The Government of Nepal should endorse the National Volunteering Policy asap

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With the successful conclusion of the SAARC summit, Nepal showed the region and the world that it can stage am international level event with an high level of competence, professionalism  and, very importantly, with strong confidence. 

Can Nepal also show the way to promote, foster volunteerism in the region?  In order to do that can Nepal come up with a solid national framework to promote and highlight its contributions to the nation?

As today we celebrate International Volunteer Day we have a chance to first introspect and think loudly about the current status of volunteerism in Nepal and a possible way to project a common regional vision for the entire South Asia.

First of all, when we talk about volunteerism, the country is in a unique position as its communities are so rich in local practices all nourishing and fostering a common sense of belongingness and self help.

From rural to urban areas, the people of Nepal are actively involved and engaged. They might not call it volunteerism but nevertheless they are proving how much the citizenry can do to take care of their communities.

I am not here referring only to the Save the Bagmati Campaign but also to the myriad of initiatives, small and big, visible but more often invisible and unnoticed that, everyday, Nepali citizens carry out thanks to their innate generosity.

Is this enough? Certainly not especially if we think about the massive divide among the population in terms of access to opportunities together with the increased level of urbanization that the country has experienced in the last decades. While we should not believe that volunteerism offers short cuts or quick fixes to mounting problems, it can definitely do its own bit to improve certain situations. Most importantly volunteerism can work as a catalyst for systematic change: by volunteering, you can also raise an issue while at the same time advocating for it.

Therefore we have a unique opportunity to step up our efforts to make  volunteering stronger and more relevant. Since few years the National Development Volunteering Service, NDVS, the volunteering program managed by the National Planning Commission, has been working on a draft national volunteering policy that still has to be endorsed by the Cabinet.

Though not perfect, the Policy constitutes a milestone for the volunteering sector that already boasts thousands of individuals involved not as development professionals but as volunteering agents of change in thousands of local organizations. Their roles and contributions are too often neglected because they are not counted within the traditional development sector. This perception and attitude must change.

Moreover when we talk about the volunteering sector in Nepal, at the same time we should not forget about the informal side with millions of citizens, especially in rural areas, involved in community self help practices.

It is very important indeed that the new policy would envision a broad rather than narrow description of volunteerism in a way that, while maintaining certain key elements related to its nature, e.g. non financial dimensions and all the aspects related to cause and motivation of volunteering, all the diverse forms of doing volunteerism can be not only protected and safeguarded but also strengthened.

Formal, informal, part time or full time are all different ways to live up to the strongest volunteering tradition that Nepal is boosting. Pragmatism should also prevail as recently shown in  research conducted by Next Generation Nepal, about the importance and positive contribution of international volunteering to Nepal. The latter phenomenon if positively monitored, controlled and assessed can certainly contribute to the further development of the country as abuses, fraud and malpractice related to international volunteers can be certainly reduced and ultimately eliminated.

Furthermore the incoming policy should propose a stronger volunteering infrastructure, referring here to the norms, legislations and institutions underpinning the sector. While a national policy is certainly a first step, much more could be envisioned to make volunteering easy and accessible for all. What we need is a central, I would say “federal” level public institution mandated with the overall promotion and development of the sector in Nepal. I would personally love to call it Volunteering Nepal as an apex body in charge of the sector, acting as champion, defender but also guarantor of volunteerism in Nepal.

While taking into full account the precious but intangible contributions of volunteerism to national development in terms of, e.g. social capital and its national “happiness”, Volunteering Nepal should also look at setting a strong monitoring matrix to determine its impact.

 Think about setting up local volunteering centers as “one stop shops” where the entire population can approach to ask for help but also to ask to serve and help. Accessibility is really paramount. Everybody should be put in a condition to serve and volunteer. At ENGAGE, the organization my wife and I co-founded, we strongly believe that everybody can serve, including persons living with disabilities. Indeed volunteerism can be a powerful platform for persons living with disabilities to show their skills and abilities like anyone else.

In the future even  national legislation might be needed but at the moment ensuring the approval of a national volunteering policy would represent a first milestone to ensure Nepal is regarded overseas as a natural volunteering champion. More developed nations and local development partners could also promote knowledge dissemination in Nepal about volunteerism not to “copy and paste” from their national experiences but to offer different insights and points of view.

Nations like Australia,  Japan, USA and UK, all boasting relevant volunteering sectors at home and traditional friends of Nepal, are well positioned to take the lead in this effort.

Last but not the least the regional dimension. After hosting a successful summit at home, Nepal has a unique opportunity to advance a regional volunteering agenda in South Asia. In the EU there is the European Volunteer Service where young people enrolled in the program volunteer in another member nation. Something similar could be devised for the SAARC region. If implemented the program could be a powerful tool to advance the promotion of regional social union, a dream goal for what we normally referred to as the People’s SAARC.


the article was first published on The Kathmandu Post on 5th December with the title "Not For Profit". 5th of December is celebrated as International Day of Volunteer

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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