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Youth and Volunteerism

Written By Mark Okondo

There are more than 1.2 billion young people (defined by the United Nations as between 15 and 24 years of age) in the world today, the largest group in history.

Young people are key agents for social change, and are providing the energy, creative ideas and determination to drive innovation and reform.

Volunteerism is an important, and increasingly popular, mechanism for young people to bring about positive change in society and a mechanism to engage young people in global peace and sustainable human development.

Youth contribute over $35 billion per year in volunteer hours and are more likely than any

other age group to have volunteered informally in the past years.

  • Volunteering is associated with a 27% higher chance of employment, and the effect is especially strong for those without a high school diploma or who live in rural areas.

  • Young people are supporting UNDP in Ghana, by strengthening internal and external communications via websites, social networks and an intranet.

  • Every year, more than 6,500 online volunteers between the ages of 18 and 30, representing 65% of all online volunteers, are mobilized.

  • Young people look towards volunteerism as a means to complement formal education in teaching the skills that are required for the job market, such as ;

- Leadership, - Teamwork,

- Problem-solving, - Planning,

- Management, - Creativity,

- Communication and negotiation.

This is especially important given the current global economic downturn, where competition for jobs is increasing.

United Nations and Youth Volunteerism.

The UN entities working on youth issues encourage policymakers, communities and youth themselves to empower young people as a valuable but under utilised resource.

The UN efforts focus on encouraging youth participation in programming and policy-making, preparing younger generations to exercise their rights and becoming contributing members of societies.

United Nations General Assembly established and mandated the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme in 1970 to promote volunteerism to support peace and development worldwide. In 1976, the General Assembly widened the mandate to include advancing the role of youth in development.


In 2012, nearly a thousand international and national UN Volunteers were under the age of 29. Of these, around sixty percent were female and eighty percent were from developing countries.

In Cape Verde, UNV is establishing a volunteer service scheme in partnership with the Joint Office and Ministry of Youth. The programme will foster the social integration of youth within communities, enhance youth employability, and contribute to the delivery of basic services and actions in priority development areas in partnership with government agencies and NGOs.

In Cambodia, UNV is supporting the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport to implement the National Youth Policy through coordinating regular meetings and consultations with NGOs.

Youth mobilised through UNV are contributing to a knowledge and experience exchange project between Brazil and El Salvador. Escuelas Vivas (Living Schools) is a South-South initiative which aims to exchange knowledge and experience from Brazil to El Salvador in order to deepen the knowledge of hundreds of students, their families and local communities, about disaster risk reduction and food security.

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