Volunteering and the U.N. sustainable development goals – tell the government what you’re doing

We all know that volunteering has an incredible impact on society in this country and across the world, but have you ever thought that volunteers are playing a crucial role in sustainable development?

You may well be thinking, what on earth is sustainable development?

In its broadest sense, sustainable development is the idea that tackling climate change, conserving natural resources and protecting our natural environments should go hand-in-hand with efforts to eradicate poverty, improve education and reduce inequality.

In 2015, sustainable development as a global concept received a massive boost when all 193 United Nations member states committed themselves to achieving 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) by 2030. The goals are wide-ranging, interdependent and include a list of targets that are measured with indicators. You can learn more about the goals at the UN Development Programme website.

Image of the 17 global sustainable development goals

Volunteering and the SDGs

It’s clear that volunteering plays a crucial role in countries being able to implement these 17 goals. This is true for the developing world but also equally the case in the developed world, including in the UK.

Even just briefly looking at the handy infographics on the UN’s SDGs website, it becomes clear that people are volunteering their time doing amazing things to achieve the goals.

Let’s look at just four examples.

  • Goal 3 aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages. A good example here is the fantastic work done by volunteers at Mind to provide support to people experiencing mental health problems.
  • Then there’s goal 5, the achievement of gender equality by 2030. For this goal, there’s the Fawcett Society’s volunteer-run campaigns driving change for women’s rights.
  • Goal 11 aims to make cities, towns and villages ‘inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’. A great example here are the thousands of volunteers at the Ramblers giving their time to make walking paths across the country safer, easier to follow and more accessible.
  • Finally, goal 13 says we need to take urgent action to combat climate change. For this goal we can recognise the student volunteers at People & Planet campaigning to get universities to move their money from fossil fuel investments to green energy.

Tell the government what you’re doing!

In July this year the UK government will be presenting its Voluntary National Review to the United Nations, reviewing the UK’s progress towards the SDGs so far. As part of this review, the government will submit evidence from across the UK and from all three sectors of society: government, civil society and the private sector. They are calling on any group, organisation or individual to submit evidence of what they are doing to help achieve the goals.

It’s clear the four examples above are only a tiny snapshot of all the amazing voluntary action helping the UK to deliver the 17 goals. If you’re a volunteer or are involved with a volunteer-involving organisation and you think you or your organisation are helping to implement one or more of the goals, then we encourage you to submit evidence to the government. You can find out more about the review process and submit evidence here.


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Charlie is a trainee volunteering development policy officer at NCVO, supporting NCVO's volunteering policy work. He has been volunteering since childhood in various roles, including at a community development charity working with the eastern European Roma community in Glasgow, as an adviser at a Citizens Advice bureau, and as a Scout leader.

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