Sustainability
Opinion Article
INVITED EDITOR
Editorial from
João Brites
Sustainability professional, economist, investor, and entrepreneur with 10+ years’ experience in enabling sustainable development through the power of data, technology, and collaboration. Recognized by the World Economic Forum, Virgin Group, Red Cross, Ashoka, and the British Council as a leading young global changemaker.
November 16, 2022
4. Quality education

4. Quality education

Ensure access to inclusive, quality and equitable education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
LEARN MORE

8. Decent work and economic growth

Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
LEARN MORE

17. Partnerships for the goals

Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development
LEARN MORE

Why is volunteering so relevant?

Only one in ten Portuguese volunteers. So it is urgent to ask ourselves: does volunteering really matter? Seven lessons learned in ten years help to answer.

We all know that the story of humanitarian aid and development support is not necessarily a happy story. Just think of the example of Haiti and the earthquake that occurred in 2010. I was at the World Economic Forum in Davos, and I remember listening to a speech by Bill Clinton to raise funds and save the country. During the following year, $11 billion was raised, and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and volunteers from around the world came to Haiti's rescue.

But the harsh reality of all this was that a year later, a million people were still living in tents, a cholera crisis had killed more than 2,500 people, and only 5% of the earthquake's wreckage had been removed. Of those $ 11 billion that were raised, only 10% was invested in Haiti's economy. Today, seven years later, 2.5 million Haitians still need humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations.

Examples like this were tarnishing the humanitarian and volunteer flag. They were tarnishing this humanist ideal that the human being can be genuinely altruistic. And, little by little, we started to lose confidence in volunteering. And that is reflected.

According to the latest Survey on Voluntary Work of the National Statistics Institute (INE), our country's volunteer rate is 11.5%, well below the European average of 24%. And when I talk about volunteering, I mean volunteering through organizations and volunteering that we do informally for people in our neighborhood. Only one in ten Portuguese volunteers.

So it is urgent to ask ourselves: does volunteering really matter? And the answer to this question is not simple.

Perhaps volunteering does not add value. Perhaps volunteering is just a set of childish and naive actions,although well-intentioned, that are not effective in the long run. Perhaps volunteering creates unemployment because it leads people to work in an unpaid way. Perhaps volunteering is only done to make volunteers feel better. And,even if it is important, maybe it is only for some, for those who have time and earn credits.

I have been a volunteer since I was 16,and I believe that volunteering is nothing, nothing like that.

But for an economist like me,believing is not enough. It is necessary to look coldly at the data and find the statistical evidence that justifies the investment of the scarce resources we have. And it is as a dual volunteer-economist that I share seven things I have learned about volunteering over the past ten years, which may help our readers to understand why it matters and under what conditions:

 

• Volunteering generates economic value, and that value is quantifiable. It is not because a job is unpaid that it does not generate value. In practice, what economists do is assign the hour of volunteer work the same amount for which that hour would normally be paid in the labor market. Using this method, INE estimates that the hours of volunteer work in Portugal have a value equivalent to 1% of GDP (something like 1.8 billion euros).

• Volunteering can change a life. And my own life is a testament to that. At 16, I had the opportunity to learn breakdance on the street with friends who volunteered to teach me. Today I am 26 years old, and not only is breakdance still part of my life, but it gave me the courage and self-esteem that I didn't know I had. This experience led me toco-found, in 2010, the Transformers Movement - a social franchise of schools of superpowers that is already transforming 22 communities in Portugal.

• Volunteering can change millions of lives. And the best example of this is that of immunization against polio. In the middle of the 20th century, polio paralyzed hundreds of thousands of people every year. Today the incidence rate of the virus has dropped by more than 99%.This was possible not only because a vaccine was discovered in the 1950s but also because of more than 10 million volunteers worldwide and from various organizations mobilized in the vaccination efforts of more than two billion children in 122 countries.

• Volunteering does not create unemployment. There is no statistical evidence that volunteering causes unemployment. On the contrary, looking at the data of the European Union countries, it is possible to verify that the countries with the highest rates of volunteering tend to be those with the lowest rates of unemployment.Although correlation does not imply causality, this fact is indicative that volunteering and employment are complementary and not mutually exclusive. This fact is supported by much of the scientific literature produced in this area.For example, a study by the United States National Corporation for Community and National Service found that volunteering is associated with a 27% higher probability of employability after controlling for a set of demographic variables.

• Volunteering can be for everyone. Anyone can volunteer because we all have a superpower, a talent, and something to contribute. And I don't say this lightly to touch the reader's heart. I believe this with all the strength of my being, having met volunteers from allover the world, of all colors, origins, hairstyles, looks, extravagances,religions, stature, ages, and professions.

• But good intentions are not enough. Not all volunteer work is good; not everyone can do any kind of volunteer work.As highlighted in a recent Guardian article, Save the Children and Unicef ​​have been warning, since 2011, of international volunteering risks in orphanages in locations like Cambodia. While this type of volunteer work is fueled by the best of intentions, there is considerable evidence that the demand for volunteer experiences with children in Cambodia has led to a disproportionate increase in the number of orphanages, creating incentives for child trafficking. Unicef ​​estimates that 75% of children in orphanages in Cambodia are not orphans. In addition, the high turnover of volunteers tends to be more detrimental to children's development. This brings us to the last point.

• Volunteering is not easy, nor simple, nor does it have to be distant. Volunteering is difficult, complex, and starts in our neighborhood. It is only a true instrument of transformation when passion meets reason. It is not a summer trip. It is a way of being in life. It is not heroic people saving the poor. It is heroism shared and celebrated among all. It is not an imposition; it is a free choice.

And that is what brings me here today.It does not give the reader a moralistic lesson or a paternalistic discourse about where each should spend their time. But it is rather a sharing of why, at least for me, volunteer work is important. And if it is not for the pragmatism of numbers that I have shown before, it is because volunteering may be that supreme declaration of human dignity. Dignity as a choice of where and how we want to use our time. If we make each action our hostage to a transaction, then we lose the freedom that it cost us so much to conquer.

And what are we without freedom?

We live in a time when concepts like solidarity or volunteering have lost so much meaning. They lost so much meaning due to their banal, current, and decontextualized use that they even have negative connotations. I believe that we have to give strength to these concepts.

Volunteering is not a lot of bullshit.

If that doubt comes to mind again,remember that change happens in a non-linear and mysterious way. Your gesture -small, brave, dignified, and intentional - makes a difference. It may take time, but it's always worth it. Ask yourself in the silence of the night that causes you to move. And move through it.

João Brites
Sustainability professional, economist, investor, and entrepreneur with 10+ years’ experience in enabling sustainable development through the power of data, technology, and collaboration. Recognized by the World Economic Forum, Virgin Group, Red Cross, Ashoka, and the British Council as a leading young global changemaker.
LEARN MORE
SHARE

Keep reading

Thirst Project Nova SBE: Newsletter March

This is a quick read (2-3 minutes) on what are the new ways of approaching the fight against thirst not only around the world but also in Thirst Project Nova SBE. Get to know the new projects of this team of more than 20 students of Nova SBE that constantly try to move people into helping in this cause, also know how to help and how scientific innovation is playing a part on this matter.

Are we able to reduce inequalities by valuing our differences?

Did you ever catch "Gambozinos"? They exist, and they have a dream: gathering people from different social, economic, and cultural backgrounds through human and social development. Please get to know them here.

Conversas com Impacto Podcast - with Luís Veiga Martins

Luís Veiga Martins participated in a recently launched Podcast - Conversas com Impacto [Conversations with Impact] to talk about Nova SBE's comprehensive and sustainable vision of business and economics, with a strong commitment to walk the talk, through the implementation of impact projects at various levels.

Nova SBE Sustainability Journey'22

Check out how Nova SBE gathered more than 300 participants, 30 companies, and 60 speakers for the Nova SBE Sustainability Journey – an unprecedented collection of educational programs, conferences, and debates dedicated to sustainable development and the positive impact the school is committed to having on people, societies, and the planet.

THE CHOICES OF

Zona de Impacto: Mentalities evolved; however, women are still discriminated in the job market. Why?

Statistics are known. Women have a higher qualification rate than men, but they receive less (for the same jobs) and are more precarious. When it is time to reach roles of responsibility, they have a harder life (and, as the companies get bigger, the worse it is). The topic is old, solutions take a long time to produce effects, and this worries the youth. Marta Everard and Rita Mendes, students at NovaSBE and members of the club Women on Board, explain how they perceive their labor’s future

Subscribe our weekly newsletter

By subscribing to the Nova SBE Role to Play newsletter, you can stay up-to-date on the latest articles posted on the website.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

We all have a role to play

We are on a mission to be a community dedicated to the development of talent and knowledge that impacts the world.

With just ten years to go, an ambitious global effort is underway to deliver the 2030 promise. We want to take a stand and we are calling on our community to showcase how they are contributing to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, whilst influencing more and more people to unravel their role to play.

Here, you will find four different ways your ideas can flourish, dialogue can be enhanced, and action can take place. You can choose one or all four, and Nova SBE will be there to support you all the way and guarantee tangible change.

We all have a role to play, and this is your way in.