Tuesday, 21 February 2017

UN in your language

Flavia Pansieri - UNVOn 7 September the Association pour les Nations Unies (APNU), the United Nations Volunteer Programme (UNV) and the United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Europe (UNRIC) organized an information session on the UN V Programme at the UN House in Brussels.

Flavia Pansieri, Executive Coordinator of UNV, who was on mission in Brussels, gave an introductory speech which was followed by a discussion about the programme, the recruitment policies and forthcoming challenges.


Hereby an overview of the highlights of this event:

audio32x32 DblueAUDIO 1: Introductory speech by Flavia Pansieri, Executive Coordinator of UNV

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audio32x32 DblueAUDIO 2: How to become a volunteer?

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Questions and answers:

Q1. Role of national administrations?

In a number of countries our partners want to do the screening themselves. Typically that happens when the applicants are funded by the partner country itself. So they want to do the screening. Let me just give you an example, because we are here today in Belgium. We have Belgians funding a number of Belgian volunteers, who of course want to know who they support. But from the number of the volunteers we have, which is close to a 100 over the year, more than 50% come to us directly, and they don’t go through the national channel. It is different in every country.

audio32x32 DblueAUDIO 3: Further explanation on the national funding by Marco van der Ree, Chief a.i. of the Partnership and Communications Division in UNV

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Q2. Do volunteers get a salary?

Volunteers don’t get a salary. They get a living allowance, which is like when you travel for business you get a per diem. It is what you need for survival. It’s not supposed to be a salary, and as such it should be totally exempt from tax.

A Belgian former UNV attending the event alerted the audience about the fact that the exemption from taxes is not always clear for national authorities. She warned participants that in practice this is not always the case. According to her countries may have bilateral agreements with the countries in which the UNV is operating but that’s not always the case. When you come back you can have a lot of fiscal problems. She advised people to check this out in advance. 

Q3. What is online volunteering about?

With online volunteering, there is a lot that one can do even if you cannot physically go there. Sometimes it’s dangerous to go to certain places (…) but when you are on the internet, you can send a document, send it back translated. (…) the things that you can do, without having to be physically there, are mindblowing. From developing websites, designing strategies, to do desktop publishing. We have an example, I think it was a lady from Malaysia who supported womens’ cooperatives in Guatemala, to improve the labeling of their jams. And then there’s the example I was giving of Libya, of doing humanitarian coordination through the internet. So, I think for me it is important to look, not just at the field based activities, but also what the internet allows us to do, in terms of online volunteering.

Q4. Is it possible to do part-time assignments?

If you are in the field, no. These are full time assignments. I would argue that most of the time they are more than full time. (…) But there is the possibility of doing it online and online you can tailor it to the time that you have available. Because what we do, as I said, is this matching approach. If, let’s say, an NGO in a developing country has a need for social support that is for you to respond and say “Ok, I can provide this. But I have a job, I am studying, I have a family, whatever, I cannot do it in one week, I will need three weeks, is it ok or not?” And then it is a matter of having a dialogue. If it is acceptable, you can do it totally part-time. And then you determine the type of engagement that you can have and that you can afford in line with your other life commitments.

Q5. What is the minimum duration of a UNV assignment?

We wouldn’t go below the two weeks, and this would mostly be highly technical expertise interventions. Most of the time such periods are for senior, retired people who still want to contribute all they know and they wouldn’t necessarily want to live in a place.

And then we have different clusters:

- short-term durations that go from 2 weeks to 3 months.

- durations of 3 to 6 months.

- longer duration that go up to a maximum of 4 years.

And they can be renewable.

The duration very much depends also on the nature of the needs. In a humanitarian response situation, it would be on average 6 months; a development program would be one year renewable; elections could be a month.

In order to become fully productive it is important to have a duration that allows you to understand the context. Build a relationship with the other parts, get to know them, work together, ... that is the first important premise for a successful impact.

Q6. Are there volunteering possibilities for young people in their early twenties?

We don’t have that many volunteers in their twenties because typically we look at twenty five as being the age at which we would recruit specialist. We do have however pools of interns and young graduates typically funded by their own country, whom we are considering and who take on volunteer assignments. And now the Secretary-General has told us to set up a youth volunteer corps so obviously we will be reducing the age.

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