Statement by UNDP Country Director at the launch of the National Volunteer Secretariat

27 Feb 2014

Statement by UNDP Country Director Ms. Razina Bilgrami at  the launch of the National Volunteer Secretariat

25 February 2014

Hon. Felix Perera, Minister of Social Services, Mrs. Emelda Sukumar, Secretary Ministry of Social Services, members of the head table, officials representing various government organisations, members of the diplomatic corps, representatives from the private sector, INGOs, NGOs, dear friends from the media, ladies and gentlemen, and last but not the least, dear Volunteers.  A very good morning to all!

As we launch the National Volunteer Secretariat under the umbrella of the Volunteer Information and Coordination Centre, this day marks an important milestone in UNV’s and UNDP’s collaborative efforts with the Ministry of Social Services in the area of promoting volunteerism in Sri Lanka.

During the International Year of Volunteers in 2001, the UN Volunteers Programme in Sri Lanka initiated a case study on Volunteerism in this country. A key factor highlighted in this research was the need for a Volunteer Information and Coordination Centre (referred to as VOICE) at the national level. It was anticipated that such a Centre could: facilitate, coordinate and network volunteers and volunteer involving organizations, matching needs with resources; further improve the impact of volunteer contributions on social development; and facilitate the recognition and appreciation of volunteers for the important service they provide for the welfare of vulnerable groups in the Sri Lankan society.

It is now recognized that volunteerism can play an important role in the development of a country. Just to mention two advantages: On the one hand, activities undertaken by volunteers would otherwise have to be funded by local government authorities or by private capital and it therefore eases the financial burden. On the other hand, it is also closely related to the formation of social cohesion and social capital, and fosters participatory processes which in the Post-2015 era of development, will be even more vital and imperative.

However, in SRL, volunteer contributions are still largely overlooked and under-utilized. They are seldom fully recognized, promoted and supported by policy-makers. As I speak, I am sure there are volunteers in different parts of the country who are selflessly helping people improve their lives without expecting anything in return – even right now - it is time to give them due recognition, and also to help the local volunteer sector  organize itself in a way that it would make the best of itself.

Therefore, in addition to the other activities promoted by the VOICE project, like the elaboration of a university course on volunteerism for social work with the National Institute of Social Development or the deployment of Legal Aid Volunteers with the Legal Aid Commission of SRL, the creation of the National Volunteer Secretariat as a one-stop-facility for volunteering under the Ministry of Social Services, can contribute significantly to utilizing volunteering to its full potential.

By the end of the project period in December 2014, the NVS is expected to have elaborated a draft national policy on volunteering, a draft legislation on volunteering, a volunteer management system, and an online interactive volunteer-matching-database. Additionally, it will ensure the training of permanent staff at the Ministry of Social Services who would eventually take over the operational responsibility of the NVS. Finally, by the end of the project period, a National Survey on Volunteerism will be concluded to bring even more clarity into the question as to why many Sri Lankans consider volunteering a very positive feature of their society, but are seemingly reluctant to engage.

Structures similar to the Secretariat being set up here in SRL, have been set up in many other countries also within the region, very often supported by UNV. The National Development Volunteer Service in Nepal for example is operating since 1989 and has to-date mobilized over 8,800 volunteers in all 75 districts of the country. The Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency works closely with other government agencies, non-government organizations, the academia, the corporate sector, the media and other partners in converging and linking different volunteering efforts and resources, so that they are aligned with national priorities and assist especially the marginalized sectors and communities.

I am looking forward to seeing such achievements realize here in SRL as well, under the leadership of the Ministry of Social Services, the Project Board members as well as the support from all of you, so that we can all benefit from the fruits of this highly efficient and sustainable resource.

Allow me at this point to extend my special gratitude to the Minister of Social Services, Hon. Felix Perera, the Secretary of the Ministry of Social Services, Ms. Emelda Sukumar, the Director Planning, Mr. Ramamoorthy, the Working Director of the NVS, Mr. Kirby de Lanerolle, as well as the representatives from the Ministry of Finance and Planning, who all saw and continue to see the potential of this project and gave their full support.

I wish everyone, including the Project Team, all success in making the NVS fully operational  --  Thank you very much!