The 2015 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report by the United Nations Volunteers programme (UNV) demonstrates the potential impact of volunteerism on governance, peace, and development. With the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) reaching their end in 2015 and the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) coming into effect this has fuelled discussions of role of volunteering in development processes. The workshop “Strategic directions for global research on volunteering for peace and sustainable development”, organised by UN Volunteers and the Center for Social Development at Washington University in S. Louis, fed into this discussion to keep its mementum by adding a research perspecticve to the debate on volunteering and development.

Bonn, Germany, July 6–7, 2015 34 researchers and practitioners from 16 universities and 18 civil society or governmental organizations came together at the UNV Headquarter in Bonn, Germany, to develop a Global Research Agenda on volunteerism as a modality for peace and development.

Participants identified several important research areas in relation to volunteerism: the capacity building through volunteering; social impact measurement and the tracking of social power exercised by volunteering, both in the positive and the neagtive sense, on a global level; community
engagement and volunteerism, to work towards supportive volunteering ecosystems, the motivations behind volunteering. There is need for an inclusive research agenda sensitive also to local contexts and realities in the Global South. Even though a challenging task if not properly funded participants agreed that the design process for such a research agenda should be based on participation, collaboration, and partnership.

Another important shortage identified was the lack of “suitable measurement methodologies, indicators, and frameworks that consider the local perspective and global impact”. Most of the theories used in research on volunteeriung have their origins in the Global North, lacking a connection to development theory.

Participants stressed the lack of awareness of the importance of volunteering for development among policy-makers, which results in a lack of research funding in this field. They also pointed out the values of participatory research, involving practitioners more stronlgy in reasearch agendas” “Though critical, research cannot stand alone; it is primarily a preparatory method for strengthening enabling environments for volunteering. If research is to make concrete differences, it must be motivated by policy and practice needs and must inform legislation and institutional designs. In return, governments and other stakeholders need stronger incentives to invest in research on effective ecosystems that enable volunteering.”

This statement is in the spirit of the TSI project, represented in Bonn by Ksenija Fonovic, that follows the same objective, even though its focus is on the third sector and volunteerign in Europe: to create knowledge that will further advance the sector’s contributions to the socio-economic development of Europe and demonstrate the extent to which the sector is an important partner for policy makers at all political levels.

As a project we are keen to forge partnerships between researchers and third sector stakeholders to come up with policy recommendations aimed at:

  • better measurement of third sector impact by implementing suitabe statistical tools in national and European accounts;
  • more recognition of the third sector and its organisations as an important force in the socio-economic development of Europe, as well as a democratising factor through stronger citizen engagement;
  • removing barriers that hinder the sector to develop its full social, economic and democratic potential

TSI’s next occasion to work with stakeholders is during the Mid-term Seminar in Brussels on 13 October.

Download the Workshop Report. The Global Research Agenda will be available soon.