The International Symposium on Volunteering

Switzerland, 18 - 21 November, 2001
Team IYV
30 December 2001

From 18 to 21 November, over 430 volunteers from 117 countries gathered at the International Conference Center of Geneva (CCIG), in Geneva, Switzerland, to review the activities of IYV 2001. The Symposium objectives were to present and highlight the results of IYV, to share the best practices and to recommend steps for future action beyond 2001.

The National IYV Committee members joined forces to display their national activities and promotional items at the Exhibition. Some of the items on display included stamps from Bahrain, newsletters from Viet Nam, scarves from Syria and IYV hats from Mongolia. 

The sessions also provided an opportunity for the IYV committees to channel their views about the accomplishments and challenges encountered during the Year. Themes of the sessions included the economy of volunteering; role of women volunteers; volunteer management; policies and legislation; volunteer web sites; social marketing; volunteer research and poverty alleviation. 

Special guests attending the Symposium included His Royal Highness Crown Prince Felipe de Asturias of Spain and IYV Eminent Person; Dr. Nafis Sadik, former Executive Director of the UNFPA and IYV Eminent Person; Alfredo Sfeir-Younis, Special Representative to the UN and the World Trade Organization (WTO) for the World Bank; Kumi Naidoo, the Secretary General and CEO of CIVICUS, World Alliance for Citizen Participation; Ambassador Walter Fust, Director of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation; Ibrahim Osman, Director of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and Sharon Capeling-Alakija, Executive Coordinator of the UN Volunteers programme (UNV). 

The Symposium received financial support from the Swiss Government, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the Canton of Geneva, the City of Geneva and the Government of Japan. It was organized by the International Symposium Association and the International Conference Volunteers, under the patronage of, the Swiss National Committee for IYV 2001, Moritz Leuenberger, President of the Swiss Confederation and the UNV.

To read more about the International Symposium on Volunteering please visit:

Below are some highlights from each day.

Sunday 18 November

Objective of the day: To prepare contributions of specific groups for the Symposium.

The pre-Symposium workshop sessions focused on young persons, older persons and webmasters. These sessions were intended to create dialogue among the groups, to build networks and to prepare for related issues for the following days. 

More than 60 people representing organizations and IYV Committees participated at the Youth Forum. Inputs by the young volunteers focused on the four main IYV objectives. Delegates discussed how young volunteers have contributed and accomplished to each of the objectives and how IYV helped and/or hindered the activities. For more information about the youth report please email: or .

The Older Persons Forum had a panelist of presenters discussing issues examining the role of older volunteers. Panelists raised the challenges that older volunteers face and recognized older volunteers as benefiting from enhanced self-respect and a sense of purpose. International events discussed for the ageing include the World Assembly on Ageing (Vienna 1982); the UN International Year for Older Persons (1999) and the plans for upcoming events in 2002 such as the Second World Assembly on Ageing (Madrid) and the First European Conference on Ageing (Berlin). For more information about older persons and volunteering please email: .

The Webmasters Workshop discussed the online IYV achievements and examined ideas towards a possible plan of action beyond 2001. Webmasters from the National IYV Committees and other interested volunteer web coordinators came together to combine information found on the different 51 IYV sites, forming a larger network. For information about the webmaster meetings please contact: .

Monday 19 November

Objective of the day: To present IYV 2001 and highlight its results.

"We need quality volunteering," said H.R.H. Crown Prince Felipe of Spain in his opening remarks at the Symposium, when discussing the goodwill of volunteers. "Adequate training of new volunteers is of utmost importance," he said. "We also need to promote proper coordination with the international organizations, the national public administrations, the education system and the entire society." 

In the session for promotion of volunteer action, panelists suggested that the best way to collaborate with governments is to find common interests and a common agenda. 

Tuesday 20 November

Objective of the day: To share good practices from IYV 2001.

Tuesday was full of stimulating topics of discussion ranging from the role of volunteers in emergency situations, health and the environment to volunteering and the media, new technologies, government support and education. In total, there were 27 workshops and discussion sessions. 

In his opening remarks Alfredo Sfeir-Younis, the Special Representative to the UN and the WTO for the World Bank, noted that 'Volunteer Capital' is perhaps more important than other forms of capital participating in the development process. "Human Volunteerism as a new way of pushing economic development," he said. Volunteer capital is defined as the social contribution made to societies by volunteers. 

Presenters at the session for fundraising said that money is generally available. They laid out ground rules for effective fundraising. One example is to find a contact person through the company's website if they do not have a public relations department. Another example is to know and meet the expectations of the donors.

During the session on the 'Role of Women Volunteers', participants discussed how the women's equal rights movement began originally by volunteers taking up this cause. Dr. Nafis Sadik commented that historically other movements such as the voting rights of women that were once socially contested are now acceptable because of the volunteer advocates. 

In the session on Volunteer Networks, Arnaud Walbeq, representative of the "IYV Joint Action Campaign" said that there is no single solution for issuing visas for international volunteers. The issuance of visas is a common problem faced by a lot of volunteer sending agencies. "Each country has its own legislation and unfortunately many countries find that volunteering is not a valid reason to grant a visa," he said. The only country to issue volunteer visas is the Czech Republic.

Wednesday 21 November

Objective of the day: To establish recommendations on how to move forward after IYV 2001.

During the final day of the Symposium, members from the National IYV Committees drafted a statement that was presented by the UNV Executive Coordinator to the 56th session of the United Nations General Assembly. The following is the text: 

Statement from the International Symposium on Volunteering held on 18 to 21 November to the 56th Session of the United Nations General Assembly

"We, members of National Committees for the International Year of Volunteers, representing ninety eight countries from every region of the world, constituted jointly by governments and civil society, have met for three days to share experiences and lessons learned through IYV 2001 and to prepare for the future.

We conclude that voluntary action, which is deeply embedded in every society, has never been more central to our communities and nations than at the present time. We note that there are serious limits to the extent to which institutions and organizations are able to reach the poor and the marginalized. It is vital, therefore, that full recognition be given to the enormous impact which millions of people make, through volunteering, to building social cohesion and promoting economic development.

The designation by the General Assembly of 2001 as the International Year of Volunteers has provided tremendous impetus to what is fast becoming a worldwide movement. IYV is already a milestone in the history of volunteering it must also be a stepping-stone to the future. It has provided space for government and civil society to work together and to map out ways in which volunteering can be supported in coming years. The decision of the General Assembly to dedicate a full day to discussion on how government and the United Nations can best promote volunteering is enormously significant.

We embrace the values and principles of the United Nations Millennium Declaration, particularly as regards our common duty to the most vulnerable of the world's people. Volunteers will be vital in meeting your goals and the volunteer movement is your ally and partner in the quest to meet the challenges of our times. We look to the General Assembly and Member States for further leadership in this regard."

The final report of the Symposium will be available in print as well as on CD-ROM by the end of January 2002. In the meantime, the online news site of the Symposium documents each of the days. To view please visit: .


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