Road closed building work

Over the past 10 months I have been working to promote the quality, strength and value of volunteering in Guyana. One of the objectives for this work has been to create an enabling environment within which to build a central support infrastructure for the voluntary sector.

Countries with independent and cohesive civil societies often have voluntary sector associations or umbrella agencies that work to support the continuous development of the sector. The activities of these bodies can include facilitating partnership development and contributions to public policy dialogue, as well as advocacy work to raise the profile of voluntary organisations with government, business and the general public. In England for example, there is the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), which works to strengthen the voice of and provide support to the community and voluntary sector.

In Guyana, the time has come to start building an infrastructure of this sort. But, what shape will it take?

As I wrote previously, volunteering has made, and continues to make, significant contributions to Guyana’s development both nationally, within regional administrations and also within communities. However, there is an opinion among volunteer-involving organisations that volunteering could be more effective, could do more to promote inclusion, and its impact and influence on development strategies could be increased.

The value of supporting and sustaining volunteering for national development is recognised across the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region. The Brazilian model of Comunidade Solidaria is an innovative example of collaborative support infrastructure between the voluntary sector, the government of Brazil and the private sector. Its formation paved the way for the establishment of national councils to coordinate and network local volunteer effort. The initiative was created to fulfill five objectives: 1) improve training for volunteers, 2) direct resources to the poorest regions, 3) bring together private and public sectors to increase resources for the vountary sector, 4) decentralise and increase community participation to sustain volunteerism, and 5) monitor and evaluate volunteer programmes to facilitate replication (Feasibility of a National Volunteerism Support Platform in Guyana Report – In Press).

The model has, through investing in volunteering, strengthened existing communication channels between the state and society and also established more relevant and responsive communication mechanisms, and voluntary sector, community-based programmes and policies.

This kind of infrastructure could work well in Guyana. By building on the strength of volunteering as a successful social development tool, the idea is for a ‘volunteering support

platform’ to be established. This platform will strengthen volunteering-organisations (and the voluntary sector as a whole) by building capacity and providing leadership on broader issues that impact the volunteer-involving community.

What is interesting about this initiative, the one being established in Guyana, as well as others in the LAC region (including Colombia, Nicaragua and Peru) is that they have been developed through government-voluntary sector partnerships. The idea of these partnerships is to promote and establish sustainable infrastructure organisations that feed directly into the policies and programmes of government.

However, as highlighted in a recent blog post by Simon Burall (Involve’s Director) thereare contradictionsbetween the notion of government-led infrastructure and the governance of  a vibrant, autonomous voluntary sector – or in the UK a Big Society .

As exemplified by the Big Society type initiatives, it is important that the above models and proposals are delivered in frameworks where government supported initiatives become self-sustaining by the voluntary-sector. This is in fact what happened with the Communidade Solidaria example. Here, the rolling back of the government supported infrastructure led to the development of new volunteering networks such as the local Volunteer-to-Volunteer (V2V) program which is a service-based virtual network for volunteering and development. 

These examples are all important considerations for Guyana, and with the emergence of volunteering as a central component of the Big Society there are lots of lessons to be taken from the UK.

I am interested to hear from anyone (contact) who has experience of working within or knowledge of establishing this kind of voluntary sector support infrastructure, in particular with a focus on strengthening and professionalising volunteer-involving organisations. Guyana is in the planning and development stage at present, which is an important time for sharing and learning.

The views expressed on this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Involve, VSO or the government of Guyana. 

Image by miamism