Volunteering and Social Development : A Background Paper
for Discussion at an Expert Group Meeting New York
by Justin Davis - October
Section 2: A Typology of Volunteering
14. Having developed a framework which allows us
to make sense of the vast array of different types of activities which
cluster under the banner of volunteering, it is necessary to give some
concrete examples of how such activity manifests itself in practice.
It is possible to identify at least four different types of volunteer
activity, delineated according to a final outcome or final purpose criterion
- mutual aid or self-help; philanthropy or service to others; participation;
and advocacy or campaigning. Each of these types occurs in all parts
of the world. However, the form each type takes and the balance or mix
between different types differs markedly from country to country. Factors
influencing the nature of volunteering will include the economic, social
and political make up of the country and its stage of development. As
a broad rule of thumb the less economically developed the country the
less formal its volunteering structures are likely to be, and the greater
the emphasis on informal support systems and networks of mutual aid
and self-help. In contrast industrialized countries typically will exhibit
more formal volunteering structures with a greater emphasis on philanthropic
forms of activity. This is not to imply that the developed world is
richer in volunteering than the developing world. Rather that the form
volunteering takes is conditioned by the society in which it is based.
Of course there are parts of the world where volunteering is stronger
than others - in certain countries the political system works against
the free association and participation of its citizens. But even in
countries most hostile to its development volunteering can be found.
The four categories of volunteering are not mutually exclusive. There
is clear overlap between them. So, for example, volunteers involved
with a philanthropic or service delivery agency may also very well be
involved in advocacy and campaigning. Likewise, mutual aid may benefit
others apart from members.
15. Religion would appear to have a particular influence on
volunteering. In a study encompassing Brazil, Ghana, Egypt, India and
Thailand, chosen to represent the great religions of Christianity, African
religions, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, Salamon and Anheier (1999)
have argued that the size and shape of the voluntary and community sector
and the practice of volunteering in each country has been greatly influenced
by the dominant religion. Whilst all the religions have charity as a
main tenet of their faith differing attitudes towards the state, individualism
and institutions has led to very different patterns of voluntary action.
Those countries with a Judeo-Christian tradition would appear to be
most associated with the development of voluntary associations and formal
philanthropic voluntary activity, whilst those with a Buddhist and Islamic
tradition are more associated with informal forms of voluntary action.
Mutual Aid or Self-Help
16. The first type of volunteering in this four-fold typology
is mutual aid or self-help. Anthropologists have noted the existence
of mutual associations (or sodalities from the Latin word sodalis meaning
close friend) as far back as the neolithic period and the role of mutual
aid associations in primitive cultures has been well documented. In
many parts of the world today mutual aid provides the main system of
social and economic support for a majority of the population. From the
small informal kinship and clan groupings to the more formal rotating
credit associations and welfare groups, volunteering as an expression
of self-help or mutual aid plays a primary role in the welfare of communities.
In Kenya, for example, the tradition of Harambee plays a vital role
in the provision of health, water and educational facilities. In Senegal
mutual aid is organized around Mbootaay groups (meaning to nurture),
while in Java such activity goes under the name of Arisan. In Mexico
there is a thriving mutual aid tradition of Confianza and in the Gulf
States the practice of Murfazaa is long-established. Self-help also
plays an important role in countries of the industrialized North, particularly
in the health and social welfare field, where numerous organizations
have been established to provide support and assistance to those in
need, often organized around a particular disease or illness.
In West and Central Africa there is a tradition of Tontine.
This is a self-help group of citizens established to provide a rotating
credit system for members. Each member makes a regular financial contribution
and each has a turn in drawing from the funds. Women take a leading
role as members and fund-managers.
In Slovakia the Multiple Sclerosis Slovak Union is a voluntary self-help
organization which developed out of a grassroots initiative in 1990.
It brings together citizens affected with multiple sclerosis and their
families, as well as other people willing to provide assistance. In
addition to providing a range of practical support to members, the
Union campaigns and advocates on behalf of people with multiple sclerosis.
It receives some state funding and is one of the most active and visible
expressions of self-help in Slovakia.
Philanthropy or Service to Others
17. The second type of volunteering is philanthropy or service
to others. Perhaps more a feature of developed societies (especially
in its organized form), philanthropic volunteering can nevertheless
be found in all regions of the world. It is distinguished from self-help
activity in that the primary recipient of the volunteering is not the
member of the group him or herself, but an external third party, although
most people would acknowledge that there is an element of self-interest
in such philanthropic activity. Much of this type of volunteering takes
place within voluntary or community organizations, although in certain
countries there is a strong tradition of volunteering within the public
sector and a growing interest in volunteering in the corporate sector.
In some countries sophisticated networks have been established to recruit
and place volunteers with the most appropriate organization. These include
both national and local volunteer centers, which have been established
with support from government. There is also a long-standing tradition
of volunteers being sent from one country to another to offer developmental
and humanitarian assistance, both North to South and South to South
and, to a far lesser extent, South to North.
Over the past five years more than 3,500 United Nations Volunteers
have been involved in critical regions of the world in democratization,
peace-building, human rights, rehabilitation and humanitarian relief.
For example, in Guatemala, 114 UN Volunteers, originating from more
than 25 countries and including volunteers of indigenous origin, have
been helping verify respect for the Peace Accords signed in December
1996; while in Peru, 11 National UN Volunteers have been assisting the
process of decentralization of the Ombud's office to five regional areas
so that these vital services can be within the reach of more people
throughout the country.
18. The third type of volunteering can perhaps best
be described as participation. It refers to the role played by individuals
in the governance process, from representation on government consultation
bodies to user-involvement in local development projects. As a form
of volunteering it is found in all countries, although it is most developed
in advanced democracies and those countries with a strong tradition
of civic society. Participation was recognized as an essential component
of good governance at the Copenhagen Summit and has become the watchword
of development in recent years, although there is a forceful critique
which argues that much of what has passed for participation has been
little more than token involvement and a means of legitimizing outsiders
Advocacy or Campaigning
19. The fourth type of volunteering is advocacy or campaigning,
be it lobbying government for a change in legislation affecting the
rights of disabled people or pushing for a worldwide ban on landmines.
Volunteers have paved the way for the introduction of new welfare services
in the field of HIV and AIDS, have raised public consciousness about
abuses of human rights and environmental destruction, and have been
active in the women's movement and in democracy campaigns in many parts
of the world. Some campaigns are very localized others are global in
their reach. The anti-landmine campaign, for example, is estimated to
have involved more than 300 million volunteers from over 100 countries.
By its very nature such campaigning activity has the capacity to bring
volunteers into conflict with the state. Some governments have sought
to clamp down on these activities. Others have accepted that volunteering
has a legitimate role to play in campaigning for change and acting as
a check on the executive.
In the 1990s in Brazil the Citizens' Action Against Hunger
and For Life campaign was launched by leaders of various civic groups.
There was a massive public response and within three months over 3,000
volunteer committees had been set up across the country to look for
ways of combating hunger and poverty. It is estimated that an astonishing
38% of the Brazilian population participated directly in the campaign,
either through making a donation or by volunteering.
In Maharashtra in India in 1998 a group of concerned citizens came
together to form an action campaign to save children's lives in Melghat.
The group called itself Melghat Mitra (Friends of Melghat) determined
to prevent the death of children in seven villages caused by malnourishment
during the monsoon period. A number of daily newspapers published
the appeal, resulting in a response from over 3,000 people, who made
donations of money and time. Two hundred volunteers agreed to give
10 days of their time to the project over a period of 92 days. Having
achieved these goals Melghat Mitra are now tackling the long-term
development needs of the villages.