Empathy, satisfaction, and pride may be the underlying emotions contributing to a charitable impulse in human beings, but real fulfilment comes from volunteering. It is perhaps the most rewarding feeling, accentuated by the human touch that it brings into play. According to researchers, as humans are hard-wired for the social connections we make, volunteering can also extend people’s lives. Even if scientifically not possible, it surely enhances the quality of life.
A cultural component is always the spirit behind voluntary efforts in all societies. For instance, volunteerism is a new name for age-old traditions in Arab societies. Religious and humanitarian values, including compassion and sympathy for others, strongly underpin the phenomenon. These human emotions encourage pro-social behaviour and elevate altruistic thinking.
A recent study found that the percentage of volunteers in Saudi Arabia reached 16.8 per cent, with male volunteers representing 22.6 percent of the population compared to 10.8 per cent of the females. It indicates the varying degrees of gender participation in such activities. Volunteering inevitably becomes a critical organizational component during mega events – such as Dubai Expo and the recently-concluded World Cup.
During the Dubai Expo, as many as 30,000 volunteers from over 135 nationalities made the event truly successful. Similarly, the World Cup in Qatar listed 20,000 enthusiastic volunteers helping perform in 45 functional areas. The term volunteerism suggests an effort or an initiative borne out of an individual zeal to make a difference. A 2018 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report says “informal” volunteering accounted for 82.9 percent of the 8.9 million full-time equivalent volunteers in the Arab region.
Those figures suggest the need for more institutionalization, which is beginning to take shape in the region. In October, a conference in Abu Dhabi gathered around 1,000 volunteers and pioneers of volunteer work from 100 countries. Hosted for the first
time in the Middle East, the 26th IAVE World Volunteer Conference was hosted by the Emirates Foundation, established by the Abu Dhabi government to facilitate public-private funded initiatives to strengthen community resilience.
When the Covid-19 pandemic struck and the hunt for a vaccine began, Abu Dhabi hosted the world’s first global clinical trials of inactivated vaccine enlisted by the World Health Organization. The UAE’s call for volunteers during the phase-III clinical trials elicited a tremendous response. Up to 15,000 volunteers, including men and women aged 18 and 60 of mixed nationalities, participated in these trials.
A study in the MDPI journal on volunteering among Chinese college students during the pandemic indicated the need to consider the public interest and private gains when discussing volunteering opportunities. “The high rate of volunteering in Chinese college students is partly due to the strong state-led emphasis on community service and partly due to the Confucian value of benevolence and collectivistic orientation in Chinese culture,” the report noted. So, ultimately, it is about individuals’ concern for public interest and investment in private gains.
Studies have looked into the spirit of volunteering from different perspectives, including psychological, sociological, and economic viewpoints. From personality traits to altruistic motivation to educational attainment and social capital, it is about bringing out empathy. Studies have also found volunteering during studies to affect achievement and well-being in the long term positively. It also significantly boosts self-confidence, self-esteem, and life satisfaction, encouraging us to do more.
Volunteering during the difficult pandemic times helped in various ways. Numerous selfless volunteers catered to the needy worldwide, supported government measures, and boosted public services. In return, they gained valuable life lessons and skills that would stay with them for the rest of their lives. They might require more sophisticated training for more robust challenges, such as disaster management or war aftermath, but it only gets better once the baseline is ready.
The 2022 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report says the Arab states, Europe, Central Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean display monthly volunteer rates of 9
to 10.6 percent. However, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific far exceed this, with monthly volunteer rates of 17.5 percent and 17.2 percent, respectively. The UAE has been bucking this trend, and its youth councils led by local volunteers ensure that policies empower volunteering organizations. Nevertheless, there is still a case for making the region’s volunteering footprint exceed its charity initiatives.
The UAE is said to be one of the world’s most generous countries. It marked 2017 as the ‘Year of Giving’ and aims to become a leader in philanthropy. It will not be surprising if it becomes the philanthropy capital of the world. While that would be a noble target, it would be great if all of us invested more time, energy, and resources into volunteering. That would surely make us happier and more fulfilled.
- Ehtesham Shahid is an editor and researcher based in the UAE.
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