Our Perspectives


The ripple effect of volunteering for planet and people

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youth planting treesStudents were mobilized to plant trees as part of education on sustainable agricultural practices from the Asia Youth Volunteer Exchange Programme in partnership with UNDP and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. Photo: UNV Zambia

In this blog series, UNDP experts and practitioners share their perspective on issues of climate change, in the lead up to COP21 in December.

What role can volunteerism play in the future of planet and people?

Now that the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been adopted, we at United Nations Volunteers (UNV) are trying to gauge how our work can contribute to advancing those goals. As the world turns its attention to climate change, how can we be a part of the solution?

UN Volunteers will be part of implementing practical and concrete tools to combat climate change. They will be the ones observing the tactics that work well on the ground and deciding whether these can be passed on across cultures. They will identify the players who would be most apt to contribute and the multiple angles that can be addressed. Furthermore, they will steer into action the strategies developed at national, corporate, and research levels.

Volunteerism brings concepts of sustainable development closer to people and their communities. In order to have a more sustainable future, people need to be involved in the changes that will make a difference in their lives. Volunteerism can help inspire this involvement.  When people volunteer their time and energy, they often bring an enthusiasm and passion. Their inspiration can have a ripple effect, becoming the impetus for driving change. People see the impact that volunteers make, and want to be a part of the change. Just as a simple action has the ability to alter society, so can a single volunteer action start movements and improve communities.

Volunteers can be the educators who bridge the gap between policies and communities.

In 2014, UNV organized a training programme for 1,024 Zambian communal farmers and 100 youth on sustainable agricultural practices, integrated environment and natural resource management practices. Zambia’s Southern Province has suffered floods, droughts, land degradation and soil erosion over the past 10 years, threatening food sources and revenues. UN Volunteers from Asia and Africa shared skills and knowledge in agriculture and small- to medium-scale enterprises, training Zambian farmers in adaptation techniques.

Climate action also requires long term thinking and investment.

The village of Tayap in central Cameroon struggled with deforestation from commercial logging and slash-and-burn agriculture. The 254 villagers realized that they needed to act in order to prevent and reverse the loss of habitat, biodiversity and agricultural land. In 2014, 45 UN Online Volunteers from Africa, America, Asia and Europe contributed a total of 45 months of work towards agricultural projects. Volunteers designed architectural plans for two eco-lodges and developed lessons to educate 60 primary school children on sustainable development. They also expanded 4 new projects in water harvesting, solar energy, businesses strengthening, and information and communications technology for development. Planning for the future, they also established a nursery of 11,877 seedlings (including local species of fruit trees, wild mangoes and cocoa) on a two-hectare plot and secured 60 hectares for sustainable crop rotation.

Our role as UNV in this exciting new development era is manifold – we need to create practical ways people can participate locally for climate action, and we need to provide the platform where people are able to join easily, work together and have a voice in their future.

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