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The Value of Volunteers in Community-Based Organisations: Insights from Southern Africa

Helene Perold and Lauren A. Graham


Volunteering plays a central role in African civic life, with many organisations dependent on the voluntary contributions of community members. Certainly, volun- teerism is alive and well in Africa. CIVICUS (2011) reports that 76 % of respondents to a survey indicated that they volunteered in socially oriented organisations and 31 % indicated volunteering in politically oriented organisations. Both of these rates are above the global average of 23 % and 14 %, respectively. Evidently therefore volunteer culture in Africa seems to be strong. Patel, Perold, Mohamed, and Carapinha (2007) argue that this is because volunteerism has deep roots in African culture and philosophy, with the mutual aid and care of others in communities being a central part of life.

A great deal of volunteer effort is located in the activities of community-based organisations (CBOs)—institutions that are at the coalface of development efforts and service delivery within communities. Although these organisations play a central role in delivering services, they are often under-resourced and rely heavily on volunteer contributions to ensure their work is done. Despite the pervasiveness of volunteer effort, both in the form of mutual aid and formal volunteering within such organisations, the endeavours of volunteers as well as the role of such CBOs are oft-overlooked in the literature on volunteering in Africa.

In this chapter we draw on four studies conducted by VOSESA over a period of time. The five-country study on volunteerism in Southern Africa (Patel et al., 2007) highlights the deep-rootedness of volunteering in Botswana, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe and gives an indication of people’s attitude towards and involvement in volunteering. A study on the relationship between host organisations

H. Perold (*) • L.A. Graham

Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

J. Butcher, C.J. Einolf (eds.), Perspectives on Volunteering, Nonprofit and Civil Society Studies, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-39899-0_6

and international volunteers in Mozambique and Tanzania (VOSESA, 2010) whilst focusing on international volunteers also highlights the important role of local volunteers as founders, stakeholders, and short-term volunteers central to the daily operations of organisations. A study that was conducted for VSO on volunteer management needs among South African non-profit organisations (VOSESA, 2011a) highlights organisations’ dependence on volunteers for operations and management challenges that they face. The study on National Youth Service in Africa (ICP & VOSESA, 2013) brings to the forefront the importance of the connection with an organisation that offers an opportunity to serve for the development of active citizenship in the lives of young people. The chapter takes a bird’s eye of view of some of the findings emerging from these studies to show that there is an important relationship between volunteer and organisation that is mutually beneficial. Organisations rely heavily on the efforts of volunteers; volunteers in turn benefit from the opportunity to become participating citizens in their communities.

We begin by introducing the theoretical underpinnings guiding the analysis, namely that of asset-based and participatory development discourse, which recognises the ability of individuals and communities to make their own decisions, pursue their life chances, and enhance their capability to increase their well-being. We then move on to present findings from the studies mentioned above before drawing out some conclusions about local, or community-based, volunteering in Africa.

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