Is V4SDGs Real?

As the bar is raised in global development, the new Sustainable Development Goals are an inspiration and a source of hope that we may yet save the planet and mankind. In New York in September when the leaders of the world came together to adopt the Global Goals, there was an incredibly positive "can do" atmosphere with a real sense of purpose and mission among those present.

However, once firmly back in the reality of everyday UN work at the office in Bonn, or out on mission in Bangkok and beyond, I have not picked up the same since. When I now, as I prepare for a trip to South Sudan, write about saving mankind it feels bit over the top. While it is still early days, there is not yet enough understanding at the popular level how these new agenda all fits together and at the individual level what role "I" can play. Yet only when people can see how they can engage and make a difference, will the Global Goals be able to live up to their full potential to change the trajectory of mankind.

Volunteerism brings concepts of sustainable development, like the new 17 goals, closer to people and their communities. When people volunteer their time and energy, they bring with them enthusiasm and passion to change things for the better, and this can have a ripple effect. People see the impact that volunteerism makes and also want to volunteer to be part of the change. Single volunteer actions can start entire movements and foster monumental improvements in communities.

Scratch any major change in human condition or human behavior and you will find a volunteer underneath! It is not only information campaigns and innovations like ARV therapy that allowed us to turn the corner on HIV. Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people who decided to have themselves tested, practice safe sex and testify to others so they may follow their example, had a lot to do with that change -- given stigma and discrimination of PLHV, this was a very brave thing to do, and often these volunteers are not celebrated and their story is not well told.

Recently at a conference on international volunteering the concept of volunteering being an essential part of the success of the SDGs was articulated as "V4SDGs". But what do we need to make V4SDGs a reality? First we need to innovate in the way we reach out to people. We need to create new spaces where people can congregate around the Global Goals and make them their own. We can support social movements, market complicated products and in general reach out in meaningful two way communication. We also need new partnerships and the private sector could play a pivotal role if we really want to do things differently. In New York recently various CEOs of larger global companies expressed their direct commitment to making the Global Goals happen, and that is the sort of news we need to hear.

If we are truly going to" leave none-one behind" and "unleash the transformative power of people", we have to question the "traditional means of implementation". One of the non-traditional means of implementation, not because it is new, but because it has not been recognized as such, is volunteerism.

Volunteering has always been a "nice-to-have". Volunteers bring a feel good factor, but they have not been seen as essential to any specific process. Particularly in development processes, they are dispensable - one of the inputs, one of the ways to bring in people and one of the ways that we can operate at the community level. An efficient way, mind you, as the costs are manageable.

However, the flip side of that, is that the efficiency of the volunteer input in terms of tangible results cannot always be established. The question we need to answer urgently is whether projects and programs have a more sustainable impact because they have built on volunteers and volunteerism?

Outreach, innovation and new partnerships should start right now; the same calendar year of the adoption of the Global Goals. At the same time it is of essences to start looking at what these Global Goals mean in the national context and start mapping visions, plans and programs towards a new global construct. That is the moment where volunteers can already start activating people to create new dialogue platforms and spaces where people can engage new realities, develop voice and participate.

I woke up the day after the party in New York with a bit of a hangover, or maybe it is impatience. We now need to move forward to make V4SDGs a reality; volunteering for People, Planet, Peace and Prosperity may well be the amino acid of the new Partnerships for universal sustainable development.