Volunteers as Global Citizens: Evolution of Volunteerism in the SDG Era, Part One

With the creation of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the questions of universality of certain United Nations mandates has been given new prominence. United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme was created in the 1970s as the organizations that enables the UN system to engage volunteers and volunteerism for peace and development. This mandates builds on the universality of volunteerism as an intrinsic value in all cultures and communities.

Traditionally, international volunteering was equated with middle class young people from the global north, doing good deeds in the developing world and providing additional capacity to accelerate economic and social development. This stereotype is based on an outdated reality. Currently we, at UNV, are sending nationals from over 159 nationalities to 132 developing countries; over 80 percent of these volunteers coming from the Global South themselves.

A larger portion of the global south has achieved middle income status, no longer has real capacity deficits and is looking at its own role in international volunteering. This phenomenon is not just a function of financial capability, but more often one of knowledge, skills and attributes that have grown into a competency to think and act beyond ones boarders in an increasingly connected and interdependent world.

Fredkoprset in Norway has been promoting South-North volunteering where citizens from the global south volunteer in different social services projects in Norway. The programme aims at creating a life changing experience for the volunteer, so that they can take their personal and professional growth with them back home. The theory of change is based on the experience Norway had with their returning volunteers; people who came back significantly changed, often as better professionals and more grounded individuals.

As time went on, the different cohorts of returning volunteers became voices of equity, human rights and social justice in their own societies and have had significant influence in political parties and social movements. Building on this experience, South-North volunteering and North-South volunteering, are creating agents of change in both spheres of the globe - true global citizens.

With the issue of capacity deficits being redefined, not in the least because of global knowledge flows changing rapidly in this information age, this experience is a very important pointer to the future of volunteering and volunteerism. The future must be about global solidarity, global engagement and creating global citizenry - directionality of volunteering will cease to matter, but mutual understanding and reciprocal support will set a new trajectory. #V4SDGs