Turning targets into actions – on SDGs and volunteering

As we continue to unpick the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs), I explored the role of volunteering in meeting these ambitious targets. Volunteer groups are identified as key stakeholders in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and are thought to be essential resources in achieving the vision for a fairer world. Indeed, SDG 17, designed to “strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development”, speaks directly to this. But are companies and individuals aware of the need for volunteerism?

If you think about how the SDGs will be implemented in the run up to 2030, most would list governments, NGOs, inter-governmental organisations and businesses as being the primary facilitators. A recent panel discussion hosted at the UKSSD Annual Conference took this line of thought one step further and highlighted the importance of volunteers in underpinning all grassroots movements and in turn, highlighted the reliance of the SDGs on global volunteer networks. When you take a closer look at what is needed to actually achieve the vision set out by the SDGs, it is people like you and I, that are the workforce needed to turn targets into action.

A good starting point for understanding the role we can all play is the UNV’s volunteering guide, which outlines a number of ways in which volunteers can contribute to the SDGs, and the added value that volunteers bring to local communities. These include:

  • raising awareness to the 2030 Agenda through local campaigns
  • delivering technical expertise and facilitating knowledge sharing and transfer
  • complementing essential basic services where they are lacking or where they are insufficient
  • monitoring progress through citizen driven qualitative and quantitative data collection at a local and national level
  • strengthening local governance and accountability through increased people’s participation.

Not only does volunteering benefits local communities, it also has a positive impact on each of us as individuals. Earlier this year, Carbon Smart left the comfort of the Farringdon office and spent the morning with Trees for Cities in South London. Despite the rain, everyone was in high spirits and the team building session was a success. The team took pride in knowing that the newly planted saplings were the direct output of our hard work and that the local environment was improved as a result of this. Although in isolation it was only a small act, when considered as part of the wider environmental volunteering network, these actions can lead to significant long-term impacts. In fact, the majority of organisations driving conservation efforts and restoring the natural world are not-for-profit organisations that rely heavily on volunteers.

The same can be said for social initiatives. Last month I took 2 weeks of annual leave to work with CalAid in Northern Greece, a charity that provides humanitarian aid and practical assistance to refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people in a fair and dignified way. CalAid was formed as a direct response to the humanitarian crisis in Europe in 2015 and the impact that volunteers can have in situations such as these is profound. One extra pair of hands enables the charity to process donations faster, allows for more preparation time before distributions, can progress construction at CalAid’s new shop and ultimately reach a greater number of beneficiaries. Arguably, one of the most rewarding aspects of any type of volunteering is the coming together of people from all backgrounds, united under a common goal. It strengthens social cohesion, broadens people’s experiences, changes opinions and nurtures compassion and empathy.

United under the 17 SGDs, as people are concerned about the future of our planet, we should think about the SDGs not as something we work towards in just our professional lives, but something we actively strive for on a day to day basis. Businesses play an important role in supporting staff through volunteer programmes and facilitating these opportunities. With so many of us leading busy lives in the City, you may find that volunteering is one of those things that you always meant to do but never quite found the time. Or perhaps you are unsure of what the benefits are and this has caused it to slip down your priority list over months, and perhaps years – hopefully this blog may have changed your mind! Whatever the reason, with the SDGs finally gaining traction, it would seem that now is the perfect time to get galvanized and lend a hand. Donate some hours and expertise to local charities and see the results for yourself – you won’t regret it.


CalAid is currently fundraising for an optics project which provides children with free eye tests and glasses where needed. If you’d like to donate to this much needed project, each eye test costs €10 and each pair of glasses €35, click here . For further information on volunteering opportunities with CalAid please visit their website.