Volunteering and the SDGs

Mark Cumming, the Head of Comhlámh reflects on deliberations at our event looking at Volunteering and the SDGs.

We were delighted to host UNV in Dublin on 12th March last. There was an excellent line up in the room with representatives from the United Nations Volunteer programme along with Volunteer Ireland. Participants straddled those involved in international volunteering, the SDGs more generally, along with officials from government departments and the private sector.

There was a very rich discussion during the morning workshops, some of my take-aways were as follows:

There is a dearth of research on volunteering and much needs to be done in this area, both internationally and domestically. What little research there is shows that much volunteering is happening informally, the UNV estimate that 70% of what is going on globally is informal, ie, people just getting on with doing things in their communities that benefits their neighbourhood or interest group. In our strategic plan we talked of how volunteering and active citizenship need to be seen as connected. The workshops discussed how volunteering should not be about services gap filling, but an expression of people’s concern to build a culture of solidarity and produce innovative and new responses to societal challenges.

We also reflected on how volunteering cross-cuts all the SDGs. To bring this home the question was asked what would happen if all those who volunteer today in the city stayed at home? One can begin to imagine all the things that wouldn’t happen – which public bodies should be concerned by this? Does, for the sake of example, the City Council (one could list many other public bodies) have an understanding of all that volunteering brings to the city? All public bodies should be considering how volunteering contributes to the achievement of their goals. The SDGs give an opportunity to do this.

The other big themes were around facilitating inclusivity and supporting greater diversity amongst those volunteering. Volunteer Ireland reported that 40% of those who register with them are those from migrant communities, bringing huge opportunities for integration and mutual understanding. There were also calls for a shift from the historical model of only having Global North to Global South volunteering that would be an opportunity to embody principles of reciprocity and solidarity that recognise the interdependence of the Global North and Global South.

I’d like to thank our colleagues from UNV and Volunteer Ireland for presenting on the day and all those who came and contributed to the rich vein of discussions that were held. We look forward to bringing this learning forward.

We livestreamed the morning’s presentations, you can watch them here:

Resources for responsible international volunteering

To find out more about opportunities for Irish people to volunteer with UNV, check out: https://www.irishaid.ie/get-involved/volunteering/un-volunteering/