Arthur van Diesen, Representative, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Kazakhstan, UNICEF’s Youth Volunteering Programme
Kazakhstan is an upper-middle-income country with an adult (15 years and over) literacy rate of 99.8 percent. It is the ninth largest country in the world and has one of the lowest population densities at under six people per square kilometre. With an Internet penetration rate of 81.9 percent, the Great Steppe is fertile ground for the growth of online volunteering.
Young people aged 10–24 years make up almost one fifth of Kazakhstan’s population. Well educated and well networked, young people are well positioned to harness online volunteering. Recognizing this potential, in 2020, UNICEF Kazakhstan piloted its volunteering programme, an online anti-bullying and environmental initiative. Over 9,000 young volunteers from all regions of Kazakhstan were mobilized by UNICEF to provide anti-bullying lessons in schools, promote reduced use of plastic, address COVID-19 misinformation and promote mental well-being, inclusivity and children’s rights. Since the launch of the initiative, volunteers have engaged more than 98,000 schoolchildren and 7,200 parents, and created over 4,000 social media posts reaching over 800,000 users.
Building on the initiative’s success, in 2021, UNICEF Kazakhstan’s volunteer programme was scaled up and the thematic areas were expanded to include more young people who were trained on disaster risk reduction and emergency behaviour among children and youth, as well as on promoting child rights and an inclusive society.
Volunteers empower and equip their peers and schoolchildren with knowledge, skills and practical tools on bullying prevention, mental health care and environmental protection. Based on the peer-to-peer principle, the absence of authority and peer pressure makes communication efficient and enhances delivery.
Volunteers co-design and co-create possible solutions with young people to advance child rights through meaningful volunteer engagements.
Through the initiative, volunteers significantly increased UNICEF Kazakhstan’s outreach, including to remote rural areas and to Kazakh-speaking children and families. Moreover, the delivery of online classes addressed inequalities in access to information, which is a challenge in Kazakhstan’s remote towns and villages.
Type of volunteering: Online and offline
Number of volunteers: 720 volunteers engaged for the BeKind and Plastic Free projects
Lead organization: National Volunteer Network
Partnerships: UNICEF has partnered with Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Education to promote and effectively deliver the anti-bullying and environment initiatives in schools across the country.
SDGs: 3 (good health and well-being) 10 (reduced inequalities), 12 (responsible consumption and production), 13 (climate action)
Outcomes of the initiative and lessons learned
- 463 online volunteers joined the BeKind volunteering project aiming to prevent bullying and create a safer school environment. Volunteers led 1,796 online lessons for 483 schools in 9 regions of Kazakhstan, reaching 59,460 schoolchildren online and 881 schoolchildren offline. During the lessons, children learned how to prevent and respond to bullying, and 7,325 parents learned how to communicate with their children and support them in such situations.
- 257 volunteers joined the Plastic Free volunteering project aiming to promote eco-friendly behaviours among children and youth and inform them about the negative effects of plastic pollution. With the support of environmentalists and eco-activists, volunteers conducted 428 online lessons for 22,238 children online and 80 children offline in 45 schools. Children learned about eco-friendly habits they could develop (e.g. using reusable shopping bags instead of plastic ones, carrying their own refillable water bottles etc.).
- Volunteering has become one of the core cross-sectoral strategies for the 2021–2025 UNICEF Kazakhstan Country Programme. It has also significantly enhanced UNICEF brand awareness in Kazakhstan and helped triple UNICEF’s social media presence: the number of social media followers has grown 3.6 times, from 20,000 in 2019 to 72,376 in 2020, mainly due to volunteer engagement.
- The blended approach of online and offline formats ensured the volunteering programme’s continuity and its implementation during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the efforts resulting in increased outreach.
- The volunteering programme, which reached youth directly, was remarkably effective and a success on multiple levels. Young people’s commitment and readiness to act, especially during the lockdown; the peer-to-peer approach; the partnership with a strong national civil society partner, and the Government’s commitment enabled UNICEF to reach every region across Kazakhstan’s vast territory, including the most remote areas.
- Volunteers’ engagement in the programme’s design from the outset ensured their buy-in and a sense of programme ownership. Youth voices ensured that the programme was fully tailored to young people’s needs, incentives and preferred practices.
- Despite the scale of the programme, every interaction with children was targeted at the school level, which resulted in elevated interest from school administrations to receive volunteer lessons at their schools.
- The President of Kazakhstan declared 2020 the Year of the Volunteer. UNICEF Kazakhstan used this opportunity and its volunteering programme to advocate for the enhancement of existing legislation on volunteering in Kazakhstan, including by sharing the pilot programme’s findings and lessons learned with the Ministry of Information and Public Development.