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Where Does Volunteering Fit In The New Post-2015 Global Development Agenda?

James and Esther Mkamori taken  by Maria Isabel Rivera
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Pictured: James and Esther Mkamori taken by Maria Isabel Rivera.

As we approach the end date for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the end of this year, governments have begun to gather in New York for monthly intergovernmental negotiations on the Post-2015 agenda, including new ‘Sustainable Development Goals’, which will replace the MDGs from the start of 2016 and run until the end of 2030. James O’Brien from VSO takes a closer look.

The process to decide this new agenda has been running for three years now, and we are in the final stretch. The negotiations will run until July, and the new agenda will be announced at a Summit in September.

Last month I was at the intergovernmental negotiations on the Political Declaration part of the agenda, which will be a new version of the Millennium Declaration. I was there as part of a civil society steering committee which was tasked with channelling the voices of civil society into the negotiations.

From a Comhlámh perspective, it is interesting to see how the role of volunteers and volunteering is evolving in the new agenda.

We know that the Post-2015 agenda will be made up of four components –

  • A Political Declaration
  • Sustainable Development Goals, Targets and Indicators
  • Means of Implementation and a New Global Partnership
  • Follow-up and review

The place of volunteerism in the Declaration is uncertain. By the end of the February negotiations it was clear that there is an appetite amongst member states for a declaration that is concise, simple and inspiring. ‘Concise’ will mean no more than three pages and ‘simple’ will mean that 13-year old could understand the declaration (the Children and Youth Major Group have offered to round up some youngsters to test this out).

As volunteer groups, we should be calling on member states to think about what they mean by inspiring, and what voluntary action we want to inspire people to take in their own lives and communities. We hope that this resonated with member states and that we will see them carve out a place for the recognition and support of volunteerism within the Declaration.

Volunteers were not mentioned in the MDGs, but they have been a major part of the implementation of the goals. From international volunteers to community health workers and home-based carers, volunteers have been at the heart of extending the reach of essential services beyond what formal government systems can achieve. By working alongside communities and gaining an insight into the needs of people on the ground (and what they’re doing themselves to meet these needs), volunteers have been able to extend services to the poorest and most marginalised people in a way that is locally appropriate.

We should be pushing governments to include volunteerism in the Means of Implementation component – looking beyond financial and technical interventions to human resources to people-centred approaches. The Secretary General’s Synthesis Report, published in December, was strong on this point –

‘As we seek to build capacities and to help the new agenda to take root, volunteerism can be another powerful and cross-cutting means of implementation. Volunteerism can help to expand and mobilize constituencies, and to engage people in national planning and implementation for sustainable development goals. And volunteer groups can help to localize the new agenda by providing new spaces of interaction between governments and people for concrete and scalable actions’.

A big part of our job in the coming months will be fighting for space in a debate that, a lot of the time, equates Means of Implementation with finance, and making sure that the Secretary General’s language makes it into the final draft of the Agenda.

As organisations that work through volunteers, we should be speaking directly to the governments of the countries where we work about the role that volunteers can play in development, and the need for a Post-2015 agenda that recognises and supports the role of volunteers. Last October, volunteer groups at the IVCO conference agreed on a set of priorities for the Post-2015 agenda, the Lima Declaration. A good first step is to sign the declaration, and to contact the Post-2015 Volunteering Working Group to find out how you can join other volunteer-involving organisations in pushing for the recognition of volunteering.



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