Social Governance: Development Through Volunteerism

Visually impaired listeners enjoy an audio description of feature films read to them by newly trained volunteers. Photo © Yan Lu

Volunteer organisations play a vital role in advancing development, often by providing services to those most in need. But in China they are often challenged by how best to connect with, utilize and manage their volunteers. In order to overcome this, United Nations Volunteers (UNV) provides strategic advice on volunteer management to foster and develop volunteerism as a force for sustainable development.

In 2007, for example, UNV, UNDP, the China International Centre for Economic and Technical Exchange, the Beijing Youth League and the Beijing Volunteer Federation launched a three-year programme to demonstrate the value of volunteerism for achieving China’s development targets. Entitled “Strengthening Volunteerism for Development in China through the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games”, this initiative trained more than 7,500 Olympic volunteers in volunteer management. As a result, those volunteers were then able to coordinate the efforts of some 1.7 million Olympic volunteers, while similar volunteer campaigns helped to raise environmental awareness in support of China’s desire to host a ‘Green’ Olympic Games.

Highlights

  • Yet, with 600 volunteers and only six staff members, Hong Dan Dan was in need of guidance on how best to manage its volunteer pool. As a result UNV assigned a management coach to assist this hard working NGO in its efforts to enhance its volunteer and project management capacities.

After the Olympics, experiences and lessons learned were shared with leaders and organisers responsible for overseeing the management of other big events. The Beijing model was subsequently employed at major events such as the 2010 Shanghai World Expo (1.7 million volunteers) and the 2010 Asian Games (1.3 million volunteers) in Guangzhou. Working with local Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) on related pilot projects, the value of volunteerism towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals was demonstrated.

One such success story to emerge from these efforts is the Beijing Hong Dan Dan Educational and Cultural Exchange Centre (Hong Dan Dan). Hong Dan Dan is a non-profit organisation dedicated to providing cultural activities and training for the visually impaired since 2003. Through a wide range of audio services, which originally began with a television programme entitled “Life On-Line”, Hong Dan Dan has provided services for more than 130,000 visually impaired people (China has nearly 19 million people registered as blind or with low vision).

Yet, with 600 volunteers and only six staff members, Hong Dan Dan was in need of guidance on how best to manage its volunteer pool. As a result UNV assigned a management coach to assist this hard working NGO in its efforts to enhance its volunteer and project management capacities.

Staff members received training on how to screen volunteers and match their skills to organisational tasks during and after the recruitment process, in order to help them reach their potential. They were also shown how to enrich the volunteer experience by developing learning curriculums and assisting in professional career development, so as to provide an intellectual incentive for existing and prospective volunteers. Volunteers were also trained to help develop and implement innovative programmes for visually-impaired people. This included learning how to create audio narrations of popular films and write scripts that describe the visual elements of action, characters, locations, costumes and sets on a frame-by-frame basis.

As well as introducing film to its members, Hong Dan Dan made art more accessible to the visually impaired under this project. With the help of staff and volunteers, participants were enabled to feel and explore plaster reproductions of famous statues from the Louvre Museum in France with their hands, while explanatory labels in Braille enabled them to gain a greater understanding of the history behind the pieces of artwork on display.

Having the opportunity to participate in these sorts of cultural activities has instilled a sense of confidence and belonging amongst a part of society that often gets overlooked. Staff and volunteers have also been enriched through their increased ability to serve others, and the seeds have been sown for the development of a culture of volunteerism in China.

To help promote volunteerism on a national scale, UNV and UNDP organised a study tour for Chinese counterparts to learn about volunteer federations and associations in other countries. This helped provide vital information during the creation of the newly established China Volunteers Association, designed to coordinate nationwide volunteering activities, protect the interests of volunteers, and regulate the roles and development of volunteers’ abilities.

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