The value of voluntary service

Volunteer and Service Enquiry Southern Africa (Vosesa) is a research organiastion focused entirely on producing well researched and up-to-date information about volunteering and civic service in southern Africa.

Helene Perold, executive director of Vosesa, explains: “Volunteering is not just about helping. The way volunteering and civic service plays out in South Africa impacts on our socio-economic development, the health of our democracy and our relationships with each other.”

Volunteering has the potential to fight stigma and inequality, break down social divisions and provide young people with new skills, networks and confidence in their search for employment. But how does one know this?

“We do research on many different kinds of volunteering,” says Perold, “including studies on youth volunteering and youth service, international volunteering, community-based volunteering, regional volunteer exchange programmes and more recently employee volunteering.”

“Like other southern African countries, South Africa has a vibrant history and culture of volunteering,” adds Karena Cronin, project and outreach manager at Vosesa.

“Vosesa believes there is a real need to make volunteering more visible and to understand its role in democracy and development.”

The organisation is recognised locally and internationally as a leading voice in the volunteering space and it celebrates its 10th year of operation.

Vosesa’s first study was conducted in 2006 across five countries — Botswana, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe — and produced unprecedented cross-national results on the extent, nature and scope of the volunteering landscape in southern Africa.

More recently, Vosesa conducted research on the potential for youth regional volunteering programmes in east and southern Africa to foster regional integration.

Much of its work has focused on the opportunities for youth voluntary services to promote youth economic integration and development. With the support of the MasterCard Foundation, Vosesa is researching the contribution of national youth service to youth employment, entrepreneurship and sustainable livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa, in partnership with Innovations in Civic Participation, an NGO based in Washington DC, US.

Vosesa’s research is not simply an exercise in information gathering; it responds to the needs of its partners and clients, seeks to strengthen volunteering policy and practice and drive leadership on volunteering and service among government, business and civil society.

“We want to influence the way people think about volunteering,” says Perold. “We are committed to strengthening the voluntary sector through evidence-based advocacy.”

Vosesa’s research and writing have been used to inform the efforts of leading international and national organisations that promote volunteering and civic participation such as UN Volunteers (UNV), Civicus: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Canada World Youth, Voluntary Services Overseas, the Brookings Institution, the South African National Youth Development Agency, Heartlines and loveLife.

Vosesa is the co-organiser of an employee volunteering conference called Beyond Painting Classrooms with its partners FirstRand and Charities Aid Fund Southern Africa (Cafsa).

“The conference has grown out of the southern African conference on Volunteer Action for Development sponsored by FirstRand Limited and held in Johannesburg in October 2011,” says Cronin.

Convened by UNV and Vosesa, the conference sought to raise the profile of volunteering and service as tools for development and social change.

“FirstRand’s conference sponsorship and Cafsa’s thought leadership enabled us to incorporate a focus on corporate employee volunteering,” says Cronin.

“The employee volunteering conference provides a much-needed platform for knowledge sharing and engagement on employee volunteering. Most importantly, it provides a space to critically examine the role of business to foster sustainable development and greater social cohesion in South Africa” says Cronin.