2016 News

D.C. forum highlights international volunteer service

The United States should create opportunities for young people to “develop the habit of service,” retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal said at a national forum in June at the Brookings Institution. “[N]othing is quite so powerful as taking a chunk of your life and dedicating it full time to service to others.” 

McChrystal was the keynote speaker at “International Volunteering and the 2030 Development Agenda: Forging Global Development Outcomes, Research, and Alliances.” ​Hosted by Brookings and the Building Bridges Coalition, the June 14 event in Washington, D.C., was the 10th anniversary forum on the role of volunteers in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 and on the coalition’s impact research. Washington University in St. Louis co-sponsored the forum.

McChrystal is board chair of the Service Year Alliance, a bipartisan organization committed to making a year of full-time service an expectation—and opportunity—for young Americans of all backgrounds. Ahmad Alhendawi, the U.N. secretary-general’s envoy on youth, and Richard Dictus, executive coordinator of U.N. Volunteers (UNV), also spoke at the forum.

“If we are going to be the generation that basically ends poverty,” Dictus said, “if we are going to be the generation that leaves no one behind, if we are going to unleash the transformative capacity of people to save the planet, we need volunteers, because you can’t do it without volunteers. It’s actually as simple as that.”

The forum was to provide a platform for the launch of U.S.-global alliances with universities, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), faith-based organizations and the private sector, in conjunction with the 10th Anniversary of the Building Brides Coalition. It also aimed to engage national policymakers on the importance of global volunteer service and to develop policy options for the next U.S. administration.

Building Bridges Coalition​ (BBC) is a consortium of volunteer organizations, universities and colleges, corporations, and government agencies working to understand and promote international volunteer service. The Center for Social Development (CSD) is a patron member of BBC.

Benjamin Lough, associate professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, CSD faculty director of International Service and BBC board member, organized and led the session “Research and University Engagement for Volunteering in Sustainable Development.” Presenters included Alan Solomont, dean of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts’ University and former U.S. ambassador to Spain, Amanda Khozi Mukwashi, chief of the Volunteer Knowledge and Innovation Section at UNV, Dr. Vanessa Kerry, co-founder and CEO of Seed Global Health, and Dr. Ed O’Neil, founder and president of Omnimed. The session’s workshop concluded with these policy and practice recommendations:

  • Build and strengthen research partnerships between universities, governments, volunteer partner organizations in the Global South (Africa, Latin America, and developing Asia), transnational NGOs, and private-sector organizations;
  • Ensure that research priorities are community driven, reciprocal and relevant to the needs of volunteer cooperation organizations and partner organizations in the Global South;
  • Measure the value of volunteering beyond its economic value as “cheap labor,” including contributions to solidarity, global citizenship and public diplomacy;
  • Provide resources to enable environments for volunteering, including strengthening structures for scaling up collaborative research, opportunities for collective impact, and platforms translating the implications of research findings to​ decision-makers.

Discussions about engaging universities beyond research focused on ways to create a culture of service on campuses. Ideas included incentives for students and faculty to integrate service into co-curricular programming and increasing access for minority and first-generation college students to long-term service experiences.

The forum concluded with a formal declaration for volunteer organizations, universities and other organizations. Along with other goals, the declaration recommends that stakeholders work to study, identify and foster best practices and learning across international service programs, measure community impact, and ensure the highest quality of volunteer safety and well-being. Drawing on the research expertise of its associated faculty, CSD will continue collaborating with BBC to help achieve these goals. It will continue working with stakeholders to support efforts to increase federal, private sector and university support for academic research on effective practices and outcomes of international volunteer service.

In one such effort, Lough is leading a project to study effective practices of international volunteering. With a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, he is researching how diverse practices of international volunteer organizations from 20 countries affect sustainable development outcomes.