Using Volunteering as a tool to achieve Sustainable Development Goals

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Volunteering has become one of the key vehicles that can be used to achieve 2030 development goals.

It is estimated that there are 12.1 million full-time-equivalent volunteers in Africa with the highest proportion of people volunteering informally (86 per cent), according to the 2018 State of World’s Volunteerism Report. This presents a great opportunity for Africa to achieve set targets and goals for SDGs. The SDG’s are founded on the theme “Leave No One Behind” which implies the involvement of everyone in the quest to achieve the set goals. In this light, it is important to incorporate volunteerism in all sectors i.e. civil society, government, corporates etc, in the development process. Despite a prevailing perception that volunteering is considered an unexploited resource with the potential to transform millions of people across Africa, particularly the youth, some governments continue to not provide recognition of volunteering limiting its contribution to the SDGs.

Save Our Environment Trust (SOET) a local NGO based in Gweru for example has put volunteerism at the heart of its program implementation. To achieve this SOET has managed to establish and support community-based environmental clubs. Participation in these clubs is purely voluntary. In 2015 when the program was launched there were only 4 school environment clubs with a membership of about 100 people but in 2019 there are 60 school environment clubs and 4 community clubs with a total membership of 1500 people. Sustainability of these clubs is built around capacitating the clubs with leadership skills and providing requisite support that always ensures ownership and strategic vision of the clubs is fostered by the communities or schools. Community volunteers in Chiwundura District, for example, have been engaged in the following projects: tree planting, small scale agriculture, small livestock production, marmalade making and clean up campaigns. SOET is a stakeholder in volunteer networks like Good Deeds Day Network, United Nations Volunteers and International Association for Volunteer Network. Our participation in these networks have added spur to our volunteers and such platforms have provided greater motivation for volunteers to continue transforming their communities to meet Agenda 2030 targets.

SOET programs are designed to address SDG 13 which is climate action with a particular focus on improving education and awareness on climate change. The organisation also aims to strengthen climate resilience and adaptative capacity of grassroots communities in Zimbabwe. Due to the interconnectedness of SDGs, in our quest to address set goals of SDG 13 we have inevitably managed to address other goals most notably SDG 1 (No Poverty), SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and SDG 15 (Life on Land) among others.

Volunteerism is a key ingredient that can lead to the achievement of SDG’s. But for this to become reality It is important to foster the need for a multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder approach facilitated by volunteering to ensure that the 2030 Agenda are participatory, people-centric and inclusive. Secondly, there is need to use volunteerism as a tool to achieve leave no one behind aspirations through its role in building bridges to connect people of diverse backgrounds. There is also a need to use volunteering as an effective means to equip young people with skills; and lastly, there is a need to fully realize the potential of technologies for volunteering.

There is a growing need to ride on the back of growing momentum to strengthen an enabling environment for volunteering and exchange in Africa. Several countries in the continent have formulated and adopted volunteer policies and laws. However, according to a Discussion Paper prepared ahead of the 2019 African Regional Forum on Sustainable Development further efforts are needed to collect evidence on the contribution and impact of volunteering to issues such as youth development and conflict resolution that are found pertinent in the continent.

To ensure the achievement of SDG’s and other development goals like Africa Agenda 2063 there is need for young people in Africa to act as agents of change in society by calling for institutions that are more responsive not only to their needs, but to national or global concerns, and providing the energy, creative ideas and determination to drive reforms. Young people should be in a position to influence debates on development agendas. In this way youth volunteerism can become one of the assets for the realization of these aspirations.

In conclusion, it can be said that for volunteerism to achieve Agenda 2030 and 2063 in the African context there is need to create an enabling environment and strategic collaboration among stakeholders for volunteerism. This will benefit all age groups on the continent to be actively involved in the development and social cohesion of the continent through volunteerism. Adoption and effective implementation of volunteer laws and policies in Zimbabwe is a key step that could serve as a catalyst towards the realization of global andregional development frameworks such as the African Union’s Agenda 2063, the SDGs, as well as national and sub-regional development objectives.

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