Rethinking the future of volunteering?
By Shaun Hazeldine
Globally the Red Cross and Red Crescent have some 11-12 million volunteers. This number fluctuates somewhat depending on what disasters and crises may emerge on any given year, but regardless it is still a significant number of people mobilising to support others. There is some discussion on the overall trend of volunteering in the Red Cross and Red Crescent (obscured by unreliable data in many countries), but it would be reasonable to assess that overall the numbers are at best stagnating (with only minor growth in some areas) or worse, at a global level may be declining. One thing is certain, as a founding principle and the driving core of the organisation’s model and ethos, volunteering merits considerably more attention than it is receiving. Volunteering is not only critical to the organisational model, affording a direct and intimate link with communities all over the world and enabling social, development and humanitarian action on a scale that would be impossible otherwise, but volunteering itself can, if managed well, deliver enormous benefits for individuals, of social inclusion, building self-confidence, skills and promoting social engagement enabling a more active, enlightened and compassionate citizenry. Of course the discussion is about more than numbers. The Global Review on Volunteering, the work of the Global Volunteering Alliance and the consultations for the Strategy 2030 all reveal a complicated panoply of issues emerging or persisting with volunteerism; people appear to be volunteering for shorter periods of time, in some parts of the world our volunteers face very real threats to their life and wellbeing, and there are some indications that at local and national levels our volunteering base may not be diverse enough to represent the communities they are supporting. Strategy 2030 research has also shone a spotlight on rapidly changing trends that are impacting volunteering and that will need to be confronted if the organisation is to remain enriched and powered by the volunteer spirit throughout the 21st century. Below are five key issues that may be central to our efforts to strengthen volunteering in the coming decade. This comes with the caveat though that there is no singular picture of volunteering; motivations behind volunteering are extremely diverse and the social, economic and political contexts within which volunteering shapes are also extremely diverse and influence different characteristics and manifestations of volunteerism. As such, at a global level there is no panacea here to illuminate, nonetheless the following should give us some food for thought;