In many countries around the world, volunteerism is leveraged to help achieve societal changes and, as a complementary tool to public policies implemented by the government, it plays an important role in alleviating pressing problems faced by the people.
You can find volunteers in action in every sector from conservation efforts to humanitarian support for those who are in most need.
Nepal boasts a vibrant civil society, and solidarity and altruism have been unique features of the country well before even the term “volunteerism” was introduced here.
We have seen how during the pandemic, volunteers in Nepal like in many other parts of the world got activated in multiple ways, from the production of personal protective equipment (PPE) to feeding those groups within the society who have been most affected by the lockdowns.
Now the country has a unique opportunity to bring volunteerism to the next level thanks to the formulation of a draft National Volunteering Policy that, once finalized and approved by the federal government, could herald a new era for the sector.
Prepared by the Policy Research Institute or PRI, a government-led public think tank, the draft policy is a key document that envisions the enabling conditions for volunteerism to better contribute to the national development process.
With the ongoing economic crisis stemming from the pandemic forcing governments and civil society alike to re-think their traditional socio-economic models, there is no doubt that volunteerism can play a big role.
Globally there has been an effort, led by the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) to broaden up and modernize the traditional boundaries and categories of volunteering action, acknowledging, very importantly, the existence of a so-called “continuum” that goes from more informal traditional forms of altruism that are so strong in many rural areas of Nepal to more organized forms of volunteering.
The draft policy being worked out by PRI under the leadership of Dr Bishnu Upreti, is wide-ranging and encompassing this multifaceted nature of volunteerism in the country.
With an ambitious vision of “developing volunteering program in the form of effective medium for the social, cultural and economic transformation of the country”, the draft also calls for further legislation that can codify and strengthen volunteerism in the country in future.
The Philippines, for example, is one country in the Asia Pacific Region that has a solid volunteering infrastructure with a legislation and an appropriate supporting system provided by the government.
It is exactly what the draft is calling for because without involvement of the federal, provincial and local governments--whose role is well recognized in the document--it will be impossible for Nepal to fully expand volunteering opportunities for all.
This is why the fact the draft envisions a National Volunteering Promotion Center is so paramount.
This is the institution that ultimately would play an indispensable role in enabling citizens from all walks of life to embrace volunteerism ensuring positive social outcomes.
We need to ensure that such institution is going to have the necessary resources and institutional autonomy to become the key national actor in promoting and facilitating volunteerism.
Interestingly the draft policy will enable volunteerism as a springboard to equip youths and older working-age citizens alike to find and create employment opportunities.
With Nepal aiming to graduate from the least developing status, it is indispensable to have innovative tools to promote new skills that will be meaningful in the job market and volunteerism is definitely one of them.
The drafters were also innovative in recognizing the role that non-resident Nepalis could have in promoting volunteerism because the national diaspora, if properly cultivated, could have a big role in helping develop the country by engaging in well-formulated and planned volunteering activities.
The facilities envisioned by the draft are in this sense progressive also because they try to bring clarity and legitimacy to properly managed and, most importantly, effective volunteering efforts by foreigners, an issue that has always been sensitive.
Ensuring a strong National Volunteering Promotion Center that perhaps could be renamed in a way that would give it a stronger mandate, beyond just promotion, is vital.
For example it could be named National Volunteering Council, an institution that the draft for now describes the highest level decision making committee in matter of volunteerism as.
Chaired by federal Minister for Youth and Sports with participation of Social Development Ministers of seven provinces and the secretaries and other top policy makers, such council, the draft states, will coordinate with another body, the Volunteering Program Implementation Committee that will itself supervise the National Volunteering Promotion Center.
At the end of the day, no matter the names to be given to the different institutions in charge of volunteerism, what counts is to have a well-resourced but also at the same time lean and agile implementing body that, while fully accountable to the policy makers, will be capable not only to supervise and monitor but also enable strong and effective volunteering activities.
The stronger such body is, the more chances the sector will have to prosper and thrive with better social outcomes on the ground.
The fact that the draft also calls for such body to coordinate a web portal managing the supply and demand of volunteers bodes well for the sector.
This is important because volunteering, as well-stated by the draft policy, can have positive effects also on the education sector, equipping students with new learning and serving experiences that will enrich their learning process.
Having local units or volunteering centers under the supervision of local governments could be another fundamental element to truly enable an effective system that facilitates citizens, including the most vulnerable ones, to contribute to national development, helping Nepal achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Last but not the least the process that led to formulation of the draft has been even more interesting because it was based on a real collaboration that saw an innovative public research institution partnering with civil society organizations, all passionately involved in promoting volunteerism, with the UNV as a key facilitator and enabler.
The fact that such partnerships have been enabled could itself be the best practice.
Now it is up to the citizens of Nepal, not only activists and practitioners, to get engaged and ensure that draft can be improved.
Discussions, on the ground in all the seven provinces and also virtually, are being held to ensure that the draft document can get the attention that is due and also the much-needed feedbacks and suggestions.
The country has a unique opportunity to achieve the Agenda 2030 by leveraging volunteerism. Best of luck Nepal!
(This Sunday, 28th of Feb at 3pm and on Monday, 1st of March, an on-line event will take place to learn about and discuss the policy. You can register here: http://bit.ly/3bB8Wql)
The author writes about volunteerism and social issues in Nepal. This is a personal contribution to help promote a debate on volunteerism in the country. All credits goes to PRI and the civil society organizations involved in the policy debate.