Shaping the future of development in the Sahel region through youth volunteer– government partnerships – an opportunity not to be missed
Volunteerism is a function of selfless sacrifices, primarily by young people, who desire meaningful change. This ideal is entrenched in the work of the United Nations and is integral to the work of the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS) and its Support Plan.
The Sahel is a paradox of multiple realities, on the one hand characterized by humanitarian and peace and security challenges, and on the other, a region of bountiful human, cultural and natural resources with immense potential for growth.
For development to be achieved in the Sahel, the selfless sacrifice of its youth is highly desired. With young people comprising more than 60 percent of the region’s population, they are undoubtedly the Sahel’s greatest asset. How then, can governments in the region, alongside other partners, best leverage young people across the Sahel, many of them volunteers for development?
To harness the region’s potential and reverse the negative narrative that is associated with the Sahel, stakeholders need to engage youth in development. Recognizing this, the UNISS, which aims to tackle the Sahel’s structural challenges, has made significant strides in articulating ambitious pathways aimed at addressing the root causes of protracted crises and underdevelopment in the region, with Sahelian youth, many of them volunteers, being an invaluable resource in addressing these challenges.
Volunteering is a noble cause that can benefit the people of the Sahel. Young volunteers are agents of transformation who are willing and ready to make meaningful development contributions in their communities; partnering with them to support the development of their countries is one of the most effective ways to shape the region’s development.
Indeed, young Sahelians have been at the forefront of responding to the region’s various crises and have made numerous contributions in its development, peace and security. As part of the COVID-19 response, for example, 170 UN volunteers, most of them female, supported the United Nations and governments in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger in addressing emerging needs.
As the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted, “I appeal to all governments to promote volunteering, support volunteer efforts, and recognize volunteer contributions to the achievement of the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals].” To shape the development paths of Sahelian countries, governments in the region must recognize the place of volunteerism and youth, and to be a win-win for all, volunteering must be at the centre of development efforts.
Recognizing the important contributions of young Sahelians, in 2021, the UNISS started an initiative that seeks to reflect the perspectives of young Sahelians in development, including by engaging them in direct conversations (Voices from the Sahel: Conversations, Visions & Solutions) on how the United Nations can better partner with youth to change the negative narrative surrounding the Sahel.
With volunteering bridging the intergenerational gap, tackling the root causes of conflict and rebuilding broken social contracts while leaving no one behind, governments in Sahel countries other partners who want to meaningfully achieve the development aspirations of the Sahel and the SDGs need to tap into and collectively recognize volunteers’ efforts, provide support, and dedicate resources and investments to and for youth-led initiatives, especially those that involve volunteerism.
There is no better time to engage in volunteering.