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Volunteers and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

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The United Nations is leading a worldwide effort to achieve clearly stated “Sustainable Development Goals.” Hundreds of organizations are selecting how they will contribute to the effort and, within that process, many are also determining where volunteers fit in. What are the essential elements of an environment that enables volunteerism? And what type of environment will ensure that volunteers make the greatest possible contribution to achieving sustainable development goals?

In this Voices, Bonnie Learmonth, James O'Brien, Shaleen Rakesh, and Goopy Parke Weaving identify and explore some of the environmental elements that contribute to the success of volunteers and the organisations that rely on volunteers to achieve their mission. These include contextual elements like how well people understand and recognise the impact of volunteerism; actor-based elements like the role of the state, civil society, and the private sector in enabling volunteering; relationships and power dynamics between actors; as well as system-wide factors like partnerships, technology, and funding.

The article draws on a discussion paper prepared by AVI (Australian Volunteers for International Development), VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas), and the Volunteer Groups Alliance for this year’s IVCO (International Volunteer Cooperation Organisations) conference. Between them, VSO and AVI have over 100 years of experience in sending international volunteers. The paper includes case studies of volunteering in an emerging democracy, Myanmar, and of private sector partnership in India.