March 28, 2011

Labor statistics: Counting the volunteers the world counts on

The International Labour Organization and the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies announced last week the release of a new manual to help statistical agencies around the world track the amount, type and value of volunteer work in their countries.

The manual, drafted by the Center for Civil Society Studies in cooperation with the ILO and an international Technical Experts Group, and with the support of the United Nations Volunteers, provides the first-ever internationally sanctioned guidance to statistical agencies for generating reliable, official data on volunteer work using a common definition and approach.

“Volunteer work is an enormous renewable resource for social, economic and environmental problem solving throughout the world, as we are sure to discover again in the wake of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. But the lack of solid data on volunteering has left it undervalued and its full potential unrealized,” said Lester M. Salamon, director of the Center for Civil Society Studies. “This manual promises to change this fundamentally. The challenge now is to secure government commitments to implement it.”

Previous work by the Johns Hopkins center has shown that, even conservatively estimated, the value of volunteer work in countries throughout the world is roughly double the value of contributions of cash or other valuables by individuals, corporations and foundations together.

“The ILO is pleased to be a partner in this effort to bring volunteer work into official labor statistics around the world,” said Rafael Diez de Medina, director of ILO’s Department of Statistics, which guides the gathering and reporting of labor statistics around the world. “We see this as an integral part of ILO’s commitment to the concept of ‘decent work’—that is, work that promotes human rights, social protection and solid social dialogue,” he said.

Completion of the manual coincides with the 10th anniversary of the 2001 United Nations International Year of the Volunteer, which called on governments to improve their measurement of volunteer work.

“This manual responds to a key mandate established by the U.N. General Assembly at the conclusion of the International Year of the Volunteer in 2001,” said Flavia Pansieri, executive coordinator of the United Nations Volunteers, the U.N. agency charged with encouraging volunteer work and a major supporter of the ILO–Johns Hopkins Volunteer Measurement Project. “In the process, it will boost the visibility of volunteer work, encourage more volunteer involvement, provide a basis for gauging the effectiveness of volunteer promotion efforts and create a more enabling policy environment for volunteer activity, all of which will allow volunteers to expand the already notable contributions they make to improving health, expanding educational opportunities, promoting economic growth and responding to disasters throughout the world,” she said.

The new ILO manual provides a consensus definition of volunteer work and a cost-effective way to measure its overall scale and economic value using existing statistical systems.

The manual was approved in concept at the 18th International Conference of Labour Statisticians in November 2008 convened by the ILO, a specialized agency of the United Nations, and a final draft was cleared by an international Technical Experts Group in October 2010. The ILO expects to issue a printed version of the manual in several months. The final approved pre-publication version of the Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work is available online on the Center for Civil Society Studies website at www.ccss