UEA volunteer research reveals how to build inclusive societies

Published by  News Archive

On 2nd Dec 2021

Young women volunteering at a food donation centre

Strong partnerships between volunteers and their governments are key to how we build equal and inclusive societies – according to a new UN report involving UEA researchers.

The fourth State of the World’s Volunteerism Report (SWVR) ‘Building Equal and Inclusive Societies’ was led by UEA researchers in collaboration with colleagues around the world.

The flagship report of the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme, published today, presents new evidence on volunteer–state partnerships.

It reveals that cooperation between volunteers and governments helps build collaborative decision-making.

And it encourages policy makers to ‘build forward better’ together with volunteers.


Prof Anna Robinson-Pant, UNESCO Chair for Adult Literacy and Learning for Social Transformation, led the research team at UEA. She said: “This was an exciting opportunity for us to conduct original research on volunteering in grassroots organisations with our UNESCO Chair partners in Malawi and Nepal.

“The UNV report breaks new ground in exploring not only how volunteers can help fill gaps in stretched services, but also how they play an important role in advocating for new ways of tackling global and local inequalities – including issues around climate change and poverty.”

Dr Chris Millora, from UEA’s School of Education and Lifelong Learning, led the report writing process. He said: “Solving complex and urgent social issues require collaboration. The examples in this report demonstrate how volunteers have been key partners that actively shape public policies and programmes that concern them.

“Many volunteers in our communities are committed towards social justice and peace – values that are ever more important as we reimagine a post-pandemic future. Volunteers have an important role to play towards better, more inclusive governance."

Dr Catherine Jere, from UEA’s School of International Development and a member of the research team, said: “Volunteers are fundamental to the fabric of societies around the world.

“An important part of our research process, and a real strength of this UNV Report, has been the development of case studies of innovative, real-life volunteering. We are excited to see how lessons learned from this research will feed into policy and action going forward.”

Dr Jurgen Grotz, Director of UEA’s Institute for Volunteering Research, said: “Volunteers can be found in every part of society, strengthening communities and civic life. Volunteers not only support, but are also active in democratic decision making, and participating in government decision-making.

“Despite the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic, global interest in volunteering has not waned, and volunteering in communities has endured despite limited mobility and resources.

“While restrictions have prevented many people from volunteering in person, many have switched to volunteering online.

“The new report explores the ways in which volunteering influences how people and states work together to respond to the new challenges of the 21st century, thereby building equal and inclusive societies.

“It shows that strong partnerships between volunteers and their governments are key to how we build equal and inclusive societies, together.

“The findings of this report are the direct result of working with colleagues from around the world with a focus on capturing views from the Global South.

“It marks a step change in understanding the role of volunteering in the relationship between citizens and governments. And it comes at a crucial moment as countries start to build forward from the pandemic and institutions need to engage volunteers as key partners,” he added.

The report draws on case study research in Africa, Arab States, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

It finds that the monthly number of volunteers aged 15 years and older amounts to over 850 million worldwide.

And the average monthly volunteer rate – defined as the share of working-age persons (15 years or older) that volunteer in a month – amounts to almost 15 per cent.

The research team identified three models to highlight volunteer-state relationships – the deliberative governance, the co-production of services and the social innovation – and offers policy recommendations. Decision makers are encouraged to:

  • Promote volunteering beyond service delivery to include social innovation and inclusiveness.
  • Strengthen public social recognition of volunteers especially as they are not financially rewarded.
  • Create space where both volunteers and state authorities can share their experiences and establish common ground.
  • Invest in measurement and data on volunteers and support research on volunteering.

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