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Home arrow Sociology arrow Perspectives on Volunteering: Voices from the South

Overview of the Chapters

This book has two parts, the first on cross-national studies of volunteering and the second on single country studies. The cross-national section examines the patterns and possibilities of volunteering in the Global South and their economic impact and implications. These studies compare data among nations of both North and South and compare data across borders inside and outside continents. They offer us a wider perspective on volunteer activity and confer a sense of the diverse contexts for volunteering in this region of the world.

The cross-national section begins with an estimate of the total amount of both direct and organization-based volunteering in countries around the world by Lester Salamon, S. Wojciech Sokolowski, and Megan Haddock of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies. The authors first acknowledge the severe limitations on data and recommend a solution, measuring data according to the International Labour Organizations’ Manual for the Measurement of Volunteer Work. Despite current limitations on data, the authors nonetheless come up with a rough estimate of the amount of volunteer work conducted worldwide, an estimate that includes both formal volunteering through nonprofit organizations and informal volunteering that involves direct person-to-person helping. They estimate the total time commitment of volunteers worldwide as equivalent to 126.2 million full-time jobs. The authors use a number of data sources to address the issue of the disparity between formal and informal or direct volunteering in the Global North and Global South. They find that citizens of the Global North do both more formal and informal volunteering than citizens of the Global South.

The second chapter, by Elizabeth Hacker, Alexandrea Picken, and Simon Lewis, uses Systematic Action Research methodology to understand how volunteers are perceived in Mozambique, Nepal, and Kenya. Economic, historical, political, and developmental contexts influence how people perceive volunteering and how these perceptions differ from country to country. These three very different countries have in common the fact that the political system and presence of stipends offered by international donors have had a strong and distortive effect on volunteers, so that volunteers are seen as self-serving and politically connected. Despite these problems, volunteers have agency and are able to manage their actions and people’s perceptions of them so that they can be successful.

Aislinn Delany and Helene Perold discuss the role of government in promoting volunteering, in this case the role of the governments of the 18 sub-Saharan African countries that have national youth service programs. The programs’ goals include nation building, rural development, and peace, and all focus on increasing employability and entrepreneurship among youth. The chapter draws upon the experiences of 15 of these 18 countries to reach conclusions about the best practices that make for effective youth service programs.

Kenn Allen and Monica Galiano describe the extent of corporate volunteering in the Global South. In Africa, Asia, and the Arab nations, there are scattered examples of good corporate volunteer programs but no culture or infrastructure to support corporate volunteering. In Latin America, however, there is an active and widespread practice of corporate volunteering supported by a strong culture and infrastructure. Knowledge and leadership from outside the region, combined with strong leadership from within, helped bring about this state of affairs in Latin America, and provides other regions of the Global South with an example to follow to achieve the same thing.

Helene Perold and Lauren Graham describe the status of community-based volunteers in southern Africa, distinguishing these volunteers with grassroots organizations from those who work in better funded and more formally organized NGOs. Community-based volunteers tend to be poor and female. The age and time commitment of volunteers varies with the type of volunteering they do. Motivations of community-based volunteers include self-interest and the desire to improve their own community, as well as cultural and religious values.

Jacob Mati studies how transborder youth exchange volunteer programs impacted volunteers and host families in South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Kenya. Using qualitative methodology that includes Social Analyses Systems, he delves deep into the experiences of these young African men and women. He finds that the programs have a strong impact in opening minds and creating friendships, and less of an impact in teaching skills and performing development work. He argues that these types of programs create social and cultural bridges that contribute to regional integration in just as important a way as the political and economic links created by other programs.

The second section of the book consists of single country case studies, each exploring a theme relevant to volunteering beyond the borders of that country. Susan Appe, Nadia Rubaii, and Kerry Stampp contrast two opposite conceptions of volunteering, international service learning and the Andean concept of “ayni,” or reciprocity, as organizations representing both philosophies work together on the same projects in Peru. Each tradition valued reciprocity, mutuality, overcoming power differentials, and community, and bringing them together on joint projects reinforced these values for both groups.

Mario Roitter and Gustavo Verduzco both discuss how the concept of “volunteer” applies poorly in Latin America, where people engage in much activity that would meet the scholarly definition of volunteering but call it by other names. Even when surveys explicitly define volunteering, respondents’ own perception of these activities as fitting into other categories prevent them from fully recalling and accounting for volunteering, resulting in low estimates of total volunteer activity. The authors then turn to very different methods of measuring volunteering. Roitter gives the results from a study in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which uses the International Labor Organization’s definition of volunteering and places a series of volunteering questions within the framework of a labor force survey. Verduzco gives the results from a study that uses an extremely broad definition of volunteering and uses 23 different prompts to remind respondents what activities constitute volunteering. The different methodologies yield strikingly different results, with a volunteer rate of 5.5 % in Buenos Aires and 73 % in Mexico. The contrast between the two countries probably has little to do with real differences in people’s behavior and much to do with methodology, and the two studies illustrate the problems that arise from adapting survey measures from the global North to use in the different cultural context of the Global South.

Ying Xu studies the development of volunteering in China, a country very different from the other countries studied in this volume. The state plays a very strong role in regulating volunteer groups, encouraging and attempting to control those that per?form social services but restricting or banning those that represent a political threat. The government has had some success in supporting the service provision efforts of nonprofits but tends to do badly when organizing volunteer programs directly.

Yevgenya Paturyan and Valentina Gevorgyan describe volunteering in Armenia, a country that formerly formed a part of the Soviet Union. Like other former Soviet republics, the legacy of communism, with its banning of civil society and forced labor for the government that was labeled volunteering, depresses volunteer participation. However, Armenia’s rate of volunteering is higher than its neighbors and close to that of Europe as a whole, for reasons that are not clear. Volunteers cite both altruistic values and career goals as motivations for their participation.

Sema Akboga explores how the political history of Turkey has discouraged volunteer participation. The Turkish state has taken a controlling attitude toward civil society organizations, encouraging those politically aligned with the government and discouraging or banning those perceived to be in political opposition. Repeated changes in government through elections and coups have caused civil society organizations on all sides of the political spectrum to go in and out of favor, and the fluctuations have discouraged volunteering and discouraged the community’s trust in nonprofits. Nonetheless, youth volunteering may have a promising future in Turkey, and Akboga analyzes the demographic and other predictors of youth participation in volunteering.

The chapters in this book cover multiple regions of the world and multiple topics, allowing for a wide range of perspectives and opinions about volunteering in the global South. The conclusion of this book traces common themes in the chapters, summarizes how the book has advanced the state of knowledge, and describes promising avenues for future research. We hope that you find the chapters that follow as useful and intellectually engaging as we did.

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