Global Volunteer Initiative
Supporting countries across the world to design and scale-up volunteering strategies that upskill young people while accelerating results for children
When communities spend their time working together for the benefit of our youngest populations, they bring their local knowledge, their skills, their social contacts, their institutional connections, stories, and boundless energy to the work.
The Global Volunteer Initiative (GVI) puts people at the centre of development and helps countries start, scale and innovate volunteer programmes to deliver results for children. GVI now supports more than 35 UNICEF Country Offices and 9.6 million volunteers (84 percent of whom are young people) across the globe, who are being deployed across a range of issues – from education and violence to stunting and clean air.
Since 2018, GVI has helped countries build large bases of youth volunteers. Providing young people with volunteer opportunities has proven to be a singularly effective way to empower and engage youth, furnish them with skills, mentorship, and valuable experience, and offer a sense of agency as they begin their professional journeys. Countries have found volunteerism a powerful way to engage young people as changemakers and to address the inequities of opportunity that lie at the heart of the GenU agenda.
Young people and their communities are essential to amplify and accelerate the impact of development work; achieve the long-term attitude and behavior changes called for in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); build ownership of development outcomes; and enhance social solidarity, social capital, and social inclusion.
Youth volunteers are also contributing to significant results across numerous sectors, and, in the face of the global pandemic, volunteers in communities across the globe are stepping up as first responders to help with the primary public health response (handwashing and social distancing) as well as the secondary effects that leave children displaced from school and vulnerable groups isolated and in need.
The GVI Approach
For the Global Volunteer Initiative (GVI), local contexts determine precise demographic targets, models for volunteer engagement and management, and priority areas or sectors around which to galvanize volunteers. The GVI team provides UNICEF country and regional offices with ongoing bespoke technical and strategy development support while it also serves as a knowledge hub on best practices, nurtures an active community of practice, and collaborates with other sections in producing guidelines, standards, and relevant knowledge assets. GVI works with country offices as partners, accompanying offices every step of the way – from initial conceptualization to the nuts and bolts of operationalization. Just as GVI advises offices to put the audience at the center of planning and volunteer strategy design, we put countries and the specificities of their operating environment at the center of our support. Accordingly, the contours of volunteer engagement vary with country.
Examples that demonstrate how volunteerism delivers impact abound. In Rwanda, youth volunteers are re-enrolling thousands of their peers who dropped out of school while in Tanzania trained young teachers are volunteering their skills to reach thousands of children to help address their learning crisis. In India, volunteers are organizing street theatre and myriad peer-support programmes to spread the message that child marriage must end.
In Kyrgyzstan, a disaster-prone country, young volunteers are leading DRR trainings for children and schools across the country. In Jordan volunteers are staffing youth drop-in centres for refugees while in Colombia we have seen young volunteers run peace and reconciliation programmes in communities ravaged by the recently ended civil conflict. In Bangladesh volunteers expanded the reach of the vitamin A campaign into communities previously left behind while in the Philippines volunteers were critical in rolling out the measles vaccine in the face of a new outbreak. In the midst of the current pandemic we’re seeing how volunteers are critical both to the response and the recovery, as they bust myths and combat misinformation while shaping new ways, for instance, to help deliver education or psychosocial support.
And now as the world embarks on the largest ever vaccine campaign to address a public health crisis that has upended every nation across the globe, massive volunteer mobilization will be integral to at-scale vaccine rollout and distribution just as it will be essential to tackling vaccine hesitancy.
We cannot reimagine a better world unless we do it in partnership with the very communities we seek to serve. Volunteer engagement demonstrates how those closest to the problems are often those closest to the solutions. Equally, we cannot credibly speak of youth participation or young people as changemakers if we are not open to working with them as true partners in the pursuit of a world better fit for them to succeed.