Enabling Environment for Volunteering

Enabling Environment for Volunteering

What is an enabling environment for volunteering?

An enabling environment for volunteering works to maximize the benefits of volunteering for development outcomes and minimize the risks for volunteers. 

Such an environment is based on number of underlying principles: the freedom to volunteer, gender equality in volunteering, the safety and security of all volunteers, and the voice and recognition of volunteer groups.  These principles can be realized in a number of ways including through the realization of rights, the promotion of norms and values, and the implementation of formal policies and/or legislation. 


What are the challenges and opportunities?

Some of the challenges and opportunities for achieving an enabling environment for volunteering include: 

  • Political or legislative environments that curtail the right to volunteer 
  • The limited recognition of the distinctive contributions that volunteers make
  • Integration of volunteering into national development priorities, strategies and plans 
  • New models of volunteering support that enhance gender equality, social inclusion, the freedom to volunteer, participation, and the safety and security of volunteers
What is UNV doing?

UNV generates knowledge and evidence, and shares guidance with Member States and United Nations entities on integrating volunteering into national development plans, policies and strategies. UNV has also produced a gender analysis framework.

What does the evidence say?

An enabling environment encompasses a suite of tools such as policies, legislation, schemes, bodies or programmes provided by public, non-profit and private sector actors (also defined as volunteering infrastructure). It is also made up of intangible forms of volunteering support such as a positive recognition of volunteering and volunteer groups, and the promotion of norms around the participation of all groups, including those furthest left behind. 

There is still limited evidence on the impacts of these different tools in supporting an enabling environment for volunteering. Nevertheless, the list below provides an overview of volunteering infrastructure globally: 

Legal environment

  • National legislation on volunteering is increasingly common.  At least 90 countries now have specific national laws that promote volunteering
  • Many of these laws have been established in the last two decades. They predominantly define the scope of volunteering in each country.

  • Evidence suggests that, when carefully designed and implemented, volunteer legislation can provide stronger protections and incentives, enabling people to participate and engage in voluntary action. 

  • However, in some cases, where legal infrastructure is restrictive, repressive and exclusive, it can have negative consequences for volunteerism.

  • At the same time, a lack of regulation does not necessarily imply that volunteering does not take place in a given country. For example, the State of Qatar, despite not having any specific legislation on volunteering, has a number of programmes and initiatives that promote volunteering.

Policies and schemes

  • At least 68 countries now have stand-alone national policies, schemes, strategies and plans on volunteering. Many of these implementation mechanisms are based on national legislation.
  • In addition, other policies may also include components on volunteering, particularly youth policies in countries with large youth populations and high unemployment, and disaster risk reduction policies. 
  • More broadly, however, there is limited evidence that countries are mainstreaming volunteering into sector policies and national development strategies in ways that could maximize the impact of volunteering for the SDGs.

Gender and inclusion

  • An enabling environment for volunteering should go beyond gender equality of participation in volunteering, to also ensure equal benefits for women and men (IFRC Gender Policy).
  • Evidence to date suggests that any recognition of gender disparities in public policies predominantly relates to ensuring non-discrimination and equal opportunities.
  • Mainstreaming gender in volunteering interventions and legal frameworks, from design to evaluation, is important for fostering an enabling environment that promotes equity and equality between men and women.


Other tools (visibility, recognition, advocacy)

  • Other forms of volunteering support such as advocacy and positive recognition of volunteer action at local, national and global levels are gaining momentum.

  • At the global level, volunteer groups have been recognized as important stakeholders in the United Nations since 2015, reflecting the need for ‘all of society’ approaches for the achievement of the SDGs.

  • Every 5 December, International Volunteer Day recognizes the contribution that millions of people make worldwide. Some countries have also designated a special day, week or year to raise awareness of volunteer action. For example, 2018 was declared the National Year for Volunteering in the Russian Federation, while in Turkey it was celebrated in 2019.

  • Other activities to promote volunteering include accreditation, certification and training. For example, in Kenya, volunteer-involving organizations, in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, organize the Volunteer of the Year Award.

  • Providing insurance for volunteers is one way to ensure their security and well-being. For example, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies runs an insurance scheme for volunteers who are uninsured.


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