A National Volunteering Day Can Contribute to Nation-Building
UN has set aside December 5 as International Volunteering Day Similarly, India should have its own Volunteering Day or even better ‘A Week’, similar to the ‘National Youth Week’ that follows National Youth Day on 12 January.
Today, it is the market that drives societies around the world. Dedicating a day to a particular issue encourages businesses to join public conversation around it, by giving them an opportunity to build their brand in the societal space. We have witnessed the visibility, acceptance and popularity of Yoga grow manifolds, once 21 June was declared as the international Yoga Day.
The important thing to note is that in the age of social media, most brands walk the talk. If an organization speaks publicly of water conservation, it usually does so by highlighting initiatives that showcase the benefits of its interventions. Today, it is a business imperative for brands to engage constructively with social issues and they have the reach and the resource to institutionalise change.
Volunteering is about rolling up one’s sleeves and unconditionally offering one’s skill and time to bring about a desired change. It would take several volunteers a lifetime to make a significant dent in many of the areas that need passionate interventions, and a day dedicated to volunteering can indeed help in bringing in the required effort together.
A National Volunteering Day is not about asking people to step in for just a day. It is also about asking for a day of mutual stock-taking, learning and accountability. More importantly, it will be a day, or a week set aside for convergence of stakeholders to deliberate on accelerating the process of mainstreaming and institutionalising volunteerism, which probably is the best way to scale up.
Volunteering is not extraneous to the Indian way of living. Shramdaan, or voluntarily offering oneself for service to a cause, is a part of Indian culture. But culture is dynamic; consequently, so is social behaviour. Hence, in current times, we may speak of an inherent culture of volunteerism, but our actions would not perhaps bear that out. Building an environment conducive to volunteering will be essential to reignite this practice.
To do so, we need to position volunteering in a manner that is more relevant and contextual to modern India, by adopting contemporary international best practices for measurement metrics in terms of monetization and social impact of volunteering activities. A volunteering week, especially, would help to market the philosophy and build the ecosystem around it, so that both the volunteer and the cause can gain from the engagement.
There is need to create a national level technology driven backbone infrastructure to facilitate engagement of stakeholders and aggregate national
efforts like many developed countries, which even represent the monetized value as a percentage of their GDP. Further, volunteerism can be incentivized and made objective in various formats like credit system, incentives like free public transport or discount on electricity bills etc
There is need to look at volunteerism beyond youth, we must engage professionals and specially the retired personnel who have the experience, time and passion to give back to society. All that is needed is easy access for engagement and a mechanism to measure the social impact. There are many corporate houses, Volunteer Organizations, individuals who are doing commendable work for the society. However, there aggregated contribution is mostly unnoticed as it is neither captured nor reported. Institutionalization of volunteerism and creating a national level platform will enable capturing of all formats of volunteering activities, bridging the demand and supply of volunteers and top of all synergize the efforts with national priorities.
A National Volunteering Week would be a good time for corporates to consciously revitalize their HR policies around volunteering; it would be a good time for the Government to recognize volunteers with civilian awards; the week would be ideal for schools to come out on the streets and acquaint their students with the realities at the grassroots, it would be a good time for social institutions and communities to leverage volunteers for important tasks and most importantly stakeholders to connect up for mutual learning and aligning themselves with the national priorities.
At CII, we hold a national volunteering week through our India@75 Foundation. It draws enthusiastic participation from corporates, NGOs, institutions and individuals. This strengthens my belief that India has many willing hands; they just need to know how to reach the deck.