.  

Finally, the volunteering sector has greatly evolved over the last few decades. From originally being a North-South model, many Southern countries now have national and international volunteer programmes defined and led by the South.  These exciting new organizations now act as interlocutors that can engage in global dialogue and tap into broader international volunteer networks.Volunteerism can surely support a more participatory approach to South-South Cooperation, bringing ideas from the local to the national and international.

How can we do that? Here are some ideas I picked up from the discussions in Delhi:

How about exploring new forms of collaboration between the public and private sectors using online volunteering for mentoring and implementation of solutions? Or supporting young employee volunteerism to raise social awareness and broaden perspective while developing soft skills?

What about having public South-South Cooperation implemented through reciprocal volunteering exchange? This could also include crowdsourcing ideas in one country for an identified need in another country. This would allow us to tap into local solutions that citizens are developing but that we might not be aware of.

I would like to thank the organizers, the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), the Indian Forum for international Cooperation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of India for convening a broad range of actors. It is evident that significant momentum has built up for a greater convergence of actors involved in South-South Cooperation through tapping into citizen-generated ideas and creativity, supporting a more participatory approach, and further unleashing the rich potential of South-South Cooperation.

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