A form of socio-economic development, volunteerism exists in all societies. Volunteers worldwide provide services that would have cost society trillions of rand. Research shows that their contribution to world economy is now equivalent to between eight and 14 percent of the global GNP.
"These are services that the 'egotistic market' has decided to forget and disregard in the name of profit-making and other material gains.
Volunteers correct the negative external effects of markets," says Sfeir-Younis. But while it is cost-effective, volunteerism is not free. And that is why one of the goals of UN Volunteers in IYV 2001 was to encourage decision-makers in both the public and private sectors to remove obstacles and create incentives for voluntary effort.
C Kaiso, vice-chairman of the IYV 2001 National Committee in Uganda, says it is vital to lobby governments to put in place favourable laws, policies and regulations for volunteer work, and to budget more for volunteer activities.
Sfeir-Younis tells it thus: "There is a huge questioning and increased mistrust with regard to the role and performance of international organisations, governments, private sector and some of the other forms of social organisations.
"This questioning comes from realities we all face today -- poverty, environmental degradation, and the marginalisation of women and elderly persons." Kaiso outlines Uganda's programme, Rekindling the Spirit of Volunteerism, as the key to sustainable development.
Volunteering "helps to build strong, cohesive communities by fostering trust between citizens, and develops norms of solidarity and reciprocity that are essential to stable communities".
Allen sees it this way: "A state can't be fully developed without the help of volunteers, and the role of government and multinational institutions, of business and the media, is to help create a public environment that values volunteering.
"Their success will be measured by how they enable us, the volunteer movement, in an effective partnership -- not by how they shape or manage us."
In practicalterms, a potential volunteer needs to ask: "What services are expected of me?"
S Capeling-Alakija, executive co-ordinator of UN Volunteers, lists the different forms volunteering takes:
C Makunya, delegate from the Kenyan IYV Focal Point, reminds us that volunteers themselves can incur costs in offering their services: directly (for transport, child minding, etc) and indirectly as opportunity costs -- those earnings a volunteer may have to forgo.
A volunteer can expect to be trained, either by the organisation or through a programme run by a third party.
C Doukas, Greek secretary-general of Adult Education, sees volunteerism as an "educativelearning function that develops social, communicative and professional skills. It also makes people's lives more exciting". Volunteers should tell the organisation the extent of their commitment, and then participate wholeheartedly within this, acting consistently and reasonably.
They need to be persistent and positive in tough times. They should be prepared to move from trivial involvement to more profound involvement -- but only at their own volition.
Strong leadership needed
A potential volunteer also needs to ask: "What should I expect from the organisation that uses my services?" K Campbell, executive director for the Association for Volunteer Administration, says skilled coordination of volunteers is basic to effectiveness.
An organisation's policies and strategies as regards volunteers should:
Campbell emphasises: "The voluntary sector can only be as strong as its leaders, and volunteering requires skilled guidance and co-ordination.
"While voluntary action is what builds community, competent leadership is what keeps volunteers effectively involved.
"It is critical that we attend to the development of a global profession that is understood, valued and effective in sustaining the ideals of volunteering and civil society." According to Campbell, to utilise fully volunteer capital, leaders of voluntary organisations should: