Volunteerism: No Easy Input to Social Cohesion

Jan 31 , 2021
By Halima Abate (MD)

In the realm of social development, the presence of citizen participation is crucial. It fosters cohesive, safer, and increased social network between communities. There are strong precedents for this type of partnership. That is volunteerism, where citizens commit themselves to support their community without an obvious reward and become a member protected by the community.

For many, volunteerism is an opportunity to contemplate social responsibility and efficient partnership to achieve a certain social transformation and sustainable development. Volunteering is an act of an individual or group freely giving time and labour for community service. Intuitively speaking, it benefits both society and the individual by strengthening trust, solidarity and reciprocity among the community members.

Volunteerism is, of course, not just seen as an act of kindness. It is also a way for many young people to explore interests and passions by making time outside of work, which can be a relaxing and energising escape from day-to-day chores or family commitments.

Volunteerism has for long been an element of religious movements, many of those with large followings appearing to be pro-poor and advocating support systems for the economically disadvantaged.

But the concept has also been awakened over the past couple of centuries with the concept of humanism. Countries that aspired to create more egalitarian societies have seen non-profits and civil societies grow in prominence.

It seemed to be with the view articulated by French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville in his seminal, "Democracy in America," when he said that “the health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.”

In more egalitarian societies, the impact of volunteerism created interactions that served as an element of bond and social support among communities. Hence, these building blocks are attributable to creating a healthy civil society at local community levels where citizens interact and create support systems to cushion the political and economic forces that may come from above or at the national level.

Considering the current global situation, bitterness, dysfunction and sometimes outright conflict, volunteerism could play an indelible role. It may not address all of the political problems, but it could help create the environment for dealing with them.

It could have benefits not related to the pursuit of a more stable and cohesive community at the individual level. These encompass building connections, and networks through exposure to individuals outside of one’s immediate circle, skills transfer, and sharing experiences. Valuable assets central in bringing volunteer efforts, including compassion and open-mindedness, which are critical for galvanising authentic dialogue, can also be learned,

In an employment-related context, different sectors of society, including government and volunteering, offer a chance to try out a new career to build upon experiences without a long-term commitment. This is concerned with the methods and tools employers use to support employees that want to volunteer. Unless it is facilitative and coordinative – as it mainly fails to be in many internship programmes - it may serve as a backseat.

An array of policy framework outlining a “Volunteer Policy/Act” is needed to redefine volunteerism through public service as a national agenda that promotes and encourages volunteering for social, economic and political development. A call for action to integrate volunteerism in the education curriculum will institutionalise the concept in the academic institutions, enabling to continuously devise ways to nurture and sustain engagement with community services.

Establishing a national registration and networking system will also come in handy to improve coordination among volunteers and organisations, particularly in sharing and complementing information, experiences and resources.

PUBLISHED ON Jan 31,2021 [ VOL 21 , NO 1083]

Halima Abate (MD) is a public health professional with over a decade of experience. She can be reached at halimabate@gmail.com.

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