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Annual DPI-NGO conference opens at UN with focus on volunteerism

Annual DPI-NGO conference opens at UN with focus on volunteerism

The diversity of the volunteer experience among non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is the central theme of the annual United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI)-NGO Conference, which began today at UN Headquarters in New York.

Opening the three-day event, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called attention to the potential role of volunteers in grappling with the major challenges of the day, including the AIDS epidemic, the fight against poverty, and efforts to protect the global environment.

Mr. Annan also urged those present to galvanize the world's young people in efforts to foster global progress. "I encourage you to reach out, and to replenish your ranks with the dynamism and ideas that young people have in such abundance," he said.

Underscoring the importance of cooperation between governments and NGOs, he pledged that the UN "will do its utmost to continue opening its doors, and to be a place where all can come together and find common ground."

In a keynote address delivered through a live video link, the President of Mexico, Vicente Fox, discussed the spirit of volunteerism in his own country. He said civil society's interaction with the Mexican Government was the driving force behind the country's deep involvement in the UN. He also emphasized the need for the UN to be more democratic, expressing support for the aims of civil society - to eliminate racism and create a safer, cleaner planet without the threat of arms and without destruction of the environment by industry.

The President of the General Assembly, Harri Holkeri of Finland, focused on last year's adoption of the historic UN Millennium Summit Declaration, which sets out targets for achieving global progress in key areas. "We in the United Nations must ensure that civil society has a sense of ownership in the Millennium follow-up process," he said. "This signifies that the activities of governments and civil society are not disconnected, but rather that they complement each other and even share the same values and goals."

Sharon-Capeling-Alakija, Executive Coordinator of the UN Volunteers, said that without the committed contributions of volunteers, the impact of the UN would be considerably diminished. She cited the example of last year's polio eradication campaign led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). Some 550 million children were immunized, largely through the efforts of 10 million volunteers who were mobilized on a global scale. WHO estimated that the total value of their contribution had exceeded $10 billion, she said.