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International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development

What makes volunteering valuable?

The boundaries between the "individual" and the "collective" are more than ever blurred and confused. In the charity sector this is not a recent discovery. Reciprocity, cooperation and networks have constituted so far not just the goals of development's mission but also the means to achieve social justice. This is one of the reasons why the third sector is so powerful and why it is acquiring more visibility as a formal (business) activity. Indeed social development offers at the same time high rewards for individuals and tangible benefits for the collective.

Not long ago, the separation between individuals and the collective was so rigid that it became very difficult to develop a vision that was combining both perspectives. It was thought that only an individualistic approach could have led to personal well-being. At the same time, collectivist approaches were neglecting the virtues of personal achievements. On the contrary, if we think about the different forms of activities that emerged after the collapse of this unproductive conceptual separation, volunteering has played a constant and fundamental role in everyone's lives.

The link between singularities and collectives springs in different ways. If the practice of volunteering is recognised as the most invaluable contribution towards vulnerable people and social justice in general, little attention is dedicated to highlight the beneficial sides of volunteering for the self awarding. It is like a swing. If I take care of myself I am helping forthwith the other. If I offer my time to cooperate, I will know myself better. In other words the care of the self and the care for social justice should never be formally separated. There is no contradiction here!

It can be argued that this swing might not always work. As the former Director of UNESCO's Division of Youth and Sports Activities and ex-Secretary General of the Coordinating Committee for International Voluntary Service Arthur Gillette pointed out "not all volunteering is good". "When, for example, the neo-liberal State withdraws from its duties to the most disadvantaged members of a society, then the volunteers meant to take up the slack can be a shabby alibi for deregulated governmental irresponsibility." It's important that all organisations make sure they value their volunteers and don't use them as substitutes for paid permanent staff.

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