International Volunteer Day

December 5 is International Volunteer Day (IVD). In 2018, the theme for this day is “Volunteers build Resilient Communities,” recognizing volunteers worldwide – with a special focus on local community volunteers – who contribute to making their communities more resilient against natural disasters, economic stresses and political shocks.

Women represent 57% of volunteers globally so this is also a day on which we celebrate women’s contributions to community resilience (SWVR 2018,14). According to the 2018 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report published by the UN, “women are often the architects of community resilience, and empowering women is critical to ensuring that community-led disaster responses are strong and effective” (47).

Women and other marginalized groups are also “disproportionately vulnerable to crises,” (SWVR 2018, 50) and may be particularly relied upon to respond to community crises given their prevalence as informal volunteers. Volunteering can constitute a mutual aid response to the structural violence that makes girls and women more likely to die in disasters than men. Their accurate perception of this heightened risk also makes women more likely to engage in disaster-preparedness work. For instance, women’s grassroots organizations in Nepal have been leading the volunteer effort to improve settlement infrastructure in preparation for environmental disaster in consultation with local government. Their volunteering has brought them local recognition as experts and invitations to serve in committees that allocate resources to mitigate risk.   

On December 5, you’re invited to celebrate International Volunteer Day (IVD) with a forum on volunteerism with experts from the United Nations and the service community in Washington, DC, including Wes Moe of Volunteer Groups Alliance, Dominic Allen of UN Volunteers, Mei Cobb of United Way Worldwide, and Michael Moscarelli of Partners of the Americas. 

The event is a celebration of the impact of service on empowering communities and strengthening their internal cohesion and inclusivity, as well as the DC launch of the State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2018. The host, the Building Bridges Coalition, is a consortium of leading organizations working collaboratively to advance the quality, impact, and scale of international volunteering.

Community-led development is fueled by acts of service – volunteering is a form of civic participation and can be a route to greater coordination with local government. The UN recommends that governments at all levels create spaces that facilitate volunteerism and provide formal recognition of local volunteers. During these 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, we recognize how women are responding to their greater vulnerability within increasingly common and severe natural disasters through service to their communities.