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View associated PDF document - United Nations Volunteers





UN Volunteers Policy Paper

‘Caring Cities’


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Introduction 4



1. The Challenges of Urbanization 6

1.1. Urban Poverty 7

1.2. Urban Opportunities 9

2. Meanings and Typology of Volunteerism 10

2.1. Meanings and Definitions 11

2.2. A Typology of Volunteering 13

3. The Importance of Volunteerism in Urban Development 16

3.1. Economic Benefits 16

3.2. Grassroots Work/Organizations 17

3.3. Social Cohesion and Capital 18

3.4. Cultural Heritage and Local Pride 23

3.5. Benefits to the Volunteer 24



1. Introduction to UNV 26

2. The international response to the urban problematique

of developing countries and UNV’s role 28

3. UNV’s niche in urban work 30

3.1. Promotion and support to volunteerism 30

3.2. The Mobilization of UN Volunteers 31

4. Thematic view and illustrations 40

4.1. The political & institutional domain 40

4.2. The social domain 48

4.3. The economic domain 54

4.4. The physical domain 59

4.5. The cultural domain 61

4.6. An integrated approach 63

Conclusion 64

References 66

Colophon 68

UN Volunteers Policy Paper ‘Caring Cities’

Volunteering in Urban Development and the role of the United Nations Volunteer Programme


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We are living in an era dominated by the private market ethos;

this trend tends to overshadow the value of voluntary actions.

However, volunteerism continues to play a crucial role even in a

market-oriented society. Equally, volunteerism plays a vital role

in human settlements, which constitute a microcosm of society.

This publication analyses the importance of volunteer work in

the development of cities and towns, and presents the urban

agenda of the United Nations Volunteers Programme (UNV).

UNV promotes and supports volunteerism through different

means and also fields teams of UN Volunteers in developing

and transitional countries. UNV has devoted particular attention

to urban areas and this has evolved over a period of 30 years,

from scattered activities to systemic programming, culminating

in making urban development one of the priorities for its

Strategy 2000. Rather than overlapping with other development

agencies, UNV has been able to offer a distinct value-added

and to complement efforts.

The publication is divided into two main parts: volunteerism and

UNV. The first part focuses on the importance of volunteerism

in urban development. It starts with an introduction to urban

problems, followed by a detailed analysis of volunteerism in this

context. The second part begins with an introduction to UNV,

followed by the general features of its urban operations.

Subsequently it provides a detailed view of the UNV response

to urban problems, with illustrations. The publication concludes

with thoughts on the achievements of UNV, and on the

consolidation of its urban agenda.

UNV’s Strategy 2000 came into being shortly after the

‘Istanbul Meeting’ in 1996 (the United Nations’ Summit

Conference on Human Settlements ‘Habitat II’). Coincidentally,

Year 2001 is the first year after the conclusion of UNV’s

Strategy 2000 and the year of ‘Istanbul + 5’ (the Special

Session of the United Nations General Assembly for an Overall

Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the Habitat

Agenda). This means that UNV’s Strategy 2000 was

implemented during the period between ‘Istanbul’ and ‘Istanbul

+ 5’, and produced the urban agenda which is presented in

this publication.

‘Istanbul + 5’ will review global achievements in the field of

human settlements since the ‘Istanbul’ meeting and will also

discuss future actions. Therefore, this publication has come in

time because it takes stock of what UNV has achieved

throughout this period, and also discusses the future.

The present publication is also well-timed because 2001 has

been chosen by the United Nations as the International Year of

the Volunteers with UNV being the institutional focal point. This

publication is part of UNV efforts to provide information about

volunteerism in general and about its programme in particular.

UN Volunteers Policy Paper

‘Caring Cities’

Volunteering in Urban Development and the role of the United Nations Volunteer Programme



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1. The Challenges of Urbanization

Urbanization is an overwhelming phenomenon throughout the

whole world, and there is ample and widespread evidence

about its occurrence and effects. There is no need, therefore,

for this publication to re-confirm this state of affairs in great

detail (for more information on the subject see, for instance,

UNCHS 1996). However, this section presents some basic

facts about urbanization, with special attention to poverty. The

focus on the urban poor is justified by the fact that this group

bears the brunt of urban problems.

The urban population of the world has been drastically expanding,

both in absolute and in relative terms and this growth is

mainly concentrated in developing countries. According to data

compiled by UNDP (1999), in 1970 the ratio of city dwellers in

developing as opposed to industrialized countries was one to

one. Today this ratio is nearly two to one. It will be three to one

by the year 2015, and will approach four to one by 2025.

Since 1970, 1.23 billion urban residents have been added

to the world population, of which 84% have been in lessdeveloped

regions. In the words of a recent report of the World

Bank (1999: 1):

‘At the threshold of the 21st century, cities and towns are

forming the front line in the development campaign. Within a

generation, the majority of the developing world’s population

will live in urban areas. The number of residents in developing

countries will increase by 2.5 billion – the current urban

population of the entire world. The scale of this urbanization,

with its implications for meeting the needs of individuals at

relatively low levels of national income, is unprecedented.’

The process of urbanization has been accompanied by a

plethora of problems of varying nature (and type) e.g. social,

economic, environmental, etc. It is outside the scope of this

publication to elaborate on evidence about such problems

(there is already an enormous literature on such issues). However,

it is worth noting the alarming magnitude of urban poverty

– because being poor in a city or town entails facing its multiple

problems on a day-to-day basis. According to UNDP (1999),

approximately half of the poor in the world live in urban areas,

and this figure continues to go up, both in absolute and relative


1.1. Urban Poverty

The absolute numbers of urban poor may suffice to demonstrate

the existence and magnitude of the problem, hence the

importance of combating it. This can be reinforced by comparisons

with rural poverty. There is an argument among

development academics and practitioners that poverty in rural

areas is more prominent – and therefore deserves more

resources – than poverty in urban areas. Although it is beyond

the scope of this publication to provide ultimate evidence about

the significance of urban versus rural poverty, it is important

here to show that such relative significance has often been

underestimated. The following points illustrate the relative

importance of urban poverty:

– Higher living costs. As noted by UNCHS (1996), in most

developing countries urban residents face higher living

costs, because many items that have to be bought in urban

areas are free or cheaper in rural areas as they grow or are

produced locally – e.g. fuel, food, fresh water, traditional

building materials, and housing itself.

– New/extra needs. In addition to the higher costs of basic

needs, urban living also entails new or additional needs, a

fact which requires extra expenditure. For example, long

distance daily commuting is an ordinary feature of urban

living, which means that public transport (and associated

costs) becomes an indispensable need. Also, urban living

generally involve more complex and costly recreational

habits (cinemas, shows, night life), which are important in

a milieu that lacks the appropriate space, time and cultural

bonds often necessary for rural types of recreation (encountered

in nature, in extensive village celebrations, etc.).

There is also a much higher pressure for consumption in

general (of non-basic goods) in urban areas, due to a much

more aggressive marketing milieu, and to the constant

day-to-day exposure of the poor to people who ostentatiously

show their expensive goods. (It is often argued that access

to a wider range of goods and services constitutes an

advantage of urban settlements over rural areas. While this

may be true for those who can actually purchase such

goods and services, the reality for the masses of urban

poor is different – they often sacrifice basic needs in order

to be able to purchase non-basic goods and services).

UN Volunteers Policy Paper ‘Caring Cities’

Volunteering in Urban Development and the role of the United Nations Volunteer Programme



The Challenges of Urbanization



The Challenges of Urbanization

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– Greater vulnerability to changes in income: Urban dwellers

often have a greater dependence on cash incomes, which

means greater vulnerability to price rises and falls in income.

This problem is minimized in rural areas due to subsistence

production and foraging (see UNCHS, 1996).

– Socio-cultural bonds: Support networks based in family,

kinship and/or ethnic-cultural background are generally

stronger in rural areas, and prove to be fundamental in many

episodes of crisis and emergencies. Socio-cultural bonds

and derived support networks tend to be weaker in urban

areas, due to the pressures of urban living, associated

psycho social stresses, and ethnic-cultural mixtures. For

instance, the widespread phenomenon of street children is

a clear and sad evidence of this problem.

– Greater health risks: The urban poor face the ‘worst of both

worlds’: while they still suffer problems common to rural

areas (such as infectious diseases and malnutrition), they

also suffer problems which are particular to urban areas

(chronic and psycho social diseases) (Harpham, 1987).

The above reasoning does not deny the significance of rural

poverty (and therefore of the need to combat it). The point is

that, independently of (or in addition to) combating rural poverty,

it is essential to combat urban poverty. There is a widespread

belief among many development thinkers and practitioners that

urban poverty will ‘naturally’ disappear solely by combating

rural poverty. They believe that the urban poor are basically

rural migrants running away from poverty in their regions of

origin. Therefore, the argument goes, if rural poverty is removed,

no more poor people would migrate to cities and towns, and

the poor who are already living in such urban settlements

would migrate back to the (now economically better) rural


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as homelessness, crime, pollution, unemployment, overcrowding

(squatters), and psycho social conditions associated with


1.2. Urban Opportunities

Whether one likes it or not, urbanization is a global phenomenon.

The majority of urban dwellers in all corners of the planet just

do not want to move to rural areas. They prefer to work in

typically urban occupations (e.g. services) rather than in farming,

or they may prefer urban socio-cultural habits to rural ones.

The fact that there is widespread poverty in urban areas does

not automatically means that urbanization is evil – the same

way that the widespread existence of poverty in rural areas

should not lead to similar conclusions regarding rural settings.

Cities and towns are also loci of many opportunities. No matter

how challenging, it is more opportune and at the same time

more realistic to fight urban poverty within cities and towns

themselves, and to allow the poor to benefit from the

opportunities offered by such settlements, than to think about

an idyllic urban exodus.

Solutions to the problems of urban areas in general and of the

urban poor in particular are often complex, and require a wide

set of interrelated activities. At any rate, volunteerism plays a

significant role as part of such solutions.

Removal of poverty and the creation of opportunities in rural

areas might perhaps attract a number of urban dwellers. Yet,

there is no evidence whatsoever that it would constitute a

comprehensive solution to urban poverty. The example of many

Western European countries reinforces this point. Rural poverty

in absolute terms (i.e. acute deficiency or deprivation of basic

needs) in this region of the world is rare. Yet, many dwellers of

Western European cities still face harsh living conditions, such

UN Volunteers Policy Paper

‘Caring Cities’

Volunteering in Urban Development and the role of the United Nations Volunteer Programme





Meanings and Typology of Volunteerism

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2. Meanings and Typology of Volunteerism

Before the paper focusing on the importance of volunteerism in

urban development, this section will provide information about

meanings and definitions as well as about a typology of

volunteerism, as a background to comprehend the subsequent


2.1. Meanings and Definitions

Volunteering means different things to different people. A recent

study (Cnaan et al, 1998) found widespread differences

between countries in public perceptions of what constitutes a

voluntary activity. In some countries giving blood was seen as

volunteering, in others being involved in a political party or

trade union was counted. For some people the defining

characteristic of volunteering was the absence of financial

reward; for others lack of coercion was the main identifier.

Volunteering takes on different forms and meanings in different

settings. It is strongly influenced by the history, politics, religion

and culture of a region. What may be seen as volunteering in

one country may be dismissed as low paid or labour intensive

work (or even forced labour) in another. However, despite the

wide variety of understandings it is possible to identify some

core characteristics of what constitutes a voluntary activity. In

fact it is essential that we attempt to define volunteering. It is

necessary because without some shared understanding of the

common elements of volunteering the term would be meaningless

and would nullify the attempts by governments to promote

it. Although it is clearly not possible to come up with a hard

and fast definition of volunteering that will take into account the

variety of contexts in which it operates, we can construct a

broad conceptual framework which will allow for significant

differences in interpretation within clearly delineated boundaries.

There are five key elements to this framework. First the notion

of reward. Some definitions argue that only purely altruistic

behaviour should be counted as volunteering. Others contend

that there is no such thing as pure altruism and that all

volunteering contains an element of exchange and reciprocity.

Thus some definitions would allow for volunteers to be

rewarded in some way, either non-materially through the

provision of training or accreditation, or materially through the

reimbursement of expenses or the payment of an honorarium.

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The key cut-off point in drawing the distinction between

volunteering and paid employment is that the volunteer should

not be undertaking the activity primarily for financial gain and

that any financial reimbursement should be less than the value

of the work provided.

The second element concerns the notion of free will. Most

definitions concede that volunteering and compulsion are

incompatible. Thus schemes which run counter to the ILO

Conventions on forced labour would clearly not qualify as

volunteering. But as with the notion of reward, there are grey

areas associated with concept of free will. For example, how

should we view school community service schemes which

encourage, and sometimes require, students to get involved in

voluntary work? Food for Work programmes, where there is an

explicit exchange between community involvement and food

assistance? Or citizen service schemes which offer people a

community service alternative to military service? The broad

conceptual framework accepts that it may be difficult to uphold

the pure notion of free will in any volunteering interaction

people’s motivation to volunteer will perhaps always include a

mix of reasons, including peer pressure and social obligation.

But it would also exclude any overt attempt by government to

force people to participate.

The third element relates to the nature of the benefit. To

differentiate volunteering from a purely voluntary leisure activity

requires there to be a beneficiary other than (or in addition to)

the volunteer. But where the line should be drawn is open to

question. Some would argue that the beneficiary has to be a

stranger to the volunteer; others would allow neighbours to be

included, and even friends and extended relations. Still others

would include the notion of self-help or mutual aid where the

dividing line between personal and third party benefit is

especially blurred. Whilst allowing for a variety of interpretations

the broad conceptual framework demands that there be an

identifiable beneficiary or group of beneficiaries (which might

include such abstract notions as the environment or society

itself) other than (or in addition to) the volunteer’s immediate

family or friends. This would allow for self-help and mutual aid

to be included but would rule out caring for dependent relatives.

Fourthly, there is the issue of organizational setting. Some

definitions insist that volunteering must be carried out through

UN Volunteers Policy Paper

‘Caring Cities’

Volunteering in Urban Development and the role of the United Nations Volunteer Programme



Meanings and Typology of Volunteerism



Meanings and Typology of Volunteerism

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a formal, non-profit or voluntary organization of some sort.

Others keep to the organizational requirement but include

activity undertaken within the public or corporate sector. Others

relax the organizational requirement and accept activities carried

out informally, either on a one-to-one basis such as helping out

a neighbour, or in isolation through such civic-minded activities

as picking up litter. The broad framework put forward here

allows for both formal (organized) and informal (one-to-one)

volunteering to be included and for volunteering carried out

both in the public and corporate sectors.

The final element is the level of commitment. Some definitions

allow for one-off voluntary activities to be included; others

demand a certain level of commitment and exclude occasional

acts. The broad conceptual framework enables us to

encompass a range of different levels of activity from high

commitment to sporadic involvement, although it seems fair

to assume that most volunteering would carry with it some

degree of sustained commitment.

Given the differing interpretations of what constitutes a

voluntary activity it is not surprising that there is disagreement

over terms. Some people favour the term volunteering, others

voluntary activity, voluntary work or voluntary action. In some

countries distinctions are drawn between more traditional

forms of charitable activity and more modern forms of citizen

involvement and participation. Whilst recognizing that different

terms often have very different meanings in different settings

this publication will use volunteering and voluntary activity as

interchangeable terms to describe the broad range of activities

which fall within the broad conceptual framework outlined

above. Similar terminological difficulties arise in relation to the

organizations through which most volunteering takes place.

Voluntary organizations, community groups, civil society organizations,

third sector associations, non-governmental and nonprofit

organizations are all terms which are used to describe

the rich variety of organizational structures which occupy the

space outside the state and the market. As with the terms to

describe individual voluntary activity all have subtle, or not so

subtle, differences of meaning. But for the purpose of this

publication we will choose the term voluntary and community

organizations to encompass this wide variety of organizational


In West and Central Africa there

is a tradition of Tontine. This is a

self-help group of citizens established

to provide a rotating credit

system for members. Each

member makes a regular financial

contribution and each has a turn

in drawing from the funds.

Women take a leading role as

members and fund-managers.

In Slovakia the Multiple Sclerosis

2.2. A Typology of Volunteering

It is possible to identify at least four different types of volunteer

activity, delineated according to a final outcome or final purpose

criterion: mutual aid or self-help, philanthropy or service

to others, participation and advocacy or campaigning. Each of

these types occurs in all parts of the world, and both in urban

and non-urban areas. However, the form each type takes and

the balance or mix between different types differs markedly

from place to place. Factors influencing the nature of

volunteering will include the economic, social and political

make-up of the country/region/city and its stage of development.

As a broad rule of thumb the less economically

developed the locality the less formal its volunteering structures

are likely to be, and the greater the emphasis on informal

support systems and networks of mutual aid and self-help.

In contrast, industrialized countries/regions/cities typically will

exhibit more formal volunteering structures with a greater

emphasis on philanthropic forms of activity. This is not to imply

that the developed world is richer in volunteering than the

developing world. Rather that the form volunteering takes is

conditioned by the society in which it is based. Of course there

are parts of the world where volunteering is stronger than

others – in certain countries the political system works against

the free association and participation of its citizens. But even in

countries most hostile to its development, volunteering can be

found. The four categories of volunteering are not mutually

exclusive. There is clear overlap between them. So, for

example, volunteers involved with a philanthropic or service

delivery agency may also very well be involved in advocacy and

campaigning. Likewise, mutual aid may benefit others apart

from members.

Mutual Aid or Self-Help

Anthropologists have noted the existence of mutual

associations (or sodalities from the Latin word sodalis meaning

close friend) as far back as the neolithic period and the role of

mutual aid associations in primitive cultures has been well


In many parts of the world today mutual aid provides the main

system of social and economic support for a majority of the

population. From the small informal kinship and clan groupings

to the more formal rotating credit associations and welfare

groups, volunteering as an expression of self-help or mutual aid

UN Volunteers Policy Paper

‘Caring Cities’

Volunteering in Urban Development and the role of the United Nations Volunteer Programme



Meanings and Typology of Volunteerism



Meanings and Typology of Volunteerism

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plays a primary role in the welfare of communities. In Kenya, for

example, the tradition of Harambee plays a vital role in the

provision of health, water and educational facilities. In Senegal

mutual aid is organized around Mbootaay groups (meaning to

nurture), while in Java such activity goes under the name of

Arisan. In Mexico there is a thriving mutual aid tradition of

Confianza and in the Gulf States the practice of Murfazaa is

long-established. Self-help also plays an important role in

countries of the industrialized North, particularly in the health

and social welfare field, where numerous organizations have

been established to provide support and assistance to those in

need, often organized around a particular disease or illness.

Philanthropy or Service to Others

Perhaps more a feature of developed societies (especially in its

organized form), philanthropic volunteering can nevertheless be

found in all regions of the world. It is distinguished from selfhelp

activity in that the primary recipient of the volunteering is

not the member of the group him or herself, but an external

third party, although most people would acknowledge that

there is an element of self-interest in such philanthropic activity.

Much of this type of volunteering takes place within voluntary

or community organizations, although in certain countries there

is a strong tradition of volunteering within the public sector and

interest is growing in volunteering in the corporate sector. In

some countries sophisticated networks have been established

to recruit and place volunteers with the most appropriate

organization. These include both national and local volunteer

centres, which have been established with support from

government. There is also a long-standing tradition of

volunteers being sent from one country to another to offer

developmental and humanitarian assistance, both North to

South and South to South and, to a far lesser extent, South to



This refers to the role played by individuals in the governance

process, from representation on government consultative

bodies to user-involvement in local development projects. As a

form of volunteering it is found in all countries, although it is

most developed in advanced democracies and those countries

with a strong tradition of citizen participation. Participation was

recognized as an essential component of good governance at

the Copenhagen Summit and has become the watchword of

Slovak Union is a voluntary selfhelp

organization which

developed out of a grassroots

initiative in 1990. It brings

together citizens affected with

multiple sclerosis and their

families, as well as other people

willing to provide assistance. In

addition to providing a range of

practical support to members,

the Union campaigns and

advocates on behalf of people

with multiple sclerosis. It

receives some state funding

and is one of the most active

and visible expressions of selfhelp

in Slovakia.

In the 1990s in Brazil the Citizens’

Action Against Hunger and For

Life campaign was launched by

leaders of various civic groups.

There was a massive public

response and within three months

over 3,000 volunteer committees

had been set up across the

country to look for ways of combating

hunger and poverty. It is

estimated that an astonishing

38% of the Brazilian population

participated directly in the

campaign, either through making

a donation or by volunteering.

In Maharashtra in India in 1998 a

group of concerned citizens

came together to form an action

campaign to save children’s lives

in Melghat. The group called

itself Melghat Mitra (Friends of

Melghat) and determined to

prevent the death of children

caused by malnourishment in

seven settlements during the

monsoon period. A number of

daily newspapers published the

appeal, resulting in a response

from over 3,000 people, who

made donations of money and

time. Two hundred volunteers

agreed to give 10 days of their

time to the project over a period

of 92 days. Having achieved

these goals Melghat Mitra is now

tackling the long-term development

needs of the settlements.

development in recent years, although there is a forceful

critique which argues that much of what has passed for

participation has been little more than token involvement and a

means of legitimising outsiders’ decisions.

Advocacy or Campaigning

The fourth type of volunteering is advocacy or campaigning,

be it lobbying government for a change in legislation affecting

the rights of disabled people or pushing for a worldwide ban

on landmines. Volunteers have paved the way for the introduction

of new welfare services in the field of HIV and AIDS,

have raised public consciousness about abuses of human

rights and environmental destruction, and have been active in

the women’s movement and in democracy campaigns in many

parts of the world. Some campaigns are very localized others

are global in their reach. The anti-landmine campaign, for

example, is estimated to have involved more than 300 million

volunteers from over 100 countries. By its very nature such

campaigning activity has the capacity to bring volunteers into

conflict with the state. Some governments have sought to

clamp down on these activities. Others have accepted that

volunteering has a legitimate role to play in campaigning for

change and acting as a check on the executive.

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‘Caring Cities’

Volunteering in Urban Development and the role of the United Nations Volunteer Programme





The Importance of Volunteerism in Urban Development

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3. The Importance of Volunteerism in Urban

3. Development

This section highlights five sets of impacts and benefits: (i)

overall economic benefits, (ii) grassroots work and organizations,

(iii) social cohesion and capital, (iv) local pride, (v)

benefits to the volunteers.

3.1. Economic Benefits

Volunteering makes an important economic contribution to

urban settlements in particular and to society as a whole.

Activities undertaken by volunteers would otherwise have to

be funded by the state or by private capital. Volunteering adds

to the overall economic output and reduces the burden on

government spending. The existing studies point to the magnitude

of its contribution. For example, a survey of volunteering in the

UK in 1997 suggested that half the adult population took part

in voluntary work, contributing a notional £40 billion to the

economy (Smith, 1998); while a recent survey in Canada

suggested that over five million adults volunteered, adding

some $16 billion to Gross Domestic Product. Two large crossnational

surveys in recent years also point to the importance of

volunteering. A survey in eight European countries in 1994

found an average participation rate in volunteering across the

continent of 23% (Gaskin and Smith, 1995); while the 22-

nation study reported by the Johns Hopkins Institute in 1998

found volunteer involvement running at an average of 28%,

equivalent to almost 10.5 million full-time employees (Salamon

and Anheier, 1998).

A joint study between the Johns Hopkins University and the

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is developing

a framework for measuring the economic contribution of

voluntary and community organizations (including the value of

volunteering) for use in satellite accounting. UNDP also aims to

include measures of governance and participation in its 2001

Human Development Report. CIVICUS, the world alliance for

citizen participation, is meanwhile developing its own civil society

index, which includes a measure of the level of involvement in

the formulation and implementation of public policy.

So far there is little and disaggregate data available on the

quantitative contribution of volunteerism, specifically in urban

The South Asian Poverty

Alleviation Programme (SAPAP)

Pilot programme started in

1996 supporting the poverty

reduction efforts of 6 countries:

Bangladesh, India, Maldives,

Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Since the start of the

programme around 80,000

households have formed themselves

into 3,500 community

organizations which have helped

launch thousands of individual

and family income-earning

activities and built up numerous

community assets from irrigation

systems to roads.

areas. Nevertheless, there is strong evidence that volunteer

work – for example, all the self-help activities at the community

level – accounts for a sizeable share of the urban economy. At

the same time, urban areas account for a sizeable share –

often the largest part – of the economy of countries as a whole.

3.2. Grassroots Work /Organizations

The past few decades have witnessed the rise of an approach

to urban development commonly called the ‘community-based’

approach – which is fundamentally based on the volunteer

contributions of the members of grassroots communities. Its

widespread recognition in development circles constitutes one

set of evidence about the importance of volunteer work at the

urban grassroots at least for three reasons: survival, filling in a

structural void between the private and the public sectors, and

building the political basis of communities. In addition, the

current burgeoning attention to governance further underlines

its importance. Each of these issues will be analysed in turn.

– Survival: firstly, the ‘survival’ argument notes that in most

circumstances, the public and the private sectors have not

managed adequately to provide all the basic needs of the

urban poor in developing countries (either because of

deficiencies in the system of supply or high costs). This

means that the urban poor just have to engage themselves

voluntarily in the direct production of basic needs (e.g.

housing, water, sewerage, solid waste, drainage, etc.) in

order to survive and to live decently. Whenever such

circumstances arise, there is a rationale for urban development

projects to empower and strengthen grassroots

communities to enhance their survival mechanisms.

– Structural niche for volunteer technical work. the second

argument is more radical than the previous one, it contends

that mutual voluntary/self-help production is structural in (at

least some) societies, and that there will always be a void

between public and private production (which has to be

filled by the community itself). Consequently, there is a need

for urban development projects to empower and strengthen

grassroots communities not only in emergency/survival

situations, but always.

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‘Caring Cities’

Volunteering in Urban Development and the role of the United Nations Volunteer Programme



The Importance of Volunteerism in Urban Development



The Importance of Volunteerism in Urban Development

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– Political pressure: the third argument focuses on participation,

which is one type of volunteerism, as noted before.

Communities also have certain needs and rights vis-à-vis

the state. Due to the uneven balance of power in cities –

and in societies – low-income communities tend to have

such needs fulfilled and rights respected only if they are

able to organize themselves and exert concerted pressure

on the public system.

– Governance: fourthly, the current worldwide attention on

(urban) governance also stresses politics, but in a different

way. That is, participation is important not necessarily for

the community to exert ‘pressure’ on the public system, but

to build a more definite relationship. Under such circumstances,

communities need not only the skills to ‘fight’ for

their interests, as above, but also to build alliances and

work together with different stakeholders. This further

reinforces the importance of volunteerism at the urban


Participation has long been seen as an essential element

of good governance and effective development. Numerous

studies have attested to the link between user involvement

and the success of water, sanitation and environmental

projects in many different parts of the world (See, for example,

Kahkonen, 1999). The UNDP Poverty Report for 1998

concluded that: ‘UNDP’s experience suggests that

community anti-poverty programmes should be firmly based

on ‘social mobilization’ (UNDP, 1998), ‘Poor people may

be relatively powerless as individuals, but not when they

mobilize themselves together in communities’.

3.3. Social Cohesion and Capital

Physical proximity among a number of people facilitates, or may

actually be a fundamental pre-condition, for the construction of

social cohesion and capital among such people. In this respect,

cities and towns are strategic, as they constitute spatial entities

where people congregate.

Volunteerism is closely related to the formation of social cohesion

and capital. It fosters trust between citizens and helps develop

norms of solidarity and reciprocity which are essential to stable

communities. By building trust and reciprocity between citizens

In her study in Tanzania,

Narayan, looked for evidence

of social capital by measuring

involvement in associations and

trust in institutions amongst

750 households. The settlement

chosen for the study was found

to be rich in voluntary and

community groups, ranging from

rotating credit associations and

burial societies to clubs for youth

and elders. Involvement was

high, with over 70% of the

population belonging to at least

one group and an average

membership of 1.5 groups per

person. By matching up data

on associational involvement

and household income the

study concluded that there was

a positive link between social

capital and household welfare.

volunteering contributes both to a more cohesive, stable society

and to a more economically prosperous one. In his classic

study of regional government in Italy, Putnam (1993) concludes

that differences in performance between regions can be

accounted for largely by differences in levels of social capital.

This he defined as ‘features of social organization, such as

trust, norms and networks, that can improve the efficiency of

society by facilitating coordinated actions’. One of Putnam’s

key measures of social capital was participation in voluntary

associations, or horizontal ‘networks of civic engagement’.

Several recent studies have pointed to a link between social

capital and economic advance in developing countries. Krishna

and Uphoff (1999), for example, found a positive relationship

between levels of social capital (as measured by informal

networks and mutual support) and performance of settlements

with a watershed conservation and development programme in

India; while Narayan (1997) found a link between involvement

in voluntary associations and household welfare in Tanzania.

Just how social capital performs this function is not clear from

the literature but three main ways have been suggested: by

facilitating the sharing of information among members of groups;

by increasing cooperation; and by facilitating collective decisionmaking.

In a separate study Narayan (1999) draws a distinction

between ‘bonding’ social capital developed within groups and

‘bridging’ social capital arising from the interaction between

groups. For social capital to contribute to social integration

there needs to be not only high levels of associational activity

but a dense network of cross-cutting ties among groups. The

point is powerfully illustrated by Varshney (1998) in a study of

communal riots in India. In seeking to explain why some towns

with a mix of Hindu and Muslim populations remain free from

conflict while others with a similar population profile erupt into

ethnic violence, Varshney looks at the role played by voluntary

associations and informal community networks in building

social capital. He concludes that those areas with low levels

of communal strife are characterized not simply by high levels

of associational activity but by high levels of cross-cutting

engagement between the Hindu and Muslim populations.

Bazan and Schmitz (1997), in their turn, carried out an in-depth

study in the town of Dois Irmaos in Southern Brazil, which

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highlighted a strong association between the development of

the local industrial community and their stock of social capital.

In the specific case of Dois Irmaos, the strong social cohesion

– and correlated high stock of social capital – stemmed from

the ties between migrants, formed along ethnic and cultural


‘In terms of social relations, Dois Irmaos represented a highly

integrated community during the first stage of its economic

development. Like many other Brazilian-German settlements,

solidarity and involvement in community affairs were commonplace.

For many years, community members acted in close

cooperation to build up their churches, to establish and keep

their own community schools, to found mutual-self help societies,

and to create various leisure associations as diverse as

bowling clubs, shooting clubs and choral societies… people

participated in all types of associations. This corresponds to

what Gluckman (1967) has termed ‘multiplex relations’; a

situation in which members of a community belong to more

than one association. There were also many examples of

associations in the economic field… The number of cooperative

practices suggests a high degree of trust amongst members of

the pre-industrial community. This was an important aspect of

the social capital generated in Dois Irmaos during this period.’

(Bazan and Schimtz, 1997: 14–16)

As a result of the aforementioned practices, Dois Irmaos

accumulated a vast stock of social capital, which, according

to Bazan and Schmitz (1997), positively influenced the industrial

development of the town (heavily concentrated in the shoe

industry) through the quality of the relationships within the group

of entrepreneurs, and between entrepreneurs and labourers.

Co-operation within the group of entrepreneurs helped them

to mobilize resources and to overcome barriers to the effective

use of resources. This was carried out through practices such

as exchanging technical knowledge and information, and the

borrowing materials and tools. In a later stage, new forms of

cooperation emerged, such as a number of industrial organizations

concerned with promoting or defending the collective

interests of the shoe producers.

Co-operation between entrepreneurs and labourers, in its turn,

has been described as follows:

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‘Reciprocity and cooperation in intra-firms relations took the

form of a dense market of economic and social exchanges

between entrepreneurs and workers, in which the payment for

an exchange did not have to be made with the same coin in

which it had been received. The type of exchange varied

according to individuals’ particular demands or assets. Workers,

for example, felt that they received from entrepreneurs the

opportunity to maintain their contact with the land, or at least

the opportunities for their families to do so (Schneider, 1994).

Some workers would try to start their own enterprises and

were often helped by their employers; most of the new firms

that were emerging in this period were owned by ex-employees

of shoe manufacturers. In addition, workers received economic

and social support from entrepreneurs ranging from loans to

build up their houses to providing mediation in family conflicts.

In return, workers were highly committed to their jobs, and

entrepreneurs benefited in a number of ways as a result of

workers’ loyalty. For example, workers were understanding

when there were payment delays; they were prepared to work

overtime so that delivery times could be met; and absenteeism

was low.’ (Bazan and Schmitz, 1997: 27)

The period of high social cohesion in Dois Irmaos eventually

evaded, with corresponding consequences to the local economy.

However, after the period in which the initial spontaneously

constructed stock of social capital eroded, there have been

conscious efforts from the local entrepreneurs to rebuild it

through dialogue. Inter-firm forums have been organised to

discuss problems between shoe makers and suppliers, and

intra-firm courses or meetings have been initiated at which

managers discuss a broad range of issues with the labourers.

Health and well-being

There is also evidence about the importance of social cohesion

in the realm of health as evidenced, for example, by the work

of Wilkinson (1996). One illustration is the town of Roseto

(Pennsylvania, USA). This town attracted the attention of

researchers because its population had death rates – particularly

from heart attacks – much lower than neighbouring and

similar towns from the mid – 1930s.

The population of Roseto, USA, consisted mainly of descendants

of migrants from Italy, who arrived in the USA in the 1880s.

After failing to explain the health differentials on the basis of the

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usual risk factors, researchers on the subject began to draw

explanations related to social cohesion. For instance:

‘From the beginning the sense of common purpose and the

camaraderie among the Italians precluded ostentation or

embarrassment to the less affluent, and the concern for

neighbors ensured that no one was ever abandoned. This

pattern of remarkable social cohesion, in which the family, as

the hub and bulwark of life, provided a kind of security and

insurance against any catastrophe… Throughout the years of

study of this community the indicators were that the strength

of unconditional interpersonal support and family and community

cohesiveness had served to counteract the effects of life

stress… The data obtained over a span of twenty years in the

Italian-American community of Roseto, when compared with

those of neighbouring communities, strongly suggests that the

cultural characteristics – the qualities of a social organization –

affect in some way individual susceptibility to myocardial

infarction and sudden death. The implication is that an

emotionally supportive social environment is protective and

that, by contrast, the absence of family and community support

and the lack of a well-defined role in society are risk factors.’

(Bruhn and Wolf, 1979: 134, after Wilkinson, 1996: 117–118)

The Construction of Social Cohesion and Capital

The reasoning developed above notes the pivotal importance

of social cohesion for development. The construction of social

cohesion in urban areas – particularly in the larger centres – is

an important task. On one hand, as already noted, cities and

towns are strategic for the formation of social capital as they

constitute spatial entities where people congregate. On the

other hand, they constitute a challenge, especially the largest

cities, considering that heterogeneity is a hallmark of urban

communities. Such communities lack the spontaneous stock of

social capital which is generally available in places where the

inhabitants share the same ethnic-cultural background. A

straightforward policy implication would be the need to invest

in the construction of social cohesion. Governments have a

role to play in investing in social capital, in supporting the

voluntary and community organizations which nurture it. As

Putnam (1993) has put it: ‘For political stability, for government

effectiveness, and even for economic progress social capital

may be even more important than physical or human capital’.

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3.4. Cultural Heritage and Local Pride

The preservation/reinstatement of the cultural values of a

society has a significant impact on development. Deterioration

of historically important material cultural assets – structures,

sites, objects, books and archives – results in loss of heritage

and identity, as does the disappearance of cultural expression

– music, language, folklore and crafts. A given community

tends to have a greater stake in a development initiative when it

relates to – or at least respects – the community’s cultural

foundations. Cultural heritage also plays a very important role in

reinforcing the pride of a community vis-à-vis the place where it

lives. There is a social identification with a given city/town as a

place (geographical entity): everybody within a local population

belongs to the same place. Therefore, urban conservation

enhances the social identification of the population with its city.

On the contrary, many initiatives are wasted precisely because

they overlook cultural foundations – exemplified by cases of

vandalism in public infrastructure and buildings and the lack of

use of public facilities. Therefore, it is imperative to preserve

and reinstate the cultural dimension of the settlements, and to

reinforce the sentiment of pride that the citizens feel towards

their built milieu.

The preservation of culture largely depends upon voluntary

actions of individuals and groups – e.g. preservation within

one’s private property; care of public spaces and buildings;

collective efforts to restore endangered monuments and

intangible assets, etc. These are attitudes which cannot be

‘bought and sold’ in the private market; they are fundamentally

based in voluntary/free will.

The relationship between volunteerism and cultural heritage/local

pride, if supported, provides the opportunity for the establishment

of a virtuous cycle. This includes the preservation of the

local culture; enhancement of the local pride increases people’s

motivation to further invest in their settlement (i.e. increased

propensity to do volunteer work). This additional investment in

their place will generate further impact on the cultural heritage,

local pride and so forth.

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3.5. Benefits to the Volunteer

Volunteering also brings benefits to the volunteer. In many parts

of the world mutual support provides the essentials of life –

food, clean water, health care, education – i.e. self-help schemes,

as already noted. Volunteering is bound into the very fabric of

life and is indivisible from the struggle for survival. In other parts

of the world volunteering serves a very different function. Here

volunteering is much more a life-style choice. People can chose

whether or not to spend part of their free-time in a voluntary

activity. Many millions do so and attest to the benefits of

participation. Volunteering enables people to meet new friends;

learn new skills; gain in confidence and self-respect. Perhaps

above all, volunteering brings personal satisfaction. In one

study in the UK volunteering was identified as the second

greatest source of joy after dancing (Argyle, 1996).

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employment and the daily struggle for survival leaves little

time or energy for voluntary work. There is a forceful critique

of volunteering, particularly in the developing world, which

dismisses volunteering as a ‘tax’ on the poor, in particular on

poor women, already shouldering much of the burden of family

care and (increasingly) of economic survival. But there is an

alternative viewpoint: by shifting the focus away from service

to others and emphasizing the personal benefits of involvement

– broadening of networks, acquiring of skills and experience,

help with finding paid employment – volunteering can be seen

as a powerful empowering strategy for those suffering from

economic and social disadvantage. For volunteering to

contribute most effectively to social integration it is essential

that opportunities for greater involvement be opened up to

people from excluded groups.

Volunteering brings particular benefits to those suffering from

social exclusion, bearing in mind the extent of this problem in

the settlements throughout the developing world. For people

with disabilities participating in volunteering can aid social

integration and challenge negative stereotypes of disabled

people as passive recipients of care. For unemployed people

volunteering can improve employability by providing essential

work-experience and opportunities for skills development and

training. For young people volunteering offers opportunities

for self-development and risk-taking and provides a valuable

grounding in the practice of citizenship. For older people

volunteering has a positive contribution to make to the process

of ‘active ageing’ by helping the newly retired adjust to life

without the structure of the workplace, by providing

opportunities for life-long learning and by improving physical

and mental well-being. In addition to age-specific benefits,

volunteering can help to ease tensions between age groups

and foster notions of intergenerational solidarity through such

mentoring initiatives as Foster Grandparent schemes.

And yet in many countries there is an inverse relationship

between volunteering and social exclusion. The most

marginalized groups in society are the least likely to participate.

The barriers to participation are well documented: poverty,

unemployment, youth alienation, poor organizational practice

etc. One should be wary of trying to foist volunteering on those

at the margins of society. For many people the search for paid

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1. Introduction to UNV

Set up as a UN subsidiary organ in 1970, the United Nations

Volunteers (UNV) Programme is administered under the

auspices of the United Nations Development Programme

(UNDP). Its headquarters was moved from Geneva to Bonn

in 1996.

UNV’s urban agenda is built upon this agency’s overall

framework of action, outlined above. That will be elaborated

after a brief discussion on the general context of international

assistance to urban development.

UNV’s framework of action can be divided into two broad

components: (i) promotion and support of the different types

of volunteerism, and (ii) mobilization of UN Volunteers. In

practice these two components are often – although not

always – linked together. For the sake of better understanding,

each component will be outlined separately.

The promotion and support activities of UNV target all four

types of volunteerism analysed in the first part of this paper

(self-help, service to others, participation and advocacy). In

many circumstances and places, local volunteers – be they

institutions or individuals – have problems of their own. They

may not be able to provide alone the volunteer response

necessary for a given development problem. In such cases,

UNV complements the local response and also builds local

volunteer capacity, securing sustainability.

In its turn, the mobilization of UN Volunteers fits within the

volunteerism category of ‘service to others’. The UN Volunteers

are professionals who work in support of a wide range of

development initiatives of governments, civil society organizations,

private sector and international organizations. They are

recruited on the basis of specific needs and post descriptions

in the light of the blend of qualifications, skills and experience

sought. UNV has a set of characteristics, which distinguishes it

from other development actors (whether international or local).

The role of a UN Volunteer in a given development project is

different from that of a local volunteer. The UN Volunteer is

able to tap immediately into the informational and technical

apparatus of the UN system and to bring fresh and quick

responses to emerging problems in the field. Furthermore, the

neutrality of UNV helps in reducing the vulnerability level of a

programme to internal political pressures, and in mediating

between local stakeholders in a given project.

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2. The international response to the urban problems of

2. developing countries and UNV’s role

The importance of volunteerism in urban development, highlighted

in the first part of this paper, has been recognized by

many international agencies. Such agencies have offered

promotion and support to volunteerism in specific sectors

within their respective frameworks of action. For instance,

WHO has supported volunteer contributions to improve urban

health; UNICEF has supported similar contributions in fields

of action related to children living in cities, UNESCO has done

the same in the field of cultural heritage, etc.

UNV’s framework of action, in its turn, includes volunteerism

in general, that is, cutting across the various sectors of urban

development. This has an important added-value, considering

that urban development is by definition multisectoral. UNV has

been catalysing the synergies and complementarity between

the volunteer contributions in the different sectors of the

development of a given city or town. UNV has also promoted

and supported volunteer co-operation between different cities

and towns.

UNV also provides an added-value through the specific work

of the UN Volunteers. By and large, the international agencies

have responded to the urban problems of developing countries

through macro-level initiatives. For example, there are many

international initiatives of support for local/urban activities such

as awareness-raising campaigns, processes of partnership

building among the different urban stakeholders, and/or

assistance to policy-making (see, for instance, Werna, 1996,

2000, for reviews). At any rate, in order to be effective and

sustainable, urban development initiatives need to be solidly

anchored with the local stakeholders. This process requires

labour-intensive, in-depth, long-term work. This is where the

forte of the UN Volunteers exists.

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dation of the process with the stakeholders at the local level.

However, the anchoring of development processes (especially

those which are externally induced) at the local level is often

not simple, and there are many examples of initiatives which

have not fully succeeded. Therefore, UNV is well placed to

secure the establishment of such initiatives, especially at the

grassroots, through the extensive day-to-day, face-to-face, work

of the UN Volunteers with the local stakeholders.

In other cases, activities of international agencies do reach the

local level, often via allied local organizations which operate in

the field on a day-to-day long term basis. UNV also has a

contribution to offer in such cases. Firstly, the work of the UN

Volunteers in the field can help to expand the reach of international

initiatives. In addition, the UN Volunteers can work with

and within the very local organizations which are responsible

for the implementation of these initiatives. Such organizations

often face difficulties and have problems of their own, which

UNV can help to address – e.g. through capacity building,

technical assistance, institutional strengthening and other

activities which again require the type of intervention that

characterise the work of the UN Volunteers – e.g. labourintensive,

in-depth, long-term work. Such interventions strengthen

the implementation process through the local organizations.

In some instances, the aforementioned urban actions of international

agencies remain at the macro level (for example,

workshops with city stakeholders, consultancy missions, fast

campaigns to motivate local stakeholders to build synergies

or/and to carry out specific tasks, etc.). It is expected that such

short-term and intensive tasks would constitute the trigger or

lay the necessary seeds for the replication and final consoli-

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3. UNV’s niche in urban work

Following UNV’s overall framework of action, and its specific

role as partner in international assistance for urban development,

its urban agenda can be divided into two broad components:

(i) promotion and support to the different types of volunteerism,

and (ii) the mobilization of UN Volunteers.

3.1. Promotion and support to volunteerism

– Isolated initiatives: Each city or town comprises several

volunteer organizations as well as individuals which

contribute to the various sectors of its development. For

example: grassroots (self-help) groups; solidarity groups

with specific purposes, corporate volunteerism (e.g. private

enterprises supporting communities), among others. UNV

strives to strengthen existing initiatives, to support the

creation of new ones in strategic areas, and to catalyse

complementarity between them.

– Collective attitudes and behaviours: volunteerism does not

consist only of calculated and focused actions of organized

groups (important as they are). Collective attitudes and

behaviours such as the respect of human rights, the

preservation of culture and of the environment largely depend

upon voluntary actions. That is, they cannot be ‘bought and

sold’ in the market place, rather they are fundamentally

based on free will. Such collective attitudes and behaviours

strengthen the social foundations of urban development,

they therefore also have UNV’s support.

– City-wide approach: UNV also promotes the establishment

of mechanisms to put together in a systematic way all the

volunteer activities in a given city or town. One way to do

this is via the local government, the political authority which

represents the city or town as a whole. Another way is the

creation of a city-wide volunteer centre.

– Inter-city volunteerism: this is important not only to support

the development of poorer settlements, but also to create

a broader sense of solidarity among people who live in

different localities. UNV has promoted schemes of

co-operation between local authorities, as well as inter-city

corporate volunteerism.

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– New forms of volunteerism: UNV also strives to keep abreast

with innovations in the field of volunteerism. One recent

example is corporate volunteerism, which challenges the

traditional view that volunteerism happens only via civil

society organizations. Another example is the use of

information technology (on-line volunteering). Further forms

of volunteering are also taking shape. One of the most

interesting is service credit, or time-dollar schemes, in

which people who take part in voluntary activity are ‘paid’ in

time donated by other volunteers. Advocates for such

schemes point to their value in building social capital and in

challenging traditional stereotypes of volunteering as charity

by the explicit emphasis on exchange and reciprocity. All

these forms of volunteerism have a role to play in urban


The aforementioned actions are carried out through different

means. In some cases, they take place directly via support from

UNV Headquarters and in others via UNV Programme Officers

stationed in the field. Some examples of such actions are:

building partnerships, linking donors and local volunteer groups,

connecting two different groups which want to establish an

alliance based on voluntary exchanges, disseminating

information about volunteerism, conducting awareness raising

campaigns, etc.

In other cases, the activities included in this first component of

UNV’s urban agenda are often linked to the second component

(based on the work of the UN Volunteers). For example, UN

Volunteers directly build the capacity of and provide technical

assistance to volunteer organizations in the field. In such cases,

the outputs are enhanced because such initiatives benefit from

the increased synergy accruing from volunteer-to-volunteer cooperation.

A detailed view of the work of the UN Volunteers is

presented below.

3.2. The Mobilization of UN Volunteers

The second component of UNV’s urban agenda is based on

the ‘service to others’ type of volunteerism. It entails the use of

the comparative advantage of the UN Volunteers providing an

added value in international co-operation for urban development.

Such ‘service to others’ work of the UN Volunteers has been

instrumental not only in supporting ‘pure’ volunteer activities

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(explained above), but also in providing volunteer component

of broader initiatives, for instance, in supporting government

gencies and the development of the private sector in the South.

Selected attributes of the UN Volunteers to carry out urbanrelated


– Outreach work at the urban grassroots: human resources,

labour-intensity, long term presence: overall, grassroots

work is highly labour-intensive – as it entails long-term, dayto-day,

face-to-face activities. According to Moser (1993),

who studied and wrote widely on urban community work,

the key component in such work is professionally trained

staff to assist the communities in developing their own

projects. According to her, ‘resources (other than human)

to start these projects are often of secondary importance –

especially because many of such projects, initiated or

supported by civil society organizations, recognize the need

to encourage self-reliant development without dependency.

Consequently, project funds were most frequently spent

not on physical infrastructural materials, but on the fielding

of professionally-trained staff to assist the community in

developing their projects.’ This clearly highlights the

relevance of UNV’s contribution.

Within the UN System, UNV is becoming known as an

‘outreach’ agency, since the UN Volunteers often work

directly with communities, fostering local participatory

approaches to sustainable development. This ‘field

perspective’ shapes the character of UNV’s work,

emphasizing the kind of projects/programmes that can

show direct impact down to the community level. At times,

UN Volunteers also live in the communities with which they

work, thus experiencing their problems first-hand as well

as identifying strengths and mobilizing indigenous resources.

UNV is able to carry out outreach activities during extensive

periods of time (considering, for instance, the extent of the

assignments of the UN Volunteers); thus ensuring an in-depth

contribution to the communities.

– Broad scope of action and flexibility: problems and needs

vary widely from city to city, and within cities. Therefore,

broad scope of action and flexibility allow UNV to offer

tailor-made responses to each specific situation and to

adapt to many different circumstances. Universality in

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selection and placement is a distinguishing characteristic of

the programme. For instance, during the period 1971–2001,

more than 16,000 UN Volunteers from some 140 nations

have worked in an equal number of countries. Such a

diversity allows UNV to support a broad scope of initiatives

in many different sectors of activity and geographic regions.

The UN Volunteers are recruited on the basis of specific

needs and post descriptions in the light of the blend of

qualifications, skills and experience sought. They are people

from different age groups, from mid-20s to over 60 years

old. The average age of the UN Volunteers is 39. They are

recruited from both developing and industrialized countries.

There are more than 4,000 candidates on the UNV roster,

in some 110 professional categories.

There is also a variety of types of UN Volunteers. A given

project can be supported by the most appropriate

combination of profiles of UN Volunteers, including:

- International and national UN Volunteers Specialists: They

are university graduates with considerable professional

experience in many different fields. Also, the use of

national volunteers has the added advantage of building

local capacity through on-the-job training.

- International and national UNV Field Workers: Majority

of them drawn from local communities for their active

leadership profiles. They contribute as UN Volunteers

through their inside/personal knowledge of grassroots


- UNV advisors recruited under two special programmes,

TOKTEN (returning professionals to serve on short-term

assignments) and UNISTAR (short-term advisory services,

mainly in business development activities), as well as

short-term specialists (especially in situations of conflict).

- On-line services: In addition to mobilizing people to work

directly in the field (‘on-site’ UN Volunteers), UNV is now

also mobilizing volunteers who cannot travel to the field

but can work from home using information and

communication technology.

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- Mixed teams: often different types of UN Volunteers work

together in one project. This mixed team approach provides

the necessary combination of skills in a given project, and

allows the UN Volunteers to learn from each other and to

enhance the effectiveness of the project.

- Special characteristics: UNV makes a continuous effort to

design and provide innovative approaches. One illustration

is the use of what could be called ‘mirror volunteers’,

volunteers who have experienced a problem/need similar

to that of the target population of a given project. For

example, the use of local government volunteers. UNV

offers its administrative apparatus to facilitate the fielding

of public officers from the local government of a given city

to travel to another city to provide assistance to their

counterparts there.

Mirror volunteers may also be used to empower excluded

groups. For example, the use of disabled UN Volunteers

in a project which aims to increase the socio-economic

opportunities of a group of disabled people. Another

initiative of UNV in this front is the use of HIV-infected

patients as UN Volunteers in a project targeting HIV-AIDS.

The use of mirror volunteers in a given project provides a

unique added-value that can only be achieved through the

personal interaction between people who have

experienced the same problem or need. In addition, the

granting of UNV status to people such as the disabled

and HIV-AIDS patients conveys a powerful symbolic

message, i.e. that the U.N. recognizes the capacity of

people that society often excludes.

– Neutrality/impartiality: The existence of internal differences

within and between urban communities and between

different urban stakeholders often lead to conflicts. This

highlights the value of another attribute of UNV. Being part

of the UN system, UNV operates under the principles of

both neutrality and impartiality in situations of conflict and

of potential conflict among stakeholders. This helps in

reducing a programme’s vulnerability to internal political

pressures and in mediating between stakeholders in a

given project/programme.

Page 35

– Speed of technical response: emergency situations

constitute a sad and constant feature of many cities and

towns in developing countries – taking into consideration

that the urban poor live in precarious conditions (housing

built with deficient materials and in hazardous settings, lack

of food security, rise in urban violence, etc). When grassroots

organizations need help from international agencies, the

existence of intermediaries between the two often delays

the process. Bearing this in mind, the unique combination

of working at the grassroots level while being directly linked

to the international system allows UNV to tap directly and

constantly from the informational and technical apparatus of

the UN, hence delivering fresh and quick technical

responses to emerging problems in the field, whenever


– Voluntary ethos: the UN Volunteers are able to use the above

attributes in association with their voluntary ethos, which,

as noted throughout in this paper, brings benefits of its own.

– Human resources (volunteers) management: UNV can

relieve other organizations from the complex process of

managing human resources, i.e identifying, contracting,

placing, administering and monitoring volunteers anywhere

in the world. There are some 70 UNV Programme Officers

in more than 60 countries, dedicated to managing the work

of the volunteers in the field, and identifying opportunities

for UNV. Over the years UNV has developed stable, proven

procedures (including standard ‘Conditions of Service’) to

manage and co-ordinate volunteer operations globally.

A case for sustainability

As in the case of any other form of external/international

assistance, attention should be paid to the sustainability of

the actions of the UN Volunteers. Therefore, their interventions

are designed with such a concern in mind. In this regard, it is

important to note that it is not only possible to achieve this

objective, but in many cases the very work of the UN Volunteers

becomes the agent of sustainability. Because, in many circumstances,

the sustainability of development projects is consolidated

through long-term work at the grassroots, i.e. exactly the type

of work carried out by the UN Volunteers. The next section will

present a selected number of concrete activities of UNV,

through which the aforementioned attributes are realized.

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Selected types of contributions of UN Volunteers in urban

related work

– Organisational/institutional strengthening: as noted in a

previous publication produced by UNV (1995: 45): ‘In

most cases… external catalysing agents play an important

role in initiating and consolidating the development process

[of communities], or accelerating what otherwise would

have taken much longer to evolve’. An important part of

such work concerns the strengthening of grassroots

organizations, such as CBOs (community-based organiza

tions). These organizations have played a crucial role in the

development of urban communities – e.g. by constituting a

forum for each community to get together, organize itself

and strengthen its social cohesion/capital; by representing

the whole community vis-à-vis the government and other

external actors, by catalysing external support, etc.

However, such organizations have problems of their

own. While they are generally spontaneously formed,

without technical planning or managerial backing, they often

end up carrying out significant institutional tasks. A large

number of urban communities have thousands of members,

sometimes even hundreds of thousands (such as the Tondo

in Manila, Rocinha in Rio, among others). In such cases, the

tasks – and challenges – of urban grassroots organizations

are often closer to those of local government – at least in

terms of being a representative of the local population,

fighting for them along with other stakeholders and bringing

in external resources. The difference is that local governmental

institutions are planned from the outset, and receive

managerial and technical support of various types and

sources. However, in order to be maximally effective, these

urban grassroots organizations often need support of

varying nature. Like other types of sizeable organizations,

they need a proper institutional design, and a plan of action

for proper institutional functioning. The role played and tasks

undertaken by the CBO’s directly benefit from the interactive

attributes of UN Volunteers, such as: (i) ability to do

labour-intensive work, (ii) long term involvement, (iii) broad

scope of action (to address the range of institutional needs

throughout the world), (iv) flexibility (to address the

differences within and between grassroots organizations),

(v) neutrality (to deal with heterogeneous communities) and

(vi) volunteerism (to enhance the voluntary ethos of such

Page 37

organizations). Beside CBOs, other organizations such as

local NGOs and even local government authorities often

need the same type of support, and therefore may benefit

from UNV’s inputs.

– Managerial capacity-building: the aforementioned institutions

often lack managerial skills to deal with many day-to-day

hurdles or to incorporate the institutional changes noted

above. Capacity-building constitutes another type of task

which would gain from the unified effect of some of the

characteristics of the UN Volunteers, i.e. (i) labour-intensive,

(ii) long term work, (iii) flexibility (to address differences

within and between organizations); (iv) volunteerism (to

secure more intense interpersonal connection and synergism,

especially in the case of voluntary organizations). Another

route to capacity-building is the substantive involvement of

national UN Volunteers, who learn through on-the-job

training during the execution of the project(s).

– Technical capacity-building: the aforementioned institutions

also have deficiencies in technical staff (accountants, information

agents, fund-raisers, among many others), therefore

require training schemes. Also, many urban communities

have a considerable number of people working in the same

professional field (e.g. fishermen, bricklayers, rickshaw

drivers, domestic servants, etc.), a fact which could justify

the establishment of a training scheme in such a field. This

type of task is similar to the previous one, therefore would

also benefit from UNV’s inputs.

– Community animation/orientation: most urban community

members are not aware of their rights and opportunities in

the city – due to illiteracy and/or recent migration – therefore

do not benefit from them. In addition, newcomers are often

not aware of the risks and challenges of urban life. Such a

situation reveals the importance of a professional who raises

the awareness, among the community members, of their

rights and orients them in respect of the risks and challenges

as well as the opportunities and the benefits of urban living.

This constitutes another type of assignment which matches

UNV’s forte, as it has to be carried out within the communities

on a day-to-day, face-to-face basis over extensive periods of

time. The field worker (Section 1) is one type of UN

Volunteer that would be particularly appropriate for such an

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UNV’s niche in urban work

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assignment. Field workers are community members themselves,

who could therefore well convey their experience in

the city to their less knowledgeable/prepared counterparts.

– Participatory work: the utmost importance of social

cohesion/capital has already been noted in this publication.

It suffices to say that participatory work is at the heart of

the process of construction of social cohesion/capital.

External support to carry out this type of work is of utmost

importance because: (i) participatory processes are often

more difficult to build in cities due to the hurdles of urban

life (less time to do the ground work necessary to start the

process) and due to the heterogeneity of the communities

(lack of a common ethnic-cultural background); (ii)

community participation was (sometimes still is) politically

repressed in a number of countries; (iii) some cultures do

not have a strong tradition of participatory work. The role

and importance of UNV in the construction of social

cohesion/capital was noted before in this paper. The same

applies, by association, to participatory work.

– Mediation between local stakeholders: the current worldwide

attention on (urban) governance has already been noted.

Urban governance concerns the relationship between local

authorities and civil society, entailing negotiations and joint

ventures between different local stakeholders. It may be

seen as a participatory process at the city level. Therefore,

it would benefit from the type of work described above. It is

also worth noting that the neutrality/impartiality of the UN

Volunteers may be particularly valuable in such a context of

mediation. There are of course qualitative differences

between the construction of a participatory process within

a community, and the construction of a governance process

within a city. The type of professional required for each task

is therefore different.

Page 39

from professionals who could establish the initial links and

start up the whole process.

– Technical assistance: although external technical assistance

has been criticized for not being sustainable, it is still vital

particularly in least developed countries and/or in situations

of emergency. Under such circumstances, technical

assistance may be pivotal for development and many times

(such as in emergencies) even a matter of life and death.

There is a wide range of technical activities – especially at

the grassroots – which would benefit from the interactiveness

of the attributes of the UN Volunteers, as they are labourintensive,

volunteer-oriented, long term activities (for example,

the whole range of mutual self-help construction work). Also,

technical assistance can indeed be combined with capacitybuilding,

a fact which would reinforce the sustainability of

the activities.

In short, this section has presented selected types of contributions

of UN Volunteers to urban development – without

pretending to have exhausted all possibilities. Rather than overlapping

with or duplicating efforts of other development agencies,

UNV is able to offer a unique contribution. Next, UNV’s

specific contribution in the different sectors of urban development

will be elaborated, with concrete examples.

– Mobilization of resources: in several instances, urban projects

require external resources, as cities and their communities

are often not self-sufficient in everything – especially in such

globalized times of increasing interdependence. However, it

is precisely the most resourceful cities and communities

which have the means (skills, contacts, communication

technology, etc.) to obtain further resources. The poorest

settlements lack such means. Therefore, they would benefit

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Thematic view and illustrations

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4. Thematic view and illustrations

There are different ways to disaggregate the complex and

multisectoral field of urban development. In this paper, this field

will be divided into five broad domains (which are not mutually

exclusive): political & institutional, social, economic, physical

and cultural.

UNV has acted in all these domains through the two components

of its urban agenda i.e. promotion and support to the different

types of volunteerism, and the mobilisation of UN Volunteers.

4.1. The political & institutional domain

Municipal management

The roles of local and municipal authorities in developing

countries are changing fast, due to several facts which may

occur independently or concomitantly in a given city or town,

for instance:

– The process of privatisation of public services in the urban

areas: it is wrong to say that this process entails only a

transfer of activities and responsibilities from the public to

the private sector (which could lead to the conclusion that

the role of the public sector would become ‘easier’). This

process entails a change of roles in the public sector, and

some of the new roles may be much more complex and

difficult than the previous ones, for example the public

regulation of an expanding number of private enterprises,

new systems of a public-private mix (subcontracting,

bidding, franchising, etc.).

– The process of democratisation, which includes community

participation and governance building: this process also

entails roles for local authorities (vis-à-vis the civil society)

which are very different from traditional roles such as

paternalistic administration, clientelism, let alone non-democratic

administration (e.g. unelected mayors ).

– The process of political-administrative devolution, which

transfers roles and responsibilities from upper layers of the

government to the local authorities.

A --------------------------------------------

Volunteer support to the

Municipalities’ Association of



MuAN (Municipalities Association

of Nepal) is an umbrella

organisation, which represents

all the municipalities in the

country. Its current and planned

duties include advocacy, facilitation,

resource mobilisation, and

technical assistance in specific

fields. The UNV role in this

project is to strengthen MuAN’s


Support to address MuAN’s

constraints requires activities

which match UNV’s strengths.

These activities include institutional

re-organisation, managerial

and technical capacity building,

and mediation between stakeholders.

Such activities fit into

the UNV preferred pattern of

labour-intensive, outreach, longterm

work, and neutrality/impartiality.

Also, the fact that the

project is linked to an umbrella

organisation responsible for all

municipalities provides a unique

opportunity for the UN Volunteers

to promote and strengthen

volunteerism at the urban level

throughout the whole country

through (I) advice to policymaking,

(II) direct contacts with

local authorities, and (III) demonstration

activities in partnership

with civil society organisations.

The project was formulated in

partnership with MuAN, UNDP

Nepal and GTZ. The project

lasts for 3 years, and concludes

with a ‘phasing-out’ period during

which the UNV team will just be

monitoring the activities of the

local staff, who will be in full

control of the day-to-day operations,

and will also be involved

in the formulation of activities to

be implemented after the end of

the project. This will ensure

sustainability. The local partners

also will contribute in kind and/or

in cash for the execution of the

demonstration activities included

in the project. In addition, all

local authorities already contribute

to MuAN. These facts not only

guarantee the commitment of

such partners, but also illustrate

evidence of the existence of

local resources — which can be

used after the termination of the

project. Finally, the project is

designed in such a way that

MuAN takes full ownership of it.

The leadership of MuAN will be

supported and strengthened by

the project.

– The process of globalisation: local authorities increasingly

need to adapt themselves to respond to changes and

challenges accruing from the rapidly moving international

milieu, which affect the local level.

A large number of local governments in developing countries

face strong difficulties in coping with such an overwhelming

wave of changes, and would benefit from types of UNV

assistance noted in the previous section, such as institutional

strengthening, capacity building, resource mobilisation and

technical assistance. UNV has a growing portfolio of projects

in this area in different parts of the world. One example is the

on-going project in Nepal, illustrated in text A.

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Thematic view and illustrations

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City-to-city co-operation

UNV is also supporting municipal management by way of cityto-city


A large number of cities from industrialised countries have

established programmes of direct assistance to cities from

developing countries. A number of cities in the developing

world itself are also engaged in similar activities to support

their counterparts in need. Such co-operation between cities

is already a noticeable fact, with hundreds of ‘donor’ cities at

work. This has been increasingly noted in the technical as well

as academic literature on development, which already coined

terms to refer to this widespread phenomenon: ‘city-to-city cooperation’,

‘local level co-operation’ or ‘decentralised co-operation’.

In addition, considering the widespread global trend of politicaladministrative

devolution of power, municipal governments are

likely to gain even more autonomy from central governments.

This means that city-to-city co-operation is likely to grow even


City-to-city support is significant to a large number of local

authorities. The roles of such authorities throughout developing

and transitional countries are changing fast, due to several facts

already described in this paper. These changes have imposed

extra burdens on municipalities.

International assistance to municipalities has not been able to

address their limitations and accommodate the changes properly.

One difficulty — widely heralded by local stakeholders – is that

multilateral or bilateral aid often (or forcibly) comes via central

government authorities. This fact delays or severely cuts down

the aid to the targeted municipalities. This is due to inefficient

administration of central government staff, malfeasance and/or

boycott (e.g. when a local authority is from an opposition party).

In this context, city-to-city co-operation plays a significant role,

as it can provide direct support to local governments.

There is also an alternative argument justifying the inefficiency

of international assistance to municipalities. It does not focus

on the possible problems of central government authorities, but

on the simple fact that the needs of municipalities are just

enormous, vis-à-vis the limited resources of the multilateral and

bilateral agencies. Also, in this alternate scenario, the importance

of city-to-city co-operation surfaces. The resources of donor

B --------------------------------------------

Enhancing volunteerism in cityto-city

co-operation in different

parts of the world


UNV has an on-going project

with IULA (International Union of

Local Authorities), which includes

two components. The first

component consists of support

to two IULA regional offices for

the establishment of a campaign

to mobilise donor cities, and the

establishment of a database to

match supply and demand for

city-to-city cooperation. The

second component focuses on

the support to a number of

individual initiatives of city-tocity

co-operation in different

parts of the world (the initiatives

are selected by IULA). Overall,

the project promotes and

fosters solidarity between local


C --------------------------------------------

Volunteer support to urban

governance in Port Harcourt

(Nigeria) with a focus on children


UNV has provided support to the

implementation of the Child

Friendly Cities Initiative in Port

Harcourt, Nigeria. Child Friendly

Cities is a global initiative of

UNICEF, and is currently being

launched in a number of

countries. It is based on an

integrated approach to urban

development where all local

stakeholders are encouraged to

form partnerships to defend the

rights and address the needs of

the urban children, especially

cities are often independent of those of other international

donors, which means that they constitute an added-value in

such a context.

City-to-city co-operation is related to UNV’s framework of action

because it entails volunteerism and solidarity among local

governments. It includes the work of experts funded by and

sent from one city to another. Therefore, it constitutes an innovative

type of volunteerism: ‘local government volunteers’.

The importance of UNV’s support to city-to-city co-operation

comes from the fact that the missions of the experts from the

donor cities often represent an extra burden to their local

governments. This is because they entail many procedures,

which are not part of the day-to-day business of local authorities:

that is, administrating the trip and taking care of experts overseas.

These procedures are part of UNV’s day-to-day business.

Therefore, UNV’s support in this field increases the efficiency

of the programmes of the cities which already send their experts,

and, at the same time, provides an opportunity for new cities

which do not have the means to do it on their own. UNV is

open to work with individual cities, and at the same time, it has

developed a broader initiative with IULA (International Union of

Local Authorities) (see text B).

Urban governance

The growing importance of urban governance has been noted

in this publication. In many instances, local stakeholders do not

have the collective skills to start such a process naturally, due

to lack of tradition or due to a history of repression. Also, in

many circumstances, the construction of links between local

stakeholders is pre-empted by conflicting interests. These facts

underline the importance of UNV mediators at least in the initial

stages of the process, plus participatory work.

It is also important to recall the role that volunteerism plays in

the formation of social cohesion, already mentioned.

Considering that governance entails relationships between

public authorities and civil society, it greatly depends upon the

establishment of strong cohesion between the stakeholders.

UNV has implemented a number of projects, which relate to

urban governance in different ways. Some of them concentrate

on specific problems or needs, and build a governance process

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Thematic view and illustrations

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between local authorities and local communities with a focus

on addressing their problems and needs. Examples include the

support to urban environment improvement in N’djamena (Chad)

and Dakar (Senegal), public services to markets in Tema (Ghana)

and children’s issues in Port Harcourt (Nigeria). Other projects

include an urban component as part of a broader governance

initiative (e.g. in Kyrgyzstan, Burkina Faso and The Gambia).

Text C and text D illustrations given below briefly describe the

projects which build processes of urban governance around

the solution of specific needs, i.e. children’s issues in Port

Harcourt, and municipal taxes in Tema. Text D also illustrates

more explicitly the connection between volunteerism and social

cohesion. Text E illustrates one project in which urban

governance is part of a broader initiative, i.e. decentralisation in


the poor and most disadvantaged.

The efforts of all local stakeholders

are centred on an axis

linking community-based organisations

and local government

authorities. The specific activities

of the initiative to be implemented

in a given city are designed and

gathered under the framework

of a Local Plan of Action.

The UNV project aims to anchor

the Child Friendly Cities Initiative

with the key local partners in

the municipality of Port Harcourt,

Nigeria. UNV has fielded a team

constituted by two specialists

and ten field workers. The UN

Volunteer specialists have trained

the staff of the governmental

agencies on the Child Friendly

Cities concept, reinforced the

connections between the local

government and the local

communities, and co-ordinated

at the local level the implementation

of the Plan of Action. The

field workers have strengthened

the participation of the community

in the implementation of the

Plan of Action.

The project has also started to

produce concrete benefits for

the communities targeted such

as improved sanitary facilities

and a health centre that have

been made possible through the

participation of the UN Volunteers.

Water sources have also been

improved by applying modern

and durable building methods.

This ensures that the communities

are able to draw water from

Page 45

safe and sanitary sources thus

ensuring better health conditions

among the inhabitants. A particular

area of great advantage is

the building of a staircase in the

Enugu Waterfront Community. It

appears that before the staircase

was constructed, many of the

children and elderly were constantly

hurt and displayed broken

limbs as a result of having to

jump from one side to the other.

However, since its construction,

the injuries have been greatly

reduced to almost none.

D --------------------------------------------

Social cohesion and volunteering:

the construction of a process of

governance involving taxpayers

and local authorities in Tema



The project addresses causes

of the shortcomings in the municipal

system of collection and

management of taxes. These

shortcomings constitute a serious

and recurring problem in Tema

and in many other cities. They

have a direct effect on the

capability of the local governments

to provide the urban infrastructure

and services, and,

consequently, to foster the local

economy and to guarantee a

minimum standard of living for

the urban populations. There is

widespread non payment of

taxes, a problem which is fundamentally

related to lack of social

cohesion and confidence. Taxpayers

do not trust local authorities

regarding the management

of the taxes collected.

In this project, UNV therefore

works with taxpayers and the

local authorities to bring about

a civic process to build trust

and strengthen cohesion. The

project also builds technical

capacity within the local government.

The project is based on

the specific attributes of the UN

Volunteers – outreach and grassroots

work. Their neutrality, trustworthiness

and solidarity are

fundamental to brokering between

stakeholders and to building

their mutual confidence. The

project is being implemented in

partnership with the UMP

(Urban Management Programme).

The UMP contributes with

technical supervision and backstopping

of the UN Volunteers

and with specific studies of

municipal revenue systems.

E --------------------------------------------

Volunteer support to

decentralisation in Kyrgystan


This project is under the directive

of UNDP. UN Volunteers in the

country live in small urban settlements

and in rural districts to

assist communities in planning

and carrying out development

projects. The project reaches

1,000,000 inhabitants.

Mixed teams of 20 international

and national UN Volunteers

working as regional advisors,

local development officials and

fieldworkers form the outreach

arm of the project. They get the

people involved through local

organisations to improve access

to information and drum up

funds for community projects. In

one small municipality, for

example, UNVs helped form 21


Responses from three separate

districts report that the benefits

of such UNV intervention are

manifest in the areas of capacity

building, providing training skills

through participatory methods,

involving women in leadership

and decentralisation.

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Volunteer organisations

Volunteer organisations are surely of major importance in UNV’s

urban agenda. A large part of the first component of this agenda

– support and promotion of the different forms of volunteerism

– is realised through working with such organisations, e.g. selfhelp

groups, advocacy groups, service-to-other groups and

others. The work of many UN Volunteers (second component

of the agenda) also entails support to such types of groups.

This publication highlighted that volunteer organisations based

in urban areas have problems of their own, therefore benefiting

from UNV support in areas such as institutional strengthening,

capacity building, resource mobilisation and technical assistance.

The outputs of the activities are enhanced because they

benefit from the increased synergy accruing from volunteer-tovolunteer


Text F, G and H below exemplify different types of projects. In

the first one UNV supports urban grassroots communities to

strengthen their skills in the self-help and participation types

of volunteerism. Text G describes a project in which UNV

supports the creation of a university volunteer scheme

to work on the reconstruction of settlements. Text H illustrates

the assistance to volunteer groups which are formally involved

in local government.

F --------------------------------------------

Volunteer support to strengthen

urban communities in Costa

Rica and Honduras


This project entails supporting

the implementation of urban

community centres which were

established with the support of

UNCHS (Habitat). The centres

are owned and managed by a

local community-based organization,

and aim at providing lowincome

people better access to

services/resources such as

advice to local businesses, promotion

of local products, job

information, community loans.

The implementation of the

centres entails in-depth and

long-term work with and within

local communities. This implies

not only co-ordinating the

activities, but also setting in

motion a process of capacity

building and community

strengthening, which ultimately

guarantees the sustainability of

the actions. Consequently the

need for establishing the

centres has been identified as

an appropriate niche for UNV to

intervene. UNV is constituted in

such a way as to be able to

carry out in-depth, outreach and

capacity-building activities at

the grassroots level, working

with(in) local communities for

long periods of time.

G --------------------------------------------

The establishment of a

university volunteers service to

Page 47

support the reconstruction of

settlements in Nicaragua


This project is linked to a

UNDP/UNCHS (Habitat)

programme, which supports the

development of outreach settlements

in the aftermath of Hurricane

Mitch. The UNV project

contributes to anchoring the

overall programme at the local


The project builds upon the cooperation

between UNV and

two national universities in the

context of a University Volunteer

Service (UVS). Nicaraguan

graduates support the field

activities of the aforementioned

programme and therefore not

only contribute to the development

of outreach settlements

but also receive practical training.

Their experiences are

documented and used as learning

material in the universities.

In order to strengthen and

formalise existing experiments

of university volunteering, one

UN Volunteer works directly

with the universities, thus ensuring

the sustainable design of the


Altogether, the project promotes

volunteerism among recently

graduated professionals and

community members in

Nicaragua through activities

related to urban areas. Ultimately,

the inhabitants of the selected

outreach settlements will

benefit from this initiative and at

the same time, the new

professionals will profit from it

in terms of personal and

professional development.

H --------------------------------------------

Volunteerism as a pillar of urban

management in Bhutan


Starting in June 2000, a

Volunteer Action Group (VAG)

in each ward of Phuentsholing

City in Bhutan meets at least

once a month. Composed of

residents and business owners

interested in the welfare of their

community and dedicated to

improving overall life in

Phuentsholing, the VAG can

bring up any issue, from parking

problems to waste disposal,

with the PCC (Phuentsholing

City Council). By creating

pressure groups out of

volunteers, PCC hopes to make

its operations more accountable

and responsive. The VAG

depends on concerned residents

who receive no compensation,

yet are willing to give up their

time for the welfare of their

community. The scheme is supported

by UNV and by VSO

(the British volunteer-sending


Using a map devised by the

surveyors, PCC has divided

Phuentsholing into 15 wards,

each of which has a VAG

composed of 5–10 community

volunteers nominated by the

Ward Community.

The volunteers, according to

PCC VAG Guidelines, ‘should

be driven by the desire to

improve the environment of the

Community as a whole. ‘ A

PCC employee in each ward

serves as a Ward in Charge, a

liaison between the ward and

PCC. The Ward-in-Charge

relays the concerns brought up

in the VAG meetings to PCC

and ensures that PCC responds

with some type of action. For

example, the VAG may complain

that residents repeatedly litter

the community areas. The Ward

in Charge informs PCC, which

decides to authorize the VAG to

issue fines to persistent litterbugs.

Or the VAG may decide

to act on its own and initiate an

anti-littering campaign. Or PCC

may decide to empty rubbish

pits more often. The options are

unlimited. The immediate purpose

is communication and

participation, mainly regarding

sanitation, but the VAG can

bring up any issue they like.

School crossings, safety, and

security – there’s no limit. By

encouraging volunteers throughout

Phuentsholing to participate

in city planning, the VAG will

give every resident and business

a stake in the future of the city.

The forging of a communal spirit

can also improve the social

cohesion of Phuentsholing.

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4.2. The social domain

There is a whole set of social problems, which occur predominantly

in urban areas. Largely they are derived from stressors

related to urbanisation such as overcrowding, pollution, longdistance

commuting in precarious circumstances, lack of sociocultural

bonds, lack of access to basic services, etc. A selected

number of social problems related to urbanization are discussed


Abandoned children

While this is an overwhelming – and continuously expanding –

problem in urban settlements throughout the developing world,

it seldom happens in rural areas. It is clearly connected to the

urbanization process, and often takes place due to the breakdown

of family bonds (associated with the loss of ethniccultural

bonds in cities and/or to other effects of the pressures

of urban living). Even when (low-income) families do not fall

apart, the adults cannot frequently take proper care of the

children — again due to urban pressures: stress and/or need to

stay away from home to make a living (e.g. Werna et al., 1999).

Solving this problem clearly requires preventive action, which

in turn entails direct, long-term work with low-income families

and communities, and with children at risk. This shows the

advantages of UNV’s roles in tasks such as community animation

and orientation, participatory work, income generation and

grassroots technical assistance (psychologists, councillors and

social assistants).

In parallel to the above, curative actions are also necessary to

assist the large numbers of children who are already on the

streets. Again, direct, long-term work — in this case with the

abandoned children themselves — is absolutely required to help

this particular group which consists of often psychologically

traumatized individuals, who are exposed to problems such as

discrimination, homelessness, malnutrition, drug-taking, infections

diseases, prostitution, crime and violence. Thus, UNV’s grassroots

technical assistance is of primary importance (i.e.

professionals working directly with the children). It is worth

re-emphasising the importance of UNV’s volunteer ethos. The

spirit of solidarity transmitted through voluntary work is crucial

to build trust and confidence in such children in especially

difficult circumstances.

I --------------------------------------------

Volunteer support to street

children in Latin America


Street children in Tegucigalpa,

Honduras and Managua,

Nicaragua have been piloting

their own solutions to problems

of exclusion, glue-sniffing and

precarious income earning for

themselves and their families

with the help of UN Volunteers

whose assignments were

funded by the Government of


In other countries such as

Ecuador and Brazil, UN

Volunteers helped street children

by providing training in handicrafts,

introducing teenagers to

potential employers and teaching

language skills.

In addition to the above ‘handson’

activities, street children in

Latin America have also been

supported through broader

initiatives. For example, UNV is

currently supporting the governments

of Central American

countries to address issues

about sexual exploitation, child

labour and unemployment.

Since early 1999, 21 UN Volunteers

have been working on

such regional activities, focusing

their efforts mainly at the legislative

level. The UN Volunteers

have helped to draft laws and

train judges, lawyers and government

officials on how to apply

the Convention on the Rights of

the Child.

J --------------------------------------------

Volunteer support to

adolescents involved in law

violations in Central America


It is a known fact that many

adolescents who commit minor

offences are brutally treated by

law enforcement officers. This

often contributes not to prevent

them from repeating the offences,

but actually force them to climb

the crime-ladder – as the

youngsters feel mistreated by

the official system, and feel that

the only option is to immerse

themselves in crime. Considering

this, within the framework of the

project related to the Convention

on the Rights of the Child (see

text I), UNV has provided

support to youngsters in trouble

with the law.

In parallel, in El Salvador and in

other Central American countries,

UN Volunteers go to detention

centers and meet with hardened

teenage criminals who have

been denied their childhood.

They bring with them their

UNV can also use the ‘mirror volunteer’ approach to enhance

the effectiveness of the curative actions. This means using

ex-street children as UN Volunteers. As highlighted before, this

approach provides a unique added value that can only be

achieved through the personal interaction between people

who have experienced the same problem or need.

UNV is currently implementing a Child-friendly Cities initiative in

Port Harcourt, Nigeria (presented in text J). It also implemented

a similar activity in the Palestine. In addition, UNV has supported

street children through other types of projects. Text I provides

examples from Latin America.

Violence and crime

High rates of violence already constitute a crucial problem in

many urban areas in developing countries, and the problem is

continuously spreading to other cities and towns. The specific

condition of urban violence is associated with urban features

such as:

– Intra-urban differentials: cities and towns are relatively small

geographical areas, which concentrate high disparities in

income and standard of living. There is a growing body of

research which shows how the day-to-day/constant cognitive

perception of the poor as worse-off than other members of

society generate behaviour patters which lead to violence

and crime (see, for instance, Wilkinson 1996 for a review).

– Lack of social-cultural/family bonds: this already noted

problem also has an effect on violence and crime (e.g.

adolescents and young adults who grow up without proper

family and communitarian support).

– Anonymity and lack of social control: the fact that everyone

virtually knows everyone else in a given rural village constitutes

a deterrent to violent and criminal behaviour, as the

culprit is easily identifiable. This is not the case in urban

settlements, due to their much larger populations.

– Economic vulnerability: as noted before, the urban poor are

often extremely vulnerable to high prices and changes in

income; and they do not have the option to fall back to an

agrarian support system. Therefore, even when a given lowincome

individual (or group) is not affected by the above

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factors, she/he (they) may resort to crime and violence to

make a living.

In order to be effective, projects which address the problems

of urban violence and crime should include preventive measures

at the community level. This is where/how social problems may

be prevented, through bottom-up changes in people’s attitudes

and responses – which is much more effective than top-down

repression. This is exactly where UNV’s strength lies (i.e. outreach/grassroots

work), and therefore UNV’s intervention in

this area may make a considerable impact.

UNV’s approach is to work with grassroots organisations to

design preventive activities such as support to groups at risk

of becoming criminals (children and adolescents in especially

difficult circumstances); organisation of neighbourhood watch

schemes (non-violent; community-based deterrents to violence);

community/social reinsertion of minor offenders (before they

escalate the crime-ladder); income-generation alternatives to

criminal practices. Again, the ‘mirror volunteer’ approach (excriminals

as UN Volunteers) is highly valuable. Text J provides

some illustrations of UNV’s activities in Central America.


Cities and towns concentrate the majority of drug-related

problems in developing countries, and the connection with

urbanisation derives from the following:

– Behavioural pre-conditions for drug-taking in sizeable shares

of the urban population due to lack of socio-cultural/family

bonds and livelihood pressures (noted before);

– Large supply of drugs induced by the existence of concentration

of people and therefore of large potential

markets – broader/easier access to drug supply;

– Anonymity and lack of social control – which makes things

easier both for the drug dealers and takers.

UNV has joint activities with UNDCP (United Nations Drug

Control Programme) in different countries and regions (East

Africa, Southeast Asia). Text K below illustrates a recently

completed project in the Caribbean.

Actions which are crucial and at the same time match UNV’s

message to the affected adolescents

and help them come to

grips with the emptiness and

despair caused by neglect.

K --------------------------------------------

Volunteer support to reduction

of drug consumption in the



This project was conceptualised

in the context of the Barbados

Plan of Action, adopted at the

Regional Meeting on Drug

Control Co-operation and Coordination

in the Caribbean,

Barbados, 1996. The Plan

comprised 87 recommendations

in six thematic areas. UNV’s

project with UNDCP concentrated

on drug demand reduction

with national and international

partners. This choice of focus

was well in keeping with UNV’s

mandate, and was in tune with

a change in international atti-

tudes towards the drugs issue,

as reflected in the resolutions of

a special session of the UN

General Assembly held 8–10

June 1998, devoted to the fight

against illicit drugs. The

Session developed a forwardlooking

strategy for the 21st

Century. It gave high priority to

‘drug demand reduction’, and

recognised the significance of

the need to address fundamental

issues such as poverty, community

participation, advocacy.

In St. Vincent, for example, the

project provided a UN Volunteer

counsellor to assist an NGO

(Marion House) in its role as the

main organisation in the country

involved in drug demand reduction

and rehabilitation work. This

UN Volunteer has provided

support to prevention work with

children and the youth at Marion

House, counselling for the

mentally ill at a psychiatric

hospital and rehabilitation work

with prisoners. The project also

included other components in

Barbados, Dominican Republic

and Trinidad and Tobago.

L --------------------------------------------

Volunteer support to sex

workers in Madagascar


The government of Madagascar

decided to embark on a crusade

to improve the living standards

of women. The issues were

poverty alleviation, HIV-AIDS as

well as other sexually transmitted

diseases (STD). UNV has

comparative advantages include:

– Prevention: direct, long-term work with families and

communities (awareness raising, strengthening of social

and family cohesion, etc) and with individuals at risk.

– Rehabilitation of drug users: again, direct long-term work –

this time with the drug users themselves – is utterly necessary

(e.g. psychologists, councillors, social assistants). It is also

worth re-emphasising the significance of the solidarity

transmitted via voluntary work to help heal this traumatised

group of individuals. The use of mirror volunteers (ex-drug

addicts) can also be highly effective.


Although many of those who face this problem do not come

from cities or towns (i.e. they are amongst the rural poor), the

setting of prostitution is often urban. Because of the socially

disreputable character of this practice, the anonymity and lack

of social control prevalent in urban areas is very convenient, for

both prostitutes and clients. Cities and towns also have larger

potential markets.

Preventive actions need to be closely associated with

programmes to combat poverty (both in urban and rural areas).

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They require direct long-term work with families and communities,

therefore would benefit from UNV’s specific attributes.

Curative actions with prostitutes also need to be face-to-face,

labour intensive. Text L shows an example of such curative

work in Madagascar. Again, the transmission of solidarity via

voluntary work and the use of mirror volunteers (ex-prostitutes)

can also add value.

Health conditions

There are specific health conditions associated with urban

areas. Firstly, many infectious diseases, incidence of intoxication

and accidents derive directly from physical features of

the urban milieu alone or in association with poverty – e.g. overcrowding,

particular sources of pollution, heavy traffic, lack of

proper drainage systems, housing built in hazardous areas.

Further health conditions derive from psycho-social behaviours

associated with urban sources of stress. Several mental health

conditions constitute examples (e.g. Harpham and Blue, 1995).

The health problems of children derived from lack of proper

care as a result of lack/loss of socio-cultural bonds constitute

another illustration (Werna et al. 1999). Infectious diseases

such as HIV-AIDS are also associated with lifestyles/behaviours

that are more prevalent in urban areas (e.g. hypodermic use of

drugs, prostitution, and multiple sexual partners).

The improvement of health conditions associated with the

physical features of urban areas requires direct action in such

a milieu. This will be presented later on (section on ‘the

physical domain’). In their turn, preventive actions for health

conditions associated with behaviour require direct, long-term

work with individuals, families and communities, therefore

benefiting from UNV’s specific attributes noted in previous

items. Curative actions also include face-to-face, labour intensive

work (e.g. treatment of mental patients). Again, solidarity

transmitted via voluntary work adds significant value to the

joined in the crusade under the

umbrella of ILO and UNFPA. A

UN Volunteer nurse has

provided training and education

for the prevention of HIV-

AIDS/STD and pregnancy. Of

equal importance, UNV’s involvement

also tries to give prostitutes

an income-generation alternative,

by providing training skills in

various areas that would allow

them to escape poverty and

therefore avoid resorting to

prostitution as a means to

obtaining an earning.

M --------------------------------------------

‘Mirror volunteers’: people living

with HIV-AIDS in Africa and the



UNV has lent much-needed

support for HIV/AIDS-stricken

communities in African and

Caribbean countries. Because

most of the UN Volunteers

come from these regions, and

some are themselves infected

with the HIV virus, they

understand what is needed and

can deliver culturally sensitive

assistance at the local level.

One of the goals is to limit the

spread of the disease by

dissemination of information. In

this respect, awareness

campaigns are used to reach

out to target groups through

peer educators, especially

working with young population.

Second, UN Volunteers help

create networks and support

groups that can provide

The fight against illiteracy in urban areas requires specific

technical solutions. Firstly, the teaching programmes of elemencounselling,

food and homebased

care for those who are

suffering. Third, they help survivors

whose resources have been

depleted by the loss of a family

member. In some places, UN

Volunteers have helped establish

small chicken and pig farms,

procured seeds and tools for

vegetable gardens, etc. In other

communities, UN Volunteers are

teaching carpentry skills to

orphans, so that they can begin

to earn a living.

This project involving UN

Volunteers living with AIDS has

targeted Malawi, Zambia,

Jamaica, Dominican Republic,

Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago,

Haiti and Guyana. Similar

initiatives will soon expand to

Cambodia, India and French

speaking African countries.

N --------------------------------------------

‘Mirror volunteers’: the disabled

in Phnom Pen, Cambodia


One in every 250 Cambodians

has lost a limb to a landmine;

countless others have been

disabled by malnutrition and

disease. Together they constitute

one of the most economically

deprived and socially isolated

groups in the country. From her

wheelchair, one energetic UN

Volunteer has been a dynamic

force behind the transformation

of an abandoned building in

Phnom Penh into a place where

the disabled can get back to

work, in spite of physical

treatment of traumatised people (e.g. mental health patients,

HIV-AIDS patients.).

In addition, the existence of a correlation between social

cohesion and health (explained in the first part of this publication),

demonstrates further contributions of volunteerism

to health – i.e. via its role in supporting the establishment or

reinforcement of networks of social cohesion.

Text M below depicts one project, which addresses a serious

health problem that affects urban areas, i.e. HIV-AIDS. This

project includes the use of mirror volunteers.

Social Exclusion

There are many excluded people living in cities and towns in

developing countries, i.e. the poor in general, or specific groups

such as the disabled, informal sector workers, street children,

HIV-AIDS patients, among others.

One way to support the excluded population is through projects

which address structural causes of the problem such as illiteracy.

Although illiteracy is not specifically urban, it has specific and

harmful effects in urban areas. To say the least, the access of

the rural poor to basic needs is less dependent on one’s ability

to read and write – especially in subsistence societies. However,

it is very difficult and sometimes even impossible for

illiterate people to live in urban areas, because of the complexity

of urban production and consumption patterns.

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tary education often focus on aspects of the daily life of the

students – therefore preparing them to deal with such aspects

better. Consequently, there should be an urban specificity in

such programmes. Secondly, the teaching programmes also

have to be adequate themselves to address the requirements

of the time- and space-compressed pace of urban living.

As noted earlier in this publication, one of the main areas of

activity which match UNV’s attributes is capacity-building (thus

including teaching), which in turn constitutes the core activity

of educational programmes. Similar to the case of the other

issues, UNV’s intervention can be either direct with the target

beneficiaries or/and through local institutions.

Other projects which address the causes of the problem include

confidence building, the generation of income to the excluded

group, and awareness-raising campaigns to change the discriminatory

perception about specific groups by the population

in general .

The aforementioned types of project can be implemented on

their own or together with initiatives tailor-made to specific

groups. Previous side text have included examples with street

children, HIV-AIDS patients and prostitutes. Text N illustrates

a case with the disabled. The next section of this publication

contains an illustration focusing on the informal sector.

4.3. The economic domain

Urban settlements include specific types of economic activities.

Therefore, support to such activities requires particular technical

solutions. At the same time that the urban economy requires

macro-level support and policies of integration with the national

and international systems, it also requires intervention at the

grassroots. For instance, the urban poor need support in at

least three main areas: processes of production, regulatory

framework, and credit.

Processes of production

Some industrialized countries are witnessing a certain level of

economic fusion (and therefore lack of differentiation) between

urban and rural areas - e.g. people based in the rural areas but

providing services in cities (telecommuting), factories moving to

challenges. With its lively café,

arts and crafts shop and traditional

massage services offered

by blind professionals, the

National Centre for Disabled

Persons has become a popular

tourist destination. It is also a

place where the disabled can

reclaim their lives, through training

and employment opportunities

and by belonging fully to a


O --------------------------------------------

Support to urban enterprises in

developing countries through

corporate volunteerism


Corporate volunteerism is a

growing trend in the private

sector. It constitutes a type of

activity directly linked to UNV’s

mandate and to its objective of

promoting volunteerism. So far,

corporate volunteerism has

progressed mostly in companies

based in industrialised countries

(although a limited number of

cases in developing countries

also exist). Corporate volunteerism

has focused mainly on

employees working with nearby

communities. At the same time,

one of the specialisms of UNV

is to administer individuals or

teams of volunteer experts

working in outreach projects.

UNV provides the travel arrangements,

and supports the experts

in the countries where they

would work. Therefore, UNV’s

strategy for partnership in the

field of corporate volunteerism

is to offer its added value to

expand the current employeecommunity

relations beyond the

local realm:

- To support companies from

industrialised countries to move

beyond projects in their home

countries – hence to send their

employees for projects in

developing countries.

- To support companies from

developing countries to move

beyond local projects – hence

to send their employees for

projects in outreach areas in

the country and in other


This initiative includes the

benefits of ‘mirror volunteers’ –

the countryside, etc. However, in most of the developing world

(and indeed in many other parts of the industrialized world)

there is still a sharp division between urban and rural processes

of production. Cities concentrate services and/or industrial

production; therefore, the skills required for the urban economy

are specific.

Technical assistance and capacity building are fundamental

in fostering the urban processes of production in developing

countries: in particular to help the poor establish and develop

a productive niche in the urban economy. As already noted in

this paper, UNV has comparative advantages for carrying out

such activities. Besides the fact that these activities are based

on labour-intensive, extensive work, they also benefit from other

attributes of UNV such as flexibility, broad scope of action and

speed of response. These attributes are especially important in

addressing the fast pace and constant shifts and challenges of

the urban economy (e.g. abrupt changes in demand). UNV

administers a volunteer programme (UNISTAR) through which

international executives and technical experts offer their expertise

in developing countries and promote corporate volunteerism

worldwide (see text O).

Finally, the correlation between social cohesion and economic

development (explained before) demonstrate further contributions

of volunteerism in the economic realm – i.e. via its role in

building or strengthening social cohesion.

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Regulatory framework

Many units of production in developing countries are part of

the informal sector, which means that such firms operate

outside the regulatory framework of the government. There is

ample evidence that the urban informal sector plays a very

important role in the economy of developing countries. It has

also had a particular impact on the alleviation of urban poverty.

The advantages of this sector to the poor and less skilled

producers include less or no need for paperwork, for formal

training and for initial capital (ease of entry). The proportion

of the labour force engaged in urban informal production in

developing countries ranges from 20 to 70 percent. As for

consumption, many goods supplied by the informal sector would

otherwise not be accessible to poor people – because formal/

larger-scale firms lack the interest to cater for them or because

their prices are higher (e.g. UNDP, 1991; Werna, 1997).

Although the informal sector is not exclusive to urban areas, it

has particular features in such areas, which therefore require

specific technical answers. Firstly, each process of production

has specific regulatory aspects - and, as noted before, there

are processes of production which are specific to urban areas.

Secondly, because informal producers operate outside government

control, they are susceptible to coercion, which may

disrupt their business. Informal producers in rural areas often

escape control, because they work in a subsistence economy

(which needs no economic regulation), and live in isolation or

in remote regions. Urban informal producers, in their turn, are

directly exposed to coercion on a daily basis. They work faceto-face

with the police and with sectors of the population who

are unhappy with their presence for different reasons (e.g.

informal producers represent unfair competition vis-à-vis formal

producers; they overcrowd the streets; they cater mainly for

the poor and therefore ‘attract poverty’).

Although there has been growing recognition of the need to

support the informal sector, in many countries informal producers

are still harassed and even prevented from working. The solui.e.

private sector employees

supporting their counterparts

in other countries. The initiative

targets both urban- and rural

based enterprises alike.

P --------------------------------------------

Volunteer support to the

informal sector in Zanzibar,



UNVs’ initiative to combat

poverty among women in

Zanzibar, Tanzania takes the

form of entrepreneurial training.

A UN Volunteer gave training to

business extension workers,

helped women organise

themselves into groups to

exchange problems and

solutions, and conducted a

market survey of microbusiness

opportunities. She also

facilitated the groups in

acquiring legal status and

access to formal banking


Q --------------------------------------------

Volunteer support to the urban

economy in Liberia through

micro-credit schemes


UNV is actively involved in

Liberia in the UNDP/UNV-

Trickle UP collaboration Project

‘Promotion and Support for

Income Generating Activities

Among Vulnerable Groups In

Liberia’. This tripartite initiative

started in 1995 with UNV as

the executing agency. The project

follows the Trickle UP grants

approach and beneficiaries are

the most vulnerable groups

such as ex-militants, single

headed female households and

youths disabled during the

internal conflict. The project

targets the poorest 30% of the

population providing them a

grant of US $100, paid in two

installments of US $50. The

tion is definitely not to evict informal producers from cities and

towns and to prevent them from carrying out their business.

This would only increase the ranks of the unemployed, with its

multiplier effects (poverty, violence, etc.). Moreover, considering

that the informal sector is the supplier of particular services/

goods for the urban poor, suppression of informal production

would also exacerbate the needs of this part of the population.

Solutions to the problems of the informal sector require intense

negotiations between the different urban stakeholders (e.g.

local authorities, representatives of the formal private sector,

the informal producers). Such negotiations fall within the broad

framework of ‘urban governance’, already analysed in this paper.

Consequently, this shows the role of UNV as mediators at least

in the initial stages of the process. In addition, the process of

gradual ‘formalisation’ of informal producers requires labourintensive

training on issues such as paperwork and other

bureaucratic procedures.


The urban economy is often more monetarized than its rural

counterpart, therefore exposing urban producers to a greater

need for credit. At the same time, urban financial schemes also

entail qualitative changes. To give a well-known example: the

successful experience in micro-financing of the Grameen Bank

started in Bangladesh and is being replicated in many countries

worldwide. This experience has focused mainly in rural areas,

and its success is strongly based on the social and solidarity

bonds between community members (which prevent each

member from defaulting on payment). However, as emphasised

throughout this paper, such social/solidarity bonds in urban

areas are often much weaker. Consequently, the counterpart

urban micro-finance schemes have to be qualitatively different:

they have either to build/strengthen such bonds, or to use an

alternative approach, which does not rely on them. Either way,

such equivalent schemes can take advantage of UNV’s attributes,

as they need day-to-day intensive work directly with local

communities. Text Q below provides the illustration of a project

in Liberia.

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project was implemented in the

city of Monrovia and surrounding

areas and later expanded to

other localities in the country.

Through businesses that have

been established by grants provided

by the project, it has provided

sustainable livelihood for

approximately 9,132 beneficiaries

of the program and their families.

They have been able to provide

food security, healthcare and

education for their families.

Fifteen NGOs participated in

the final phase.

The beneficiaries have demonstrated

good business acumen and

innovations in their trade. One

innovative person started with

selling dry goods but quickly

moved to textile printing. Another

young entrepreneur

started a soap making business,

now he sells to bulk buyers.

A further very good example of

working with little means is a

cutlery-making workshop. This

skilled worker runs a pottery

business. He makes moulds out

of sand or clay for household

utensils and pours melted metal

recovered from used cans and

bottles in that mould. Finally he

scours the rough edges of the

spoons and pans and sells them.

This business also has an environmental

component, as it recycles

waste by utilizing scrap metal

found in the streets as raw

material for their products.

R --------------------------------------------

Volunteer support to housing

provision and inner city

renovation – cases from

Namibia and Poland


A small team of UN Volunteers

– an urban planner, a community

worker and a building

engineer – worked with

Namibia’s Ministry of Local

Government and Housing,

the National Housing Enterprise

and local authorities. They

analysed constraints in housing

delivery, helped prepare a

national shelter strategy, organised

implementation of self-help

housing at community level,

surveyed lands and allocated

plots, and gave training in lowcost

building. This Namibia Build

Together programme won the

Best Practices Award at the

1995 Dubai International Conference

on Best Practices in

Improving the Living Environment.

Another award-winning UNVassisted

initiative is the

Renovation Strategy for the

Inner City Area of Szczecin in

Poland. Wide public consultation,

together with balanced application

of social, environmental and

commercial criteria, ensures

investment is attracted while

existing housing is upgraded,

additional accommodation

provided and an architecturally

historic area is preserved.

4.4. The physical domain

This domain is the ‘hardcore’ of urban development, and includes

housing and the provision of physical infrastructure and

engineering-related urban services, such as: transport, water,

sewerage, drainage, garbage collection, roads, etc.

The urban poor often live in neighbourhoods – such as shanty

areas, squatter settlements and slums - which are substantially

different from the central areas of cities, and therefore require a

specific type of solution for their problems. In a previous section,

this paper analysed the community-based approach in urban

development, and highlighted the role of mutual, voluntary and

self-help processes throughout the developing world. This

certainly encompasses the elements of the physical domain, as

many low-income urban settlements are literally built entirely, or

at least with a large amount of input, from its own residents.

Consequently, there is a need to support grassroots communities

to carry out these tasks, therefore making the most of

UNV’s specific abilities to work with grassroots communities

Depending on the circumstances, housing and the other physical

elements of urban development are provided by other urban

agents. In such cases, UNV may also be of value, through the

types of support that it can provide to local authorities, NGOs

and to the private sector, as described elsewhere in this


UNV has acted widely in the physical domain, e.g. in housing

and infrastructure provision and rehabilitation in different

countries and regions (see text R and text S below for some


In addition to the fact that the physical domain of urban development

includes primary human needs (such as housing and

water), it acquires further importance due to the frequent

incidence of natural disasters in several developing countries.

Such disasters mean death or serious injury for those who

do not have the proper physical protection. The assistance

provided by governments, private agencies (both for-profit and

not-for-profit) as well as by the international community has

been limited. At the same time, there is a vast array of simple

and effective solutions within the reach of low-income communities,

which could prevent many disasters. Therefore, it is

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imperative to work directly with low-income communities, again

highlighting the UNV’s role in such a context. In the case of

mitigation of disasters, speed of response is also a crucial

attribute – let alone the value of solidarity transmitted via

voluntary work to help heal the traumatised group of individuals

affected by a given calamity. An example of a UNV project

focusing on post-disaster reconstruction – and future mitigation

– is the one which entails the setting up of a university

volunteer scheme in Nicaragua, presented in text G. Another

similar example is a project in Guatemala, with the University of

San Carlos, which focuses on disaster prevention.

S --------------------------------------------

Volunteer support to urban

environment improvement –

cases from the Philippines,

Indonesia, Fiji and Botswana


UNV and the NGO Megacities

enabled National UN Volunteers

and local volunteers in the

Philippines to share with other

urban poor communities of

Metro Manila the waste management

techniques adopted by

KALAHIG, the 400-member

Payatas Association of Waste

Pickers. Included was a visit to

Egypt in which KALAHIG garbage

industry workers compared

notes with Cairo’s Zabbaleen

scavengers and their

Environmental Development

Programme. The visit galvanised

research, innovation transfer,

social marketing and above all,

an enterprise approach.

In Cipinang Besar, Jakarta,

Indonesia, a UN Volunteer

suggested composting the biodegradable

rubbish from the

market and public housing. A

shed was built from junkyard

scrap steel and soon three tons

of compost was being produced

each month. Unusually for

Jakarta, the scheme is run by

the community itself, providing

work for twelve employees and

yielding income from sales to

market gardens, shrimp ponds

and golf courses.

International and National UN

Volunteers in Fiji assisted the

NGO SPACHEE (South Pacific

Action Committee for Human

Ecology) with environmental

education, primary health care

strategies, mobilising local

volunteer contributions and

networking. With funding from

the United Kingdom Government,

the pilot project tested participatory

approaches to using

community-level National UN

Volunteers in primary environmental

care in low-income

urban contexts.

UN Volunteers in Botswana had

schoolchildren conduct baseline

surveys, which exposed poor

environmental practices in

some of the country’s settlements.

A year’s promotional

work followed, through the

Health Ministry’s Family Welfare

Educators, and handbooks

were published in Setswana.

The result was the contractedout

construction of hundreds of

latrines within the National

T --------------------------------------------

Cultural Heritage Volunteers:

cases from Nepal and



UNV has joined UNESCO and

the Co-ordinating Committee

on International Voluntary

Service to respond to the

World Commission on Culture

and Development’s call for an

enhanced programme of

Cultural Heritage Volunteers.

This joint on-going project aims

to preserve or restore monu-

4.5. The cultural domain

The relationship between volunteerism and cultural heritage

was elaborated in the first part of this paper. It explains UNV’s

attention to this aspect of urban development. In addition to

supporting such a relationship as a whole, UNV has specific

attributes to reinforce the cultural foundations of communities,

and to strengthen their bonds with the surrounding milieu. This

is carried out by community motivators and instructors who

raise the awareness and understanding of the communities

about: (i) their cultural foundations, (ii) the importance of

respecting such foundations, (iii) the relationship between the

built milieu (i.e. the very neighbourhoods where they live) and

culture, and (iv) the importance of preserving the built milieu.

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Volunteering in Urban Development and the role of the United Nations Volunteer Programme



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Thematic view and illustrations

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UNV has included the above approach in a number of projects.

One example is the project with the university volunteer scheme

in Nicaragua, presented before, which includes not only a focus

on physical reconstruction, but also on the recuperation of the

cultural heritage of the settlements. UNV also has a project

with UNESCO, entitled Cultural Heritage Volunteers, which

include the protection of heritage sites in Palestine, Nepal,

Uzbekistan, Guatemala and India (see text T).

ments and support activities to

safeguard cultural heritage in

other ways. The countries

included in this project are

Guatemala, India, Nepal,

Palestine and Uzbekistan. This

text includes illustrations from

two of these countries.

In Nepal, UNV’s involvement is

part of an overall safeguarding

campaign for Kathmandu Valley.

The project covers seven sites

with a total of 132 buildings

that are in urgent need of

attention. The intention is to

restore the buildings and make

them suitably attractive for

tourism. The project’s seven

sites are: Durbar Square at

Bhaktapur, Durbar Square at

Patan, Pashupati, Durbar

Square at Bhadgaon,

Changunaraian, Swayambhu

and Bodanath.

The specific restoration work

carried out is architectural in

nature, and in most cases, it

includes roof repair and

structural reinforcement. This

has become necessary because

of damage caused by earthquakes

as well as uncontrolled

urbanisation and demographic

growth. UNV’s work in helping

the local population has already

started with the restoration and

repair of dilapidated traditional

wells and water stone spouts.

Community participation,

especially of women and youth,

was encouraged in these

restoration activities. With the

help of an awareness programme

and lectures, the local people

began to appreciate the quality

of ground water, hygiene and

the importance of the use and

future maintenance of the stone

spouts. Other project activities

likewise feature community

participation activities.

In Uzbekistan, the proposal has

been conceived as a pilot

project to provide on-the-job

training to Uzbek architects in

the use of modern restoration

and conservation technology.

The project targets sites in

Shah-I-Zindah Mausoleum in

Samarkand, Ismanid

Mausoleum and the Buyan Kuli

Khan Madrassa in Buhkara.

4.6. An integrated approach

As noted at the beginning of this section, urban development is

a complex and multi-sectoral field. While this section divided it

into five broad domains (for the sake of simplifying the presentation),

it should also be noted that many of the projects

presented above in fact cut across more than one domain and

through different sectors of urban development. For example,

the project in Port Harcourt develops a governance process

while bringing concrete improvements for the children; one of

the activities in Monrovia mixes income generation with garbage

recycling; the project in Nicaragua mixes post-disaster reconstruction

with the recuperation of cultural heritage; to mention

just a few cases.

The multisectoral character of urban development actually

highlights a significant advantage of UNV’s contribution as a

partner in development assistance. UNV’s framework of action

includes volunteerism in the different sectors. Therefore, UNV

is able to catalyse the synergies and complementarity between

the volunteer contributions in the different sectors of the

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This paper has shown the importance of volunteerism in the

development of human settlements as well as the urban agenda

of UNV, noting the comparative advantages and the ability of

this agency to add value. In his evaluation of a set of UNV

projects, Cohen (2000: 3) noted that this agency has the

distinctiveness of… ‘possessing the leverage of being located

within the UN system but in many ways operating with the

flexibility of an NGO’. This is a simple encapsulation of how

UNV differs from other UN agencies, as well as from non-UN

agencies working at the grassroots.

In specific relation to work at the urban grassroots, a quotation

from research conducted by UNRISD provides a good summary

of its importance, as well as of the role of UNV in particular:

‘The main conclusion of this study is that UNV has an important

role to play in urban grassroots development, or more correctly,

in fostering social cohesion and development in cities and

towns. The research has confirmed earlier findings of UNV’s

action research in urban communities showing that a rapidly

integrating global economy is disproportionately disadvantaging

vulnerable and marginalized groups, many of whom are either

already in cities or on their way. Moreover, while these global

forces may instigate collective action at certain points, in the

long run they erode the capacity of community and volunteer

organisations to respond effectively to the negative impacts’.

(Westendorff, 1999: 16.)

but also shortly before ‘Istanbul + 5’ (in June 2001) which will

review global achievements in urban development since the

‘Istanbul’ Conference of 1996 and also discuss future actions.

Therefore IYV 2001 and Istanbul + 5 together constitute an

excellent opportunity to discuss ways of consolidating and

strengthening UNV’s value and contribution as a partner in the

international effort to combat urban problems in the developing

and transitional countries.

While volunteerism is fundamental in human settlements, it is

still overlooked as a resource. It is important, therefore, to discuss

ways to expand the role of volunteerism in urban development.

Cities are shaped by the sum of the innumerable daily decisions,

attitudes and behaviours of individuals and groups. Many of the

maladies that currently plague urban areas could be ameliorated

or even abolished if such decisions, attitudes and behaviours

were impregnated with a greater degree of solidarity.

Volunteerism can be instrumental, among other things, to help

develop norms of solidarity and reciprocity, which are essential

to stable communities. Volunteerism can build the foundations

for the construction of caring cities.

This approach is important in order to;

‘… overcome the rather instrumental use of concepts such as

partnership, collaboration and participation evident in many

development programmes and projects. It will also highlight the

personal, cultural and locally specific contributions to social

development. These are necessary antidotes to the homogenised

development formulas now in vogue, which continue to leave

the majority in deep poverty’. (Westendorff, 1999: 16.)

UNV’s current urban agenda has been the result of thirty years

of experience and learning. As noted in the introduction of this

paper, it has evolved from scattered activities to systemic

programming, culminating with the choice of urban development

as one of the agency’s priorities. This publication has come out

not only during the International Year of the Volunteer (IYV 2001)

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