Volunteerism remains a powerful tool for good around the world. Young people, in particular, are motivated by the prospect of creating real and lasting change, as well as gaining valuable learning experiences that come with volunteering. This energy and optimism among youth can be harnessed and mobilized to help meet challenges facing our world today and accomplish such targets as the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
On June 14, young leaders and development agents from leading non-governmental organizations (NGOs), faith-based organizations, corporations, universities, the Peace Corps, and United Nations Volunteers came together at the Brookings Institution to answer the question on how to achieve impacts on the SDGs through international service.
This was also the 10th anniversary gathering of the Building Bridges Coalition—a multi-stakeholder consortium of development volunteers— and included the announcement of a new Service Year Alliance partnership with the coalition to step up international volunteers and village-based volunteering capacity around the world.
Brookings Senior Fellow Homi Kharas, who served as the lead author supporting the high-level panel advising the U.N. secretary-general on the post-2015 development agenda, noted the imperative of engaging community volunteers to scale up effective initiatives, build political awareness, and generate “partnerships with citizens at every level” to achieve the 2030 goals.
Kharas’ call was echoed in reports on effective grassroots initiatives, including Omnimed’s mobilization of 1,200 village health workers in Uganda’s Mukono district, a dramatic reduction of malaria through Peace Corps efforts with Senegal village volunteers, and Seed Global Health’s partnership to scale up medical doctors and nurses to address critical health professional shortages in the developing world.
U.N. Youth Envoy Ahmad Alhendawi of Jordan energized young leaders from Atlas Corps, Global Citizen Year, America Solidaria, International Young Leaders Academy, and universities, citing U.N. Security Council Resolution 2250 on youth, peace, and security as “a turning point when it comes to the way we engage with young people globally… to recognize their role for who they are, as peacebuilders, not troublemakers… and equal partners on the ground.”
Service Year Alliance Chair General Stanley McChrystal, former Joint Special Operations commander, acclaimed, “The big idea… of a culture where the expectation [and] habit of service has provided young people an opportunity to do a year of funded, full-time service.”
Civic Enterprises President John Bridgeland and Brookings Senior Fellow E.J. Dionne, Jr. led a panel with Seed Global Health’s Vanessa Kerry and Atlas Corps’ Scott Beale on policy ideas for the next administration, including offering Global Service Fellowships in United States Agency for International Development (USAID) programs to grow health service corps, student service year loan forgiveness, and technical support through State Department volunteer exchanges. Former Senator Harris Wofford, Building Bridge Coalition’s senior advisor and a founding Peace Corps architect, shared how the coalition’s new “service quantum leap” furthers the original idea announced by President John F. Kennedy, which called for the Peace Corps and the mobilization of one million global volunteers through NGOs, faith-based groups, and universities.
The multi-stakeholder volunteering model was showcased by Richard Dictus, executive coordinator of U.N. Volunteers; Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet; USAID Counselor Susan Reischle; and Diane Melley, IBM vice president for Global Citizenship. Melley highlighted IBM’s 280,000 skills-based employee volunteers who are building community capacity in 130 countries along with Impact 2030—a consortium of 60 companies collaborating with the U.N.—that is “integrating service into overall citizenship activities” while furthering the SDGs.
The faith and millennial leaders who contributed to the coalition’s action plan included Jim Lindsay of Catholic Volunteer Network; Service Year’s Yasmeen Shaheen-McConnell; C. Eduardo Vargas of USAID’s Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives; and moderator David Eisner of Repair the World, a former CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. Jesuit Volunteer Corps President Tim Shriver, grandson of the Peace Corps’ founding director, addressed working sessions on engaging faith-based volunteers, which, according to research, account for an estimated 44 percent of nearly one million U.S. global volunteers
The key role of colleges and universities in the coalition’s action plan—including linking service year with student learning, impact research, and gap year service—was outlined by Dean Alan Solomont of Tisch College at Tufts University; Marlboro College President Kevin Quigley; and U.N. Volunteers researcher Ben Lough of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
These panel discussion directed us towards the final goal of the event, which was a multi-stakeholder action campaign calling for ongoing collaboration and policy support to enhance the collective impact of international service in achieving the 2030 goals.
This resolution, which remains a working document, highlighted five major priorities:
- Engage service abroad programs to more effectively address the 2030 SDGs by mobilizing 10,000 additional service year and short-term volunteers annually and partnerships that leverage local capacity and volunteers in host communities.
- Promote a new generation of global leaders through global service fellowships promoting service and study abroad.
- Expand cross-sectorial participation and partnerships.
- Engage more volunteers of all ages in service abroad.
- Study and foster best practices across international service programs, measure community impact, and ensure the highest quality of volunteer safety, well-being, and confidence.
Participants agreed that it’s through these types of efforts that volunteer service could become a common strategy throughout the world for meeting pressing challenges. Moreover, the cooperation of individuals and organizations will be vital in laying a foundation on which governments and civil society can build a more prosperous, healthy, and peaceful world.
David Caprara is a former national director of VISTA and Faith-Based and Community Initiatives at the Corporation for National and Community Service, he is an expert on related civic engagement and conflict resolution areas.