Volunteering in the Era of the Sustainable Development Goals

State Secretary Tore Hattrem's speech at the opening of the European Agencies Meeting for Volunteering in Development in Oslo 15 March 2016.

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Ladies and gentlemen  

First of all, thank you for inviting me to open this European meeting on “Volunteering in the Era of the Sustainable Development Goals”. It is a great pleasure to be here, at such a timely meeting.  

Huge numbers of volunteers have been mobilised to help the many refugees who have recently arrived in Europe. From the beaches of the Greek islands to the Arctic tundra of Finnmark, volunteers have helped save lives and provide emergency food, clothing and shelter for countless people in need. Volunteer efforts will continue to be essential as we seek to integrate the refugees into our societies. This is just one example of the essential contribution made by volunteers in crisis situations.  

Having seen the vital role of volunteers in responding to natural and man-made disasters, there has been a growing realisation that volunteer efforts are also essential to long-term social and economic development, and to achieving the new Sustainable Development Goals, which were adopted by the UN last autumn.  

The UN Secretary-General’s Synthesis Report on the Post-2015 Development Agenda highlighted the fact that volunteerism can be a powerful and cross-cutting means of implementation. Moreover, the UN General Assembly last year adopted a resolution welcoming the integration of volunteering into the UN’s activities, not least the 2030 Agenda, and underlining the importance of volunteer groups and volunteer action for development.  

The valuable contribution made by volunteer-involving organisations has not only been recognised by established interest groups and sectors – such as women, farmers, indigenous peoples, business and industry, and trade unions. These organisations have also been accepted as stakeholders by the High Level Political Forum, the UN platform for monitoring implementation of the SDGs. And they have provided important input to the work on SDG indicators that is now nearing completion.

 Norway has a long tradition of voluntary work. In the past, the country’s high mountain ranges, deep fjords and remote islands made travel and communication difficult. This forced small and isolated communities to rely on their own common efforts to solve the tasks at hand.  

The Norwegian word dugnad, which can be roughly translated as a collective voluntary effort, is used to describe the pooling of local labour or financial resources within a social group such as a family, neighbourhood, community, or professional sector.

Traditionally, a dugnad could be organised to build local roads, bridges, harbours, or community centres. A dugnad could also be a way of supporting the less fortunate, for example helping widows cultivate farmland.  

Volunteer organisations also played a key role in building Norwegian identity in the 19th century following the country’s separation from Denmark in 1814, and in demanding self-governance and political independence from Sweden, which was finally achieved in 1905. This rather unique historical position largely explains why volunteer organisations in Norway are often  organised in a similar way to political parties, with local and regional branches and national headquarters. Volunteer organisations are not only social forums, but play an active political role.  

Norway has a high level of organised voluntary work. Various community services and the leisure sector depend on the efforts and funding provided by volunteers, who often support local sports clubs, culture and other organised activities, especially for children and young people. There are publicly financed volunteering centres in almost all of Norway’s 428 municipalities, and the Association of NGOs in Norway has recently launched a nationwide web platform to enable potential volunteers to find relevant tasks.  

Norway also has a very strong tradition of international voluntary service, which continues to this day. Thousands of people of all ages have worked in developing countries, through missionary organisations and NGOs, or under the auspices of public agencies such as our host today, FK Norway.  

The Norwegian Government attaches importance to volunteering and the voluntary sector, as reflected by its adoption of Declaration on Voluntary Work.  

The Declaration is a policy statement by the Government, which recognises the importance of the voluntary sector as an arena for social participation and democracy-building. It underlines the Government’s continued support and commitment to volunteering and volunteer-involving organisations, and outlines the mechanisms for the ongoing political inclusion of the voluntary sector.  

The Declaration is intended to promote long-term and predictable interaction between the Government and the voluntary sector. It sets out a framework of interaction to facilitate the voluntary sector’s participation in political processes.

The Declaration also underlines the importance of strengthening knowledge about the voluntary sector and making the results of research available. Statistics Norway produces satellite accounts for the voluntary sector in line with internationally accepted standards.

In the era of the sustainable development goals, what added value can volunteer organisations provide, compared with the state, municipal authorities and other social service providers?

Above all, they serve as value-driven, alternative channels for advocacy work, and promote active citizenship and public participation.  

Volunteer work has contributed significantly to building social capital for inclusive and egalitarian political and economic development. To what extent do NGOs still do this? What are the challenges to volunteerism today? And how can we protect and promote strong public-private partnerships in the volunteer sector in a time of great social and technological change? These are all important questions for us to consider here today.  

The SDGs apply to all countries. The Norwegian Government will continue to support the voluntary sector in Norway, both financially and in terms of legislation, in order to enable voluntary organisations to play their part in our collective effort to reach the global goals.  

I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you all to Norway, and wish you every success with this important meeting – I am confident it will generate some very interesting ideas and perspectives on voluntary efforts that will benefit us all.  

Thank you.