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 and young people. GVI now supports more than 40 UNICEF Country Offices and 10.6 million volunteers 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 contributing to significant results across numerous sectors. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, volunteers in communities across the globe stepped up as first responders to help with the primary public health response (handwashing, social distancing, combatting misinformation and helping the elderly access vaccines) as well as the secondary effects that left children displaced from school and vulnerable groups isolated and in need. Now, GVI is sharpening its focus on combating the global climate & environment crisis – delivering on The Green Rising volunteerism pillar – by expanding the actions young volunteers are already taking on a range of environmental issues, including to make their communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
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 and Uganda, youth volunteers are re-enrolling thousands of their peers who dropped out of school, while in India, volunteers are organizing street theatre and myriad peer-support programmes to spread the message that child marriage must end.
In Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, natural-disaster-prone countries, 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. During the COVID pandemic we witnessed how volunteers are critical both to the response and the recovery, as they assist tens of thousands in registering for their vaccines in South Africa and Bangladesh, bust myths and combat misinformation while shaping new ways, for instance, to help deliver education or psychosocial support.
Now, in the face of the global climate and environment crisis, young volunteers in Mongolia are measuring air quality and alerting community members when it is unsafe outside while in Kazakhstan they are running a campaign challenging their peers to stop using single-use plastic for a month. In India, youth are setting out to conserve billions of liters of water by deploying a range of interventions in water-stressed areas from digging soak pits to fixing leaky faucets to turning off the tap when shaving. And in Brazil, thousands of volunteers are fostering a culture of sustainability through monthly action days including tree planting, garbage collection at river sources and awareness campaigns.
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.