World volunteers step up during pandemic


Instead of walking away during the height of the pandemic, many volunteers around the world stepped in to help, according to a study done earlier this year by Gallup and the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) program.

In fact, the joint study in eight low-, lower- and upper-middle-income countries – where data on volunteering is often scarce – found that when their communities struggled with COVID-19, most people participated in volunteering activities.

At least three in four adults in Bolivia, India, Kenya, Lebanon, Senegal, Thailand, Turkey and Uzbekistan reported participating in at least one form of volunteering in the past 12 months. Volunteering was almost universal in Senegal (98%), Kenya (92%) and Uzbekistan (92%).

Volunteerism rate in eight countries

Volunteer rate
Senegal 98
Kenya 92
Uzbekistan 92
India 81
Turkey 81
Thailand 80
Bolivia 78
Lebanon 75
The volunteer rate is based on whether people reported participating in one of the seven volunteer activities in the previous 12 months.
United Nations Volunteers and Gallup, 2021

Even with this high level of volunteerism, the survey, conducted between March and April 2021, also suggests that people’s volunteering habits were affected during the pandemic.

When asked whether they volunteered or helped people outside their families more, less, or about the same amount compared to the previous year, the only countries where a high percentage reported volunteering more were Senegal and Uzbekistan. Volunteering has declined significantly in India and, to a lesser extent, in several other countries.

In the past 12 months, would you say you volunteered or helped others outside of your family more, less, or about the same compared to the previous year?

Net change: percentage “plus” minus percentage “minus”

Net change
PCT points.
Senegal +19
Uzbekistan +16
Thailand +3
Lebanon -1
Kenya -5
Bolivia -9
Turkey -11
India -18
United Nations and Gallup Volunteers, 2021

The full results of this study were published in a stand-alone report in July, but they were also presented more recently in the fourth State of the World’s Volunteering (SWVR) report of the UNV program launched in early December at the Assembly. General of the United Nations.

The report, “Building Equal and Inclusive Societies”, presents new evidence on voluntary-state partnerships, drawing on case studies from Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe, the Community of Independent States, in the Arab States, in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The report demonstrates through this evidence that cooperation between volunteers and governments helps build a culture of collaborative decision-making. The report also postulates that through voluntary-state partnerships, volunteers have the ability to reconfigure unequal power relations between ordinary citizens and state authorities.


As countries and regions face enormous challenges, one thing is clear: No single stakeholder, entity or sector can tackle these challenges alone. More than ever, partnerships are vitally important.

As countries begin to reap the benefits of the pandemic, governments and development actors need to work even more closely with volunteers, engaging with them as key partners. New spaces for collaboration. Innovative development solutions. Effective responses to the needs of communities. And a 21 includedst social contract of the century based on the expertise of volunteers.

Read the latest UNV report.

This article was written in collaboration with the UNV program.

The photo that appears with this article shows a volunteer helping migrants queuing for COVID-19 vaccines in Beirut, Lebanon. Photo source: UNV


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