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UN official says governments should promote volunteerism, not control it

UN official says governments should promote volunteerism, not control it

Governments should recognize that citizens' active participation in society through voluntary effort is a "crucial aspect of good governance," the head of the United Nations volunteer arm today told lawmakers from 140 countries attending a conference in Havana, Cuba.

Sharon Capeling-Alakija, Executive Coordinator of the Bonn-based United Nations Volunteers (UNV), urged participants at a meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union to support volunteerism's great potential to enhance economic and social capital.

"Volunteerism can help the socially excluded to join the mainstream of society; the unemployed to gain marketable skills; the disabled to overcome stereotypes as passive recipients of care; and the aging to have healthier, more productive lives," she said.

The UNV chief also noted the growing role of Internet volunteerism, which she said governments should support. "As online volunteerism grows in importance, they can help to create the electronic infrastructure that makes this possible," she said.

At the same time, she cautioned against excessive State authority over volunteer activities. "Governments must avoid the temptation to control volunteering," she said. "In many cases, the most important thing governments can do is to get out of the way, that is, to eliminate legislative, policy, and organizational barriers so that more people can come forward and actively participate in their communities."

Created by the General Assembly in 1970, UNV extends hands-on assistance for peace and development in nearly 150 countries.