Volunteers are essential to our work building a more peaceful and prosperous world. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), volunteers contributed at least $400 billion to the global economy in 2008. In the United States, more than 64 million adults volunteer every year. Businesses, governments, nonprofits, and universities are drawing on the insights and perspectives of volunteers to help make good business decisions. Moreover, volunteers have an increasingly important role in international affairs. For instance, the United Nations recognizes that in order to meet international development targets—such as the Millennium Development Goals—the efforts of scores of ordinary citizens are needed.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), volunteers contributed at least $400 billion to the global economy in 2008.
A well-run volunteer program can have a variety of benefits for your organization. It can engage your community and connect them to your work, encourage the next generation of citizen diplomats to engage in international exchange, strengthen your organization’s capacity, and enrich the international exchange programs your organization conducts—the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) in particular.
Incorporating volunteerism into your programs can have a powerful impact that reaches far beyond your local community. In Kigali, Rwanda, the IVLP alumni group, in collaboration with the Rwanda U.S. Alumni Association and local authorities, launched a campaign to promote volunteerism and community service among youth. About 500 school children aged 10 to 17 attended this official launch. The event included repairing community roads and presentations on the importance of volunteerism. The campaign is run by Nsanga, a local NGO whose founder and board members include many exchange alumni.
Mark Chilongu of Africa Directions in Lusaka, Zambia, and a 2010 IVLP alumnus, had this to say about the impact of his U.S. volunteer experience:
“One of the things that catch me the most was the way the American people provide for the poor. You know, I went to a place called Food and Friends, where people would spend their time to pack free food for the vulnerable communities. And for me, that’s the spirit that I came back with—trying to instill a sense of responsibility among the young people, trying to instill a sense of volunteerism among the people in our community, but in Zambia as a whole.”
This demonstrates the incredible multiplier effect that international visitors can have on entire communities if they have the skills, knowledge, and inclination to carry forward the spirit of volunteerism developed or enhanced during their time in the United States.
Community-based members in particular have much to gain by incorporating more volunteer projects into programs and services. Volunteer projects offer opportunities to constructively partner with other organizations to expand your reach and competency as well as recruit volunteers and members. When international exchange participants work side-by-side with volunteers, they expose new audiences and constituencies to the community-based member’s work in the community and spread awareness of citizen diplomacy.
Volunteer projects offer opportunities to constructively partner with other organizations to expand your reach and competency as well as recruit volunteers and members.
These activities bring real advocacy value as well. The positive exposure generated through volunteer activities is the best kind of advocacy for the value of what we do. Community-based members should remember that these hours would be applicable to their community impact data as well. Volunteer hours during an international visitor’s volunteer activity are donated to your community and they can be added to your local economic impact data.
Members of the Global Ties network are creative and resourceful, and we know you can create dynamic experiences that enhance visitors’ understanding of the United States and its spirit of service. Of course, please feel free to actively call upon the myriad resources within the network as you chart your way forward, and let us know if there are additional resources you have to share to strengthen our network.
Collin Burden, Global Ties U.S.