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State of the World report reveals volunteering trends

A report released by UN Volunteers has shed light on the volunteering trends around the world, including the dominance of young people and women

A report released by UN Volunteers has found volunteering accounts for 109 million full-time workers, many of whom are young people and women.

The State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2018: The Thread that Binds draws on research across five continents to understand how communities view volunteering, with an aim to help countries maximise their volunteering efforts.

Deputy Executive Coordinator of UN Volunteers, Toily Kurbanov, said: “By unpacking the distribution of the costs and benefits of local volunteerism under strain, the report examines how governments and other peace and development actors can contribute to making people’s actions in volunteering a real part of community preparedness.”

According to the report, the 109 million workers exceeds the number of employees in six of the 10 most populous countries worldwide. The vast majority happens informally with 70 per cent working directly with communities and 30 through associations.

“Volunteering is increasingly recognised as a significant resource for overcoming development challenges,” the reports executive summary read. “Empirical data can document the contributions of volunteers, set benchmarks for evaluation, uncover important trends and encourage policies that help promote volunteering.”

Significant variations exist in the scale of the volunteer workforce across the different regions, as well as in the proportions of direct versus organisation-based volunteering.

These variations exist in the scale of the volunteer workforce among different regions (figure 1). The regions vary from a high of 20.7 million full-time employee (FTE) workers in North America to 9.3 million in South America, and with Australia close behind.

Figure 1: Total FTE volunteering by region

* Any discrepancies in totals are due to rounding

The regional disparities hold up when accounting for the adjustment of the overall sizes of the populations. According to the report, “Australia and New Zealand rise in the rankings when account is taken of their generally sparse populations” (figure 2).

Figure 2: Total FTE volunteering as per cent of adults (15+) population, by region

*Any discrepancies in totals are due to rounding

The vast majority of volunteers are women, accounting for 57 per cent of all volunteers. Whereas organisation-based volunteering is evenly distributed between the sexes, a greater proportion of direct community work is performed by women (figure 3).

This dominance is evident across most regions. South Asia and Indonesia, the Far East, and Eastern Europe and the Russian Federation, however, are fairly even.

“As a general rule, women account for a smaller share of organisation-based volunteering than they do of direct volunteering,” the report read, adding that the outliers include Australia and New Zealand, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

Figure 3: Female share of volunteering (by region)

Another pattern observed in Australia found organisation-based volunteering rates are higher for the youngest group of people, aged between 14 and 24 years of age, and for people over the age of 65 (figure 4). This drops off for middle-aged Australians.

Figure 4: Organisational volunteering rates fluctuating with age (two countries)

The report recommends future research be conducted with cost-effective surveying and an expanded use of ILO (International Labor Organisation) methodology, as well as to undertake research in countries with limited data, such as Egypt and Indonesia.

This is on top of encouraging statistical agencies to work closely with volunteer-involving organisations to “sensitive, synergise and localise the collection of data and ensure that collected data is used effectively by stakeholders to enhance support”.

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