Make change happen: Op-ed for International Day of Volunteers - 5 December

03 Dec 2014

5 December is the International Volunteer Day (IVD). Join me in recognizing the commitment of volunteers in Mongolia and applaud their contribution to the development of Mongolia.

To volunteer is to care about the betterment of society and taking personal action to change things. In Mongolia as elsewhere, volunteerism is an invaluable development asset. Above all, volunteers are ready, able and willing to respond to needs as they occur, which we can see across the world especially in times of crisis or disaster. By volunteering, people enhance their skills and experiences. Also, anyone can volunteer irrespective of background, race, gender or age.

Promoting volunteerism in Mongolia is important and strongly linked to Mongolia’s development agenda. It can enable active civil society participation and more participatory development. Creating an enabling environment for volunteering activities could be a strategic investment to strengthen human and social capital – and it will pay off.

The “Citizens’ Hall Open Discussion on Volunteerism” that took place at the Government House on 24 October 2012 came up with some key recommendations. It is time today to take action. Recommendations included to issue a Presidential decree on promoting volunteerism in Mongolia, incorporating the issue of promoting volunteering into key laws, request the Government to lead the development of a national volunteering development strategy with sustainable public financing, and institutionalizing a volunteerism coordination mechanism at the national and local levels. There is also a need to increase public awareness of volunteering and support with systematized capacity building and trainings for volunteers and the volunteering sector. Recommendations also included to create a national volunteering web portal matching volunteers with volunteer organizations and opportunities. Today, as next step, a dialogue among the main stakeholders – government, civil society including volunteering organizations, private sector and development partners – to agree on the way forward is needed.  

Mongolia’s cultural traditions stem from its roots in a nomadic lifestyle and local volunteering has been widely practiced for millennia. But societal changes over the past decades have disrupted many traditional practices. The traditional meaning of volunteering in Mongolian “Sain durynhan, sain duryn uil ajillagaa” expresses the idea of “people working based on one’s own will, activities carried out by these people”. However, during socialist times, volunteerism, which had always been freely given, suddenly became mandatory impacting the perception and appreciation of volunteerism. There is limited existing research on this topic in Mongolia today. However, according to CIVICUS Civil Society Index Report, around 55% of the Mongolia population volunteer their time informally outside their immediate family for friends and local community, for example, assisting elderly neighbors. Also, the number of formally registered NGOs has grown rapidly to reach over 6,000 today. So Mongolians clearly volunteer and there is an upswing in volunteerism again.

Two examples: the Mongolian Women’s fund regularly recruits volunteers who have previously been recipients of support to overcome domestic violence, the National Center for Vocational Training and Rehabilitation for the Disabled People have successfully placed volunteers who themselves have disabilities. There are many more such examples demonstrating that volunteerism is a powerful enabler for development and inclusion.

In Mongolia, this IVD will focus on youth and volunteerism. By engaging youth in volunteer activities, the energy of youth can be channeled for social good and be a positive transformative power. It can also change people’s mindset, attitudes and behaviors, including those of the youth themselves, to become a positive force for change. By volunteering, youth can also learn new skills, gain knowledge, and experiences that will be positive for them throughout their lives.

Today is about celebrating the solidarity, commitment and engagement of volunteers around the world. Please join me in thanking all volunteers in Mongolia. Volunteering starts with one person wanting to make change happen, be that person. 

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