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What does the word “volunteer” mean?

According to Merriam-Webster, the word “volunteer” has quite a few entries, including “to offer oneself as a volunteer” or “being, consisting of, or engaged in by volunteers.” The definition that sheds the most light on the altruistic nature of this act is for its noun form: “a person who voluntarily undertakes or expresses a willingness to undertake a service (…).” 

At the United Nations (UN), volunteering refers to a form of social aid that involves offering human and material resources for a specific purpose. Unlike other forms of contribution, such as financial donations, volunteering consists of altruistically carrying out work needed for a specific cause.

What is the United Nations Volunteers Programme (UNV)?

One of the most important volunteer groups is that of the United Nations; like other organizations, it offers its services, physical capacities, and knowledge for everyone and everywhere in need worldwide.

The United Nations Volunteers Programme (UNV) was created to carry out development cooperation tasks, primarily of a technical, economic, or social nature at the request of member states. Initiated in 1970 by the General Assembly of the United Nations, the program has unique characteristics since it acts within the United Nations’ system. UNV is run by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which is also its main financial contributor.

To encourage peace and development, the UNV Programme advocates for recognizing the contributions made by volunteers; it also works with its partners to integrate volunteering into development programs and mobilizes a growing number and range of volunteers, including experienced UN Volunteers, all over the world. It understands volunteering to be universal and inclusive, and it recognizes volunteering in all its diversity and the values driving it: free will, commitment, engagement, and solidarity.

What is corporate volunteering?

Companies’ or organizations’ social participation is becoming increasingly significant in recent times. This form of volunteering is provided by companies that form working groups for a specific cause. This is also a way to develop corporate social responsibility, so it also offers benefits for the business itself.

Ferrovial is a clear example of this form of social participation through its social programs; the company understands investment in the community to be a strategic instrument for developing society and the environment where it operates.

Currently, 67% of Spanish companies have corporate volunteer programs, a figure below the European average of 79%. Meanwhile, 87% of Latin American companies and 85% of US companies do corporate volunteering.

How many types of volunteers are there?

Today, there’s a wide range of ways to volunteer; it all depends on the global objective being addressed. Depending on how the activity is carried out, we can distinguish between two forms of volunteering:

Volunteering in the field (traditional)

Volunteers on-site are physically in the place that is receiving help to work on different activities. For example, there’s working on organizing electoral processes; focusing on gender, governance, or human rights; helping in humanitarian emergencies, with refugee populations, on programs for improving the environment or reducing poverty, and more.

Individuals can volunteer in their own country (national volunteers); this is often called local volunteering. In cities or small towns, some organizations are dedicated precisely to offering help to disadvantaged social groups. These have human resources that voluntarily carry out administrative steps, distribute food, or accompany the elderly or those who are dependent.

On the other hand, there is so-called international volunteering; this form is committed to field work in places that are in need or are experiencing emergencies, and it is run through specific programs. Especially in these cases, volunteers must meet specific requirements that ensure that they are actually useful. It is generally necessary to speak the local language or a specific language to communicate with the team, have the right documentation or visas, etc.

Online volunteering

Online volunteers offer their skills through the Internet to help the organizations they work with achieve their goals. This modality is becoming more and more common thanks to technological advances that are gradually democratizing electronic devices and Internet connection around the world.

Online volunteering makes it possible to optimize budgets, reducing travel and lodging costs for volunteers. Similarly, thanks to this online modality, a volunteer with specific skills can be helping in different areas at the same time.

Online volunteering is currently on the rise due to the global health crisis.

What are the most common types of volunteering?

Community volunteering: this form seeks to bring different civic movements together to protect a place’s culture, improve education, create enriching leisure activities, and spread the customs of a specific area so that the rest of the world can learn about them.

Volunteering to reduce social exclusion: it defends and promotes the rights of groups that are marginalized or discriminated against in some way. Currently, under the Sustainable Development Goals, the groups receiving the most support are women; immigrants; people belonging to minority groups, ethnicities, or religions; and individuals with disabilities.

Volunteering in development cooperation: this is one of the most important types of volunteering because it seeks to promote individuals’ capacities; this allows them to enter the job market, take care of the environment, and even train others to help each region of the world economy achieve sustainability.

Environmental volunteering: this type is focused on prevention, restoring the environment, denouncing harmful actions against it, and promoting using resources and waste intelligently.

Volunteering in civil protection: in parts of the world where serious emergencies may occur due to natural events like earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, or droughts, this class of volunteers will be there, rebuilding the affected areas or providing different kinds of care (medical, psychological, social, etc.) to those affected.

One-off volunteering: some organizations carry out occasional activities for a specific cause, where volunteers can participate in organizing the event and in the event itself.

Where to find volunteer opportunities?

If you want to volunteer, one good option is to get information from local organizations, look on specialized websites, or do some research on social policies at large companies. The main thing about volunteering is for each volunteer to find a cause that resonates with them and which they feel comfortable with and able to contribute to.

Fun facts about volunteering

●       December 5 is International Volunteer Day.

●       There are more than 1 million volunteers each year around the world, according to a study by Tourism and Research Marketing.

●       The greatest motivation behind volunteering is cultural immersion.

●       45% of volunteers are associated with religious organizations.

●       The United States is the country with the most volunteers around the world. These are usually people who have completed college education; in most cases, they are women.

●       The area that receives the most volunteers is India, according to a recent report by GoOverseas.org. Africa comes in second.

●       84% of international volunteers are interested in addressing poverty.

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