America Solidaria’s 2016 Harvard Mindich Intern, Isabel Vazquez, attended the Building Bridges Coalition’s 10th Anniversary Forum on international volunteering and shares her perspective here:
As a Youth Rapporteur representing America Solidaria US, I not only learned about the multi-stakeholder investment in volunteering but also participated in a working session on SDG research. Listening to renowned leaders from diverse organizations, I had the unprecedented opportunity of hearing how much has been accomplished and how much more can be done. The panels ranged from future policy to faith-based service. With different approaches and missions, all agreed on the importance of volunteering. Ultimately, volunteers who facilitate cultural exchanges, contribute their professional skills, and promote civic engagement are a key solution for the SDGs. The SDGs are for everyone. Therefore, multiple commitments from governments to volunteers are imperative.
At the forum, I also had the opportunity to connect with other young professionals who are launching their careers and have volunteered extensively. I enjoyed hearing about their experiences abroad and their current domestic endeavors. During the working session on SDG research, I took notes outlining the power of evaluations and data from gamechangers in the field. Grant foundations, organizations, and governments are relying more on data to see what are the needs and the results. Consistent evaluations acknowledge the strengths and shortcomings of volunteering projects but also welcome revision. Instead of limiting projects, constant revision brings stronger improvements and relationships among different stakeholders. This was a great lesson for me as someone who drafts grant proposals to sponsor America Solidaria’s volunteers and projects. After the discussion, two Youth Rapporteurs and I prepared key takeaways for a final resolution to be published soon.
As a recent graduate, I viewed the forum as an elevating platform for volunteering and upcoming reality in international development. How we think about volunteering matters in terms of who donates their time, what impact is accomplished, when policy includes volunteers, where efforts are targeted, and why service matters. Initiatives cannot continue individually but must be in conversation with others to become more recognized and adopted. The forum created a space where those conversations took place. Moving forward, I hope that more conversations and progress are constructed to make volunteering a habit. In his keynote address, General Stanley McChrystal emphasized the importance of habits and called for a full-time paid year of service for every young American. Habits like volunteering are forged through many reminders. The forum reminded me of how many are dedicated to volunteering and to our future.