Global South volunteer programmes now seek to internationalize their efforts but often lack international networks and overseas partners and are not well integrated into the international development ecosystem. Many are also not well integrated into their own country’s broader overseas national development programming, with potential partnerships with official mechanisms, national strategies and development stakeholders (including the government, the private sector and the third sector) limited by a lack of trust and experience. Another challenge is the lack of capacity to assess development needs in other countries and effectively monitor and evaluate overseas projects. The programmes also lack experience in ensuring that their overseas projects have local ownership, remain needs-based and build a long-term relationship with the recipient community.
Another core challenge relates to knowledge gaps that are an obstacle to creating a substantive knowledge base for South-South volunteering. These knowledge gaps impede advocacy efforts, hinder the development of more effective programming and diminish the potential for capacity development through sharing best practices and experiences among developing countries.
Towards a Solution
To address the above challenge, United Nations Volunteers (UNV), with the support of the Beijing Volunteer Service Federation (BVF), launched a project aiming at strengthening engagement and capacities of Southern stakeholders in mobilizing, deploying and managing volunteers within the framework of South-South cooperation initiatives and in support of the SDGs. The project aims to explore new partnership-building opportunities by creating channels for the exchange of information and best practices for volunteers from the global South and supporting their effective engagement and contribution to sustainable development.
The project also focuses on creating opportunities for Chinese and other Southern youth to volunteer internationally, share international experience and develop the capacities of volunteer-involving organizations (VIOs), and facilitate cross-country knowledge-sharing and co-creation with strong support for joint research. The project activities mainly take place in developing countries in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is Chinas flagship international development project.
Some of the innovative approaches/outputs include:
- The creation of a new global platform for peer learning, sharing best practices and identifying challenges and opportunities for international volunteerism though new and innovative partnerships. Through the project, the BVF established international connections with 83 VIOs from 52 countries and regions, hosting 20 brief visits with 420 delegates from VIOs worldwide while sending 33 experts to visit possible partners or attend international knowledge-sharing events such as Thailand’s South- South Knowledge Exchange ”Youth Volunteering for the SDGs”. One concept proposal for vision and action was signed in September 2017 by BVF with the ASEAN Youth Leadership Association for joint promotion of international volunteer service with the BRI.
- The International Volunteer Service Exchange Conference (IVSEC) in the Belt and Road Era (2017 IVSEC): IVSEC was successfully hosted on 12-14 December 2017 with the participation of 126 international and domestic VIOs across the BRI region. The conference shared experiences from the South on volunteering and SSC, urban volunteering, managing and deploying youth volunteers, monitoring and evaluation of the volunteer programme, and the role of corporate volunteering under the BRI. The BRI Volunteer Service Alliance (BRVSA) was launched with international representatives during the IVSEC conference with the main purpose of facilitating exchange of experience and new South- South volunteering partnerships.
BVF and China volunteer organizations increased their capacity to effectively deploy volunteers through training and research. The training camp for Chinese international volunteers and international volunteering talents was held to support volunteer preparation for international deployment. A total of 60 participants were selected. Camp sessions included 25 lectures (domestic and international situation and policy, Belt and Road national cultural customs and volunteer work, voluntary service concepts and skills, and emergency and psychological adjustment), six field trips to enterprises and NGOs, and five teambuilding activities, broadly enhancing the preparedness and technical competence for those interested in international volunteering. The research seminar on Chinese volunteering for the SDGs was held on 9 June 2017. Around 100 participants from governments, VIOs, academia and private sectors shared their research on volunteer service. A report on an overview of Chinese volunteering and its development overseas as well as research on management standards of Chinese international volunteers will be launched.
New opportunities were created for Beijing youth to volunteer internationally as a model of South-South ”people-to-people” cooperation that could serve as a template for future deployments from other Chinese and Southern volunteer organizations. The project assisted in developing new opportunities for Beijing volunteers. BVF partners with the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA) in the Chinese Foreign Aid Volunteer Programme to send 10 Chinese representatives to Nepal and Myanmar for 6-12 months in support of local social and economic development. This is the first time that the Chinese Government and civil society have made joint efforts in international volunteer deployment and exploration for innovative cooperation of overseas assistance. A volunteer manual and project guidance were designed to support volunteer deployment.
For the first time, under this partnership, BVF also deployed mainland Chinese UN Youth Volunteers to serve within the United Nations system in Myanmar and Thailand. Under the BRI, many Chinese governmental entities began to cooperate with the United Nations system. For instance, adhering to the principles of the 2030 Agenda and the SSC Framework, China set up the South- South Cooperation Assistance Fund for international organizations and Chinese local NGOs to support their international aid activities and citizen engagement in development projects. The Fund has invested up to $3.5 billion. Both UNV and BVF are included in the candidate organization list to apply for projects to develop and promote volunteerism internationally. For instance, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS) of Cambodia, UNV submitted a proposal to continue its programmatic support to foster youth employability through volunteerism.
To ensure long-term sustainability, UNV implements its intervention together with the Ministry and other Cambodian partners (civil society, academia, the private sector, etc.) under the framework of a national United Nations programme on youth employment, which is aligned with national priorities.
Sustainable Development Goal target(s): 17.6, 17.9, 17.16, 17.17