Volunteerism and the SDGs

Volunteerism and the SDGs

What are volunteering’s contributions to the SDGs?

In 2015, the world came together to agree on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which included 17 global goals and accompanying targets.

The 2030 Agenda recognizes the need for all of society to be involved if we are to end poverty within a generation. As part of this approach, volunteering is recognized as a “powerful and cross-cutting means of implementation”.

Volunteering can ensure that people are involved in planning and decisions about their own priorities. It can also provide new channels for interaction between governments and people.


What are the challenges and opportunities?

Some of the challenges and opportunities presented include: 

  • Integrating volunteering into key SDG frameworks and implementation strategies

  • Supporting local volunteers to take ownership of planning, implementation and reporting

  • Measuring the contributions of volunteering under the 2030 Agenda


What is UNV doing?

UNV advocates for greater recognition and integration of volunteering into SDG implementation.

This includes encouraging Member States to recognize volunteering in their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) – presented to the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development – and supporting the Volunteer Groups Alliance to voice the views of volunteers in intergovernmental dialogue. UNV also encourages UN agencies to integrate volunteering into United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Frameworks (UNSDCFs). In addition, UNV supported the establishment of the Plan of Action to Integrate Volunteering into the 2030 Agenda and co-hosted the 2020 Global Technical Meeting on Reimaging Volunteering with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

What does the evidence say?

Recognition of the contributions of volunteers in intergovernmental dialogue

  • The contributions of volunteers are recognized in United Nations resolutions and reports, including in A/Res/76/131 and the 2021 UN Secretary-General’s Report on Volunteering. These showcase the scale and depth of volunteer action for development. Resolutions on other issues, from South-South cooperation to Sports for Development, often refer to the critical roles played by volunteers. The Volunteer Groups Alliance has also been established to amplify the voices of volunteers in intergovernmental dialogue.
  • Between 2016 and 2022, 52 per cent of VNRs (149 of the 288 reports submitted) acknowledged the contributions made by volunteers across the full spectrum of SDGs.                

Integration of volunteering in national SDG strategies and plans

  • While recognition of volunteer efforts is increasing, research carried out under the Plan of Action to Integrate Volunteering for the 2030 Agenda found that:

  • Less than one in five VNRs demonstrate the integration of volunteering into national strategies and plans

  • While at least 140 countries now have laws, policies and schemes on volunteering, the majority are stand-alone initiatives rather than closely linked to development priorities.

  • Volunteers are most active in awareness-raising, consultation and implementation of the SDGs and national priorities. As yet, there is little evidence that people’s ownership of the development agenda has increased or that they have been able to influence policies that are relevant to them.

Linkages to specific goals and targets

We know that volunteers make significant contributions to their economies and societies.  However, there are no specific goals or indicators on volunteer efforts in the 2030 Agenda and SDGs. There are a number of potential ways to demonstrate the contributions of volunteering:

  • Exploring how the efforts of volunteers contribute to a specific target. For example, how volunteer-led awareness-raising and information campaigns contribute to higher immunization rates in a country, lowering the mortality rate for children under the age of five (Target 3.2).
  • Examining how the wider ‘social goods’ produced through volunteering contribute to different goals. For example, volunteering can support greater trust and cohesion among communities, providing a foundation for a range of issues from resilient cities to climate action.
  • Understanding how volunteering supports the principles of the 2030 Agenda including the universality of the agenda, leaving no one behind, and interconnectedness and indivisibility. For example, exploring how grassroots volunteer-led approaches can help ensure that our actions are rooted in the experiences of those groups furthest behind can help move away from siloed or sectoral approaches to development.



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