Volunteers Must Be Placed at Heart of a New Development Model

In a Chinese city, an elderly man flies a specially equipped kite to measure the pollution levels in his city's atmosphere. In Brazil, an accountant gives her spare time to a citizens' group monitoring city contracts for fraud. In India, tens of thousands of people from across the country submit their views on how the laws on violence against women should be changed following the gang rape and murder of a student in 2012.

These are just three examples of how volunteers around the world are giving their time to improve the way they and their fellow citizens are governed. From Brazil to Kenya, from Lebanon to Bangladesh, volunteers of all ages and backgrounds are acting as champions of change, holding their governments to account - making them more responsive to their citizens.

Crucially, volunteering is a platform for those who are too often left out of decisions that affect them, such as women and marginalised groups. By working with government and civil society, they are influencing laws and policies and having a real impact on the development paths of their countries. New technology has changed the rules of engagement. Initiatives such as Kenya's Ushahidi platform that crowd sourced citizens' eye-witness reports of post-election violence have shown us how a new generation of tech-savvy volunteers is making a real difference.

So why is this contribution of volunteers to governance so poorly understood and under-valued? In the first instance, there is little data on the role of volunteers in forging better governance. The State of the World's Volunteerism Report 2015 is the first global survey of volunteers' impact in this sphere. The report argues that development efforts to date have left too many people behind, especially women and the poorest and most marginalised. Volunteers hold the key to a development path that truly represents the needs of all sections of society. The fairer a development path is, the more effective it will be.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have been a success in terms of galvanising people around clearly articulated goals but they have fallen short of their ambition in some areas because countries' anti-poverty efforts haven't sufficiently addressed inequality and exclusion. As the world's governments draft the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), they would do well to listen to the voices of their volunteers and do everything possible to wrap them into the heart of decision-making.

Governments that are doing this already - those like Peru, Mozambique and Norway that are creating a strong legal framework for volunteers and engaging them in crafting and implementing policies - are reaping the rewards. They are drawing on real expertise and insights into what their people actually need in order to drive their own development.

The potential dividends for all of us are enormous. In China, the man and his kite helped to ensure his city authorities included the measurement of dangerous small particles in the information published on air quality. In Brazil, the citizens' monitoring groups have uncovered and recovered tens of thousands of dollars in embezzled public funds. And in India, the people's voices were incorporated into a change in the law that enabled faster convictions for rape. These are real impacts that are affecting people's lives.

With this Report, our aim is to spark a global conversation about the untapped potential of volunteers in this area of governance that is so critical to future development success. As the world's governments prepare a new roadmap to overcome global poverty, volunteers can be catalysts for a fairer and more equal world - if they're invited to the table.