Volunteer-sending organizations call for measurement mechanism embedded in SDGs

Cameron Hancock volunteers as a welfare officer with KOTO, a not-for-profit restaurant and vocational training program for disadvantaged youth in Vietnam. Photo by: AusAid / CC BY

The role of data is dominating conference room conversations in global development hubs and influencing the work of teams in the field around the world. The same talk is swirling at volunteer-sending organizations — although by placing a heavier focus on monitoring and evaluation than ever before, these groups are hoping to secure a more solid foothold for the role of volunteering in the sustainable development goals.

“We have to become more fluent in the language of M&E.” said Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet at the “Leveraging Volunteerism for Global Impact” event in Washington, D.C., Wednesday. “A former Peace Corps country director said, ‘give them a story and we’ll win their hearts, give them data and we’ll win their money.’”

Many organizations have become far more sophisticated in their storytelling, skilled in providing illuminating case studies and creating person-to-person connections. But the goal now, Hessler-Radelet said, is to provide both qualitative and quantitative proof of volunteer impact.

Looking ahead to the soon-to-be-finalized sustainable development goals, it’s time to establish a reporting mechanism that tracks just how volunteers are contributing to achieving them — and enforce the message that SDGs will not be achieved without volunteers, Amanda Mukwashi, chief of the volunteer knowledge and innovation section of U.N. Volunteers, told Devex.

Lessons learned from other sectors — like the women’s movement and work on women’s rights — can provide inspiration for establishing volunteerism reporting methods, she said.

While governments report within multilateral bodies, the women’s movement and civil society organizations provide separate measurements — including more and different types of information to complement the mainstream document. There is a similar need, Mukwashi shared, for an indicator to quantify the incidence of volunteerism in the implementation of the sustainable development goals, which would complement the mainstream reporting on civic engagement and participation.

UNV could act as a facilitator of this tool, which would be used primarily by the thousands of current volunteer-involving organizations. But there are three focus areas to get there, according to Mukwashi.

1. Organizations should look to themselves first to establish a reporting mechanism that tracks their work and progress. Some organizations are better at reporting the impact of volunteering on the individual — and not on the larger contribution to peace and development, but “we have to be able to do both,” Mukwashi said.

Every organization needs to ask whether their monitoring mechanisms are capturing both of these areas — and to report both “even if the statistic isn't where you want it to be,” said panelist AnnMaura Connolly, chief strategy officer for City Year.

2. A joint focus on sustainable development goals 16 and 17. Volunteerism can contribute to all of the sustainable development goals, but it would be an overwhelming task to try to influence the indicators on each of them, Mukwashi explained.

Volunteer-sending organizations have identified volunteerism as a pathway to increase civic engagement and are prioritizing goal 16, which promotes inclusion, and 17, which focuses on means of implementation and partnership.

UNV and other groups are calling for specific volunteer action indicators within goal 17 to be measured at national levels — Who volunteers? How many people from marginalized groups within communities? How many women and young people?

Such indicators should be incorporated into project design so that they are a principal focus, not subsidiary to outcome-oriented factors, Mukwashi said.

3. Remember that what gets measured gets done — and resourced. The indicator to quantify the incidences of volunteerism in the implementation of SDGs would allow the larger volunteer-sending community to ask the questions: Do we have the right environment, policies, legislation and infrastructure that allows people to volunteer?

But that’s just the beginning, Mukwashi said. She also envisions using big data and current technology to get volunteers to provide real-time information.

“Imagine an approach that would allow every volunteer, even if just volunteering one hour of their time, to be able to say ‘this is the development taking place in my community, in my area,’” Mukwashi said. “It’s a whole different data source for knowing what is happening and what is not happening.”

Tell us your own volunteer story on Facebook or tweet us using #DoingMore, and check out all Doing More content here.

Doing More is an ongoing conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Australian Red Cross, Cuso International, IFRC, MovingWorlds, Peace Corps, Scope Global (formerly Austraining International), United Nations Volunteers, Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance and VSO.

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    Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Bangkok, she covers disaster and crisis response, innovation, women’s rights, and development trends throughout Asia. Prior to her current post, she covered leadership, careers, and the USAID implementer community from Washington, D.C. Previously, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.