Governments Need To Start Tapping Into Volunteers' Power: UN

In this photo taken on Friday, Sept. 19, 2014, Idrissa Kargbo, Sierra Leone's national marathon champion, helps volunteers di
In this photo taken on Friday, Sept. 19, 2014, Idrissa Kargbo, Sierra Leone's national marathon champion, helps volunteers distribute information on Ebola in Freetown, Sierra Leone. As a boy, marathon runner Idrissa Kargbo sprinted through the villages of Sierra Leone on errands for his grandmother and later as a coffee courier. Now at 23 years old, his times have qualified him for races on three continents. (AP Photo/ Michael Duff)

By Maria Caspani

NEW YORK, June 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Many governments are failing to harness the untapped potential of volunteers, ordinary citizens who can shine light on injustice and hold those in power to account, the United Nations said in a report on Friday.

More than one billion people around the world volunteer their time to different causes - from helping during West Africa's Ebola outbreak to scrutinizing city contracts for corruption in Brazil, the U.N. said in the first global analysis of volunteers' contribution to better governance.

Volunteering also helps marginalized groups such as women, youth and minorities have their voices heard, the report said.

In September, U.N. member states are expected to adopt new international development goals as the Millennium Development Goals expire. The targets should include volunteering as a way of improving governance locally and globally, said U.N. experts.

"Volunteers have been claiming rights and raised awareness among politicians. Any new development agenda must have space for civic engagement," said the report's author Amanda Mukwashi of United Nations Volunteers (UNV).

Over the past two decades, people have mobilized in the Middle East and North Africa to repeal laws that prohibit women from passing their citizenship to their children and have led to the amendment of legislation in several countries like Egypt and Algeria, said the State of the World's Volunteerism Report 2015.

The public outrage that followed the gang rape and murder of a young female student in India in 2012 forced the government to respond and hold those responsible to account.

Huge participation in last year's climate march in many cities worldwide raised awareness about the urgency and importance of combating global warming, said the report.

Despite positive examples, too many governments are failing to acknowledge and leverage the potential of volunteers in their development plans, said UNV.

"Change will occur with greater civic engagement broadening the number of people who have voice, who can participate and who can hold governance actors to account," Richard Dictus, executive coordinator of UNV, said in a statement. (Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, corruption and climate change. Visit