Print Edition - 2014-12-05  |  Oped

Not for profit

  • Nepal has a unique opportunity to advance a regional volunteering agenda in South Asia
- Simone Galimberti
Not for profit

Dec 4, 2014-With the successful conclusion of the Saarc Summit, Nepal has showed the region and the world that it can stage an international event with a high level of competence, professionalism, and most importantly, strong confidence. Can Nepal also show the way to promote and foster volunteerism in the region? Can Nepal come up with a solid national framework to promote and highlight volunteerism’s contributions to the nation?

Ways of life

As we celebrate International Volunteer Day today, we have a chance to introspect about the current status of volunteerism in Nepal and then think of a possible way to project a common regional vision for the whole of South Asia. When we talk about volunteerism in Nepal, it is in a unique position, as its communities are rich in local practices that nourish and foster a common sense of belongingness and self help.

Nepalis from rural to urban areas might not call it volunteerism. Nevertheless, they are proving how much the citizenry can do to take care of their communities. I am not referring only to the ‘Save the Bagmati Campaign’ here, but also to the myriad initiatives, small and big, visible but more often invisible and unnoticed that, everyday, Nepali citizens carry out thanks to their innate generosity.

Is this enough? Certainly not, especially if we think about the massive divide among the population in terms of access to opportunities together with the increased level of urbanisation that the country has experienced in the last decades. While volunteerism does not offer quick fixes to mounting problems, it can definitely do a bit to improve certain situations. Most importantly, volunteerism can work as a catalyst for systematic change—by volunteering, you can also raise an issue while advocating for it at the same time.

Volunteer contributions

For the last few years, the National Development Volunteering Service, a volunteering programme managed by the National Planning Commission, has been working on a draft national volunteering policy that has yet to be endorsed by the Cabinet. Though not perfect, the policy constitutes a milestone for the volunteering sector, which already boasts thousands of individuals involved not as development professionals but as agents of change in thousands of local organisations. Their roles and contributions are too often neglected because they are not counted within the traditional development sector. This perception and attitude must change. Moreover, when we talk about the volunteering sector in Nepal, we should not forget about its informal side—with millions of citizens, especially in rural areas, involved in community self-help practices.

So it is very important indeed that the new policy envision a broad description of volunteerism. It should—while maintaining certain key elements related to its nature, eg non-financial dimensions and other aspects related to cause and motivation of volunteering—not only protect and safeguard but also strengthen all diverse forms of  volunteering. As of now, formal, informal, part-time or full-time are all different ways to volunteer in Nepal.

In addition, volunteering should also be pragmatic, as recently mentioned in a research conducted by Next Generation Nepal about the importance and positive contribution of international volunteering to Nepal. International volunteering, if positively monitored, controlled, and assessed can certainly contribute to the development of the country. For that, fraud and malpractices in organisations that target foreign volunteers should certainly be reduced and ultimately eliminated.

Furthermore, the incoming policy should propose a stronger volunteering infrastructure—the norms, legislations and institutions in this sector. While a national policy is certainly a first step, much more could be envisioned to make volunteering easy and accessible for all. What we need is a central, I would say ‘federal’, level public institution mandated with the overall promotion and development of the sector. It could be called Volunteering Nepal, an apex body in charge of the sector, acting as its champion and defender, but also as a guarantor of volunteerism.

While taking into full account the precious but intangible contributions of volunteerism to national development in terms of social capital and national ‘happiness’, Volunteering Nepal should also look at setting up a strong monitoring matrix to determine its impact. Think about setting up local volunteering centres as ‘one-stop shops’ where anyone can not only approach to ask for help but also be asked to serve. Accessibility is really paramount for this. Everybody should be put in a condition to serve and volunteer.  For instance, at ENGAGE, the organisation my wife and I co-founded, we strongly believe that everybody can serve, including persons living with disabilities. Indeed, volunteerism can be a powerful platform for persons living with disabilities to show their skills and abilities like anyone else.

A regional plan

In the future, anational legislation might be needed. But at the moment, ensuring the approval of a national volunteering policy would be the first step towards ensuring Nepal is regarded overseas as a natural volunteering champion. Developed nations and local development partners could also promote knowledge dissemination in Nepal about volunteerism—not to ‘copy and paste’ from their national experiences but to offer different insights. Nations like Australia, Japan, the US, and UK, all boast of relevant volunteering sectors at home and they, as friends of Nepal, are well-positioned to take the lead in this effort.

Last but not the least, after hosting a successful Summit at home, Nepal has the unique opportunity to advance a regional volunteering agenda in South Asia. In the European Union, there is the European Volunteer Service where young people enrolled in the programme volunteer in another member nation. Something similar could be devised for the Saarc region. If implemented, the programme could be a powerful tool to advance the promotion of a regional social union, the goal of what we refer to as the ‘People’s Saarc’.

Galimberti is affiliated with www.sharing4good.org

Published: 05-12-2014 09:25

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