VOSESA launches its information network node

By Joy Oba

Volunteering and youth service programmes are growing rapidly in Southern Africa. But what contribution are they making to development? And how much do we really know about them?

Service and volunteering are important strategies for increasing the participation of young people and poor communities in social, economic and political life. However, information about these programmes in SADC countries (see map on right) is hard to come by.

Volunteer and Service Enquiry Southern Africa (VOSESA) was set up as part of the Global Service Institute (GSI) network to address this lack of reliable, up-to-date information on service and volunteering activities in the region. VOSESA is a non-profit organisation that will profile, link and add to the growing knowledge base about service and volunteering programmes in the region. This involves documenting existing information, generating new and valid information, and enhancing the exchange of information between individuals, organisations and governments that are involved in service and volunteering.

The three strategies through which VOSESA intends to achieve its goals are: functioning as an information network node, conducting research, and assisting in capacity building.

Information network node
Despite the fact that there is a great deal of volunteering and service activity in the SADC region, these activities have either not been documented, or the documentation process has been ad-hoc and unsystematic. The information network node will actively source, collect and organise information, research, data and activities; store this information in a database and then publicise and disseminate the information (via its website) to improve the availability of data, developing the knowledge base, and contextualising information.

The launch of this first issue of VOSESA Focus marks a major step forward and establishes VOSESA as a support base for volunteering and service in southern Africa. VOSESA Focus will be published on a quarterly basis on the website www.vosesa.org.za. It aims to fulfil the information and network objective which is to inform, influence, modify, strengthen and promote the use of civic service as a tool for democracy, development and transformation.

VOSESA will actively support and conduct research on service and volunteering in the region and analyse data that is available through other research projects. It is presently launching a five-country study on service and volunteering in SADC which will explore the nature and scope of service and volunteering in Botswana, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Research projects will help make the full extent of service and volunteering more visible and foster a better understanding of its role in development.

Capacity building
According to an UN Volunteers article Volunteerism and Capacity Development (2002), capacity development captures the concept of enhancing local capacities through external input. The article argues that further steps should be taken to ensure that the contributions of volunteers are more explicitly factored into capacity development programmes. There is an urgent need for non-profit organisations to focus on capacity enhancement for the individuals and communities involved in service and volunteering to ensure that the gains that flow from these programmes outlive the organisations themselves.

At present, there is no indication of what the capacity building needs in the SADC region are. In order to gain a better understanding of what the needs are, questions about capacity will be included in the five-country study that VOSESA is embarking on. Workshops will be held with the research teams in order to synthesise the information, identify priorities and strategies for a way forward, strengthen the research capacity, and build the research agenda for the field of service and volunteering.

MDGs and Nepad
Through research and capacity-building, VOSESA is working in support of the Millennium Development Goals. There is, for example, a growing interest in youth service and volunteering for development as a strategy for achieving the goals. VOSESA also aims to support the goals of NEPAD which aims to put countries on a path of sustainable growth and development.