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Volunteerism: Central to the Creation of a New Social Contract

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Opinion by Simone Galimberti (kathmandu, nepal)Thursday, December 02, 2021Inter Press Service

Its significance is much broader especially because volunteerism can truly become one of the most important tools at our disposal to promote a different development paradigm and overcome all the challenges that the ongoing pandemic has exacerbated.

It is also central to one of the top priorities set by the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, the creation of a new Social Contract that can re-draw the relationships between governments and citizens, finding new venues for the people to participate in the public life, especially from the perspective of novel ways to think about policy making.

In this sense, volunteerism is an agent for change because it one of the best expressions of civic engagement and therefore it will deserve much more attention and with it, much more resources in order to help solving the most substantial issues the humanity is facing.

That’s why the role of United Nations Volunteers, UNV is going to be central. As a semi-independent agency, formally part of the UNDP, UNV can really become an engine to promote volunteerism, a concept that includes several activities from mutual help to advocacy to direct service provision.

Over the last two years UNV has undertaken a major exercise in rethinking the role of volunteerism. In July 2020, UNV, in partnership with the International Federation of Red Cross/Red Crescent, IFRC, galvanized the global volunteering community with a major exercise to discuss and frame the role volunteerism has in achieving the Agenda 2030.

Entitled “Re-imagining Volunteerism”, this event, formally known as a global technical meeting, led to the definition of the Plan of Action to Integrate Volunteering into the 2030 Agenda, a “framework under the auspices of the United Nations (UN) through which governments, volunteer-involving organizations, UN agencies, private sector, civil society and academia come together to strengthen people’s ownership of the 2030 Agenda and integrate volunteering in national strategies and policies”.

One of its most visible outcomes is the Call for Action, an inspiring document that is guiding the international community on harnessing the power of volunteerism for the common good.

As part of this ambitious process, UNV also opened up several community groups to discuss about key issues, including, the most recent one, just concluded, over the ways that volunteerism can become more inclusive and accessible.

The fact that UNV is opening up and asks for suggestions and ideas is a very important development, an effort that must acknowledged and praised. It is also something that holds much potential in order to create a global community of practitioners engaged over the ways volunteerism can be promoted and scaled.

With the end of this year, UNV is also set to launch a new multi annual strategic plan and, while the details of the new plans still remain undisclosed, it is key that the leadership at UNV makes such process as open and as transparent as possible.

Open, accessible consultations are one of the best ways to let practitioners and social scientists alike to contribute in shaping the next milestones for UNV.

The future strategic goals of this semi-autonomous agency must be aligned with the comprehensive blueprint that Secretary General Guterres launched in September, Our Common Agenda that is an ambitious set of plans to re-energize multilateralism.

One of key aspects of this plan is the strengthening of the UN system of its work and engagement with youth and as result, the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth will be strengthened in the coming years and a new office for youth will be established.

This is an important development because in the past UNV also played an important role as a sort of youth focal point within the United Nations, an interesting proposition but also complicated one because we know that volunteerism transcends age groups.

So, one of the key questions in the new strategic plan of UNV will be how to contribute to reinforcing the youth agenda within the UN system without alienating other key stakeholders that still can play a huge role in promoting and implementing volunteerism around the world.

For sure, youth can be a vehicle, a bridge to reach out other age groups, an insight that surely is being taken into account by UNV in its strategic planning process.

At the same UNV needs to be strengthened and provided with more resources in order to help achieve the SDGs and play a crucial role in defining the boundaries and features of the New Social Contract.

More resources would allow UNV to open more country offices. For example, a country like Indonesia, with a strong volunteering culture and major international player, still does not count with a UNV office.

Additional resources will allow UNV to experiment with new programs that can promote inclusive forms of volunteering, especially because it is now widely recognized that volunteerism can be an equalizer and tool through which a youth can develop personal leadership.

It is also indispensable that UNV is enabled to play a much stronger role as advocate and champion of volunteerism wherever the UN is active, with the technical expertise and resources to support governments to implement volunteering actions on the ground, even though policies or specific legislations.

An empowered, more vocal, stronger UNV won’t only be in need of much stronger support by the international community. The stakes at play will also require UNV to modernize and become more and more agile, flexible, faster and open to local communities.

This will require a change in the working culture as UNV reflects many of the positive aspects of the UN system in terms of professionalism and high standards but it is also inevitable that it also incorporates the less positive sides that typically characterize huge international organizations.

The changes made in terms of setting up community groups to talk and discuss about policies can be scaled up and made it easier and more user friendly. But this is just one aspect that need to be improved.

In order for UNV to scale up its role, we need an organization that is able to get out of the “balloon” typically and to some extents, inevitably associated with the UN. To some extents, it needs to embrace a sort of startup culture symbolized by more informality and openness to fail and risk.

In short, a t-shirt culture rather than the traditional “McKinsey & Company” dress that almost ended up characterizes the entire UN system.

The UN plays a tremendous and vital role everywhere it operates but it is also known for its complex, often opaque working structures, and an inclination to be not exactly what the concept of “value for money” implies.

In short, bureaucracy and red tape can distort and diminish the important work being done globally and UNV could become a trend setter within the wider UN community for a much more dynamic working culture.

The upcoming launch of the State of the World’s Volunteerism Report will be another important milestone for UNV. With it, we will have even a more comprehensive understanding on what volunteering could help achieve if strengthened and embraced worldwide. UNV is a force for good within the international development community.

Still its potential is untapped and in order to do so, we need a bolder, more creative and fast agency, one that can be set the standards for a more effective development system.

Simone Galimberti is a Co-Founder of ENGAGE, a not-for-profit NGO in Nepal. He writes on volunteerism, social inclusion, youth development and regional integration as an engine to improve people’s lives.


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© Inter Press Service (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

Original Article: globalissues.org

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Up to 70% of Children in Developing Countries to Be Left Unable to Read?

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Credit: Shafiqul Alam Kiron/IPSby Baher Kamal (madrid)Monday, January 24, 2022Inter Press Service

The alarm bell has been rung by the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, in his message on the International Day of Education, marked on 24 January 2022.

In fact, some 1.6 billion school and college students had their studies interrupted at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic — and it’s not over yet, said Guterres, adding that today, school closures continue to disrupt the lives of over 31 million students, “exacerbating a global learning crisis.”

The UN Education, Sciencia and Culture Organisation (UNESCO), the World Bank and the UN Children Fund (UNICEF) have quantified the economic dimension of this drama.

Giant losses

“This generation of students now risk losing 17 trillion US dollars in lifetime earnings in present value, or about 14 percent of today’s global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as a result of COVID-19 pandemic-related school closures.”

The State of the Global Education Crisis: A Path to Recovery report,  released in December 2021, shows that in low- and middle-income countries, the share of children living in Learning Poverty – already 53 percent before the pandemic – could potentially reach 70 percent given the long school closures and the ineffectiveness of remote learning to ensure full learning continuity during school closures.

According to the three world bodies’ report, simulations estimating that school closures resulted in significant learning losses are now being corroborated by real data.

And it provides some specific examples: regional evidence from Brazil, Pakistan, rural India, South Africa, and Mexico, among others, show substantial losses in maths and reading.

Analysis shows that in some countries, on average, learning losses are roughly proportional to the length of the closures. However, there was great heterogeneity across countries and by subject, students’ socioeconomic status, gender, and grade level.

“For example, results from two states in Mexico show significant learning losses in reading and in maths for students aged 10-15. The estimated learning losses were greater in maths than reading, and affected younger learners, students from low-income backgrounds, as well as girls disproportionately.”

Inequities of education, exacerbated

Learning to read is a milestone in every child’s life. Reading is a foundational skill, the report explains, adding that all children should be able to read by age 10. Reading is a gateway for learning as the child progresses through school – and conversely, an inability to read constraints opportunities for further learning.

“Beyond this, when children cannot read, it’s usually a clear indication that school systems aren’t well organised to help children learn in other areas such as maths, science, and the humanities either.”

And although it is possible to learn later in life with enough effort, children who don’t read by age 10 – or at the latest, by the end of primary school – usually fail to master reading later in their schooling career.

Even before COVID-19 disrupted education systems around the world, it was clear that many children around the world were not learning to read proficiently, according to the report. Even though the majority of children are in school, a large proportion are not acquiring fundamental skills.

“Moreover, 260 million children are not even in school. This is the leading edge of a learning crisis that threatens countries’ efforts to build human capital and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

No human capital

Without foundational learning, students often fail to thrive later in school or when they join the workforce.

“They don’t acquire the human capital they need to power their careers and economies once they leave school, or the skills that will help them become engaged citizens and nurture healthy, prosperous families. Importantly, a lack of foundational literacy skills in the early grades can lead to intergenerational transmission of poverty and vulnerability.”

As a major contributor to human capital deficits, the learning crisis undermines sustainable growth and poverty reduction.

To spotlight this crisis, the World Bank and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics jointly constructed the concept of Learning Poverty and an accompanying indicator.

“Learning poverty means being unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10.”

Aggravating global learning crisis

COVID-19 is now wreaking havoc on the lives of young children, students, and youth. The disruption of societies and economies caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is aggravating the global learning crisis and impacting education in unprecedented ways.

Learning poverty to rise

With more than a complete year of schooling lost in many parts of the world, learning poverty is estimated to rise to 63 percent in developing countries.

Gaping inequalities

UNESCO says that this fourth International Day of Education is marked “as our world stands at a turning point: gaping inequalities, a damaged planet, growing polarisation and the devastating impact of the global pandemic put us before a generational choice: Continue on an unsustainable path or radically change course.”

Education is key to charting the course towards more justice and sustainability, but it is “failing millions of children, youth and adults, increasing their exposure to poverty, violence and exploitation,” adds UNESCO.

Education, a human right

And here goes a needed reminder: the right to education is enshrined in article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Declaration calls for “free and compulsory elementary education.”

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, goes further to stipulate that countries “shall make higher education accessible to all.”

Challenges

“Education offers children a ladder out of poverty and a path to a promising future.”

But about 258 million children and adolescents around the world do not have the opportunity to enter or complete school, and 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do basic maths…

And less than 40% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa complete lower secondary school and some four million children and youth refugees are out of school.

“Their right to education is being violated and it is unacceptable,” warns the United Nations.

“Without inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong opportunities for all, countries will not succeed in achieving gender equality and breaking the cycle of poverty that is leaving millions of children, youth and adults behind.”

© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service


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Bringing Dry Land in the Sahel Back to Life

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©FAO/ Giulio NapolitanoA field with mid-moon dams used to save water in the coming rainy season in Burkina Faso.Saturday, January 22, 2022UN News

Those trying to grow crops in the Sahel region are often faced with poor soil, erratic rainfail and long periods of drought. However, the introduction of a state-of-the art heavy digger, the Delfino plough, is proving to be, literally, a breakthrough.

As part of its Action Against Desertification (AAD) programme, the FAO has brought the Delfino to four countries in the Sahel region – Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal – to cut through impacted, bone-dry soil to a depth of more than half a metre.

The Delfino plough is extremely efficient: one hundred farmers digging irrigation ditches by hand can cover a hectare a day, but when the Delfino is hooked to a tractor, it can cover 15 to 20 hectares in a day.

Once an area is ploughed, the seeds of woody and herbaceous native species are then sown directly, and inoculated seedlings planted. These species are very resilient and work well in degraded land, providing vegetation cover and improving the productivity of previously barren lands. 

In Burkina Faso and Niger, the target number of hectares for immediate restoration has already been met and extended thanks to the Delfino plough. In Nigeria and Senegal, it is working to scale up the restoration of degraded land.

©FAO/ Giulio Napolitano

Workers preparing tractors to start ploughing in Burkina Faso.

Farming seen through a half-moon lens

This technology, whilst impressive, is proving to be successful because it is being used in tandem with traditional farming techniques.

“In the end the Delfino is just a plough. A very good and suitable plough, but a plough all the same,” says Moctar Sacande, Coordinator of FAO’s Action Against Desertification programme. “It is when we use it appropriately and in consultation and cooperation that we see such progress.”

The half-moon is a traditional Sahel planting method which creates contours to stop rainwater runoff, improving water infiltration and keeping the soil moist for longer. This creates favourable micro-climate conditions allowing seeds and seedlings to flourish.

The Delfino creates large half-moon catchments ready for planting seeds and seedlings, boosting rainwater harvesting tenfold and making soil more permeable for planting than the traditional – and backbreaking – method of digging by hand.

“The whole community is involved and has benefitted from fodder crops such as hay as high as their knees within just two years”, says Mr. Sacande. “They can feed their livestock and sell the surplus, and move on to gathering products such as edible fruits, natural oils for soaps, wild honey and plants for traditional medicine”.

©FAO/ Giulio Napolitano

Women dig mid-moon dams to save water in Niger.

Women taking the lead

According to Nora Berrahmouni, who was FAO’s Senior Forestry Officer for the African Regional Office when the Delfino was deployed, the plough will also reduce the burden on women.

“The season for the very hard work of hand-digging the half-moon irrigation dams comes when the men of the community have had to move with the animals. So, the work falls on the women,” says Ms. Berrahmouni.

Because the Delfino plough significantly speeds up the ploughing process and reduces the physical labour needed, it gives women extra time to manage their multitude of other tasks.

The project also aims to boost women’s participation in local land restoration on a bigger scale, offering them leadership roles through the village committees that plan the work of restoring land. Under the AAD programme, each site selected for restoration is encouraged to set up a village committee to manage the resources, so as to take ownership right from the beginning.

“Many women are running the local village committees which organise these activities and they are telling us they feel more empowered and respected,” offers Mr. Sacande.

Respecting local knowledge and traditional skills is another key to success. Communities have long understood that half-moon dams are the best way of harvesting rainwater for the long dry season. The mighty Delfino is just making the job more efficient and less physically demanding.

©FAO/ Giulio Napolitano

Tractors at work to prepare the land for plantation in Burkina Faso.

Millions of hectares lost to the desert, forests under threat

And it is urgent that progress is made. Land loss is a driver of many other problems such as hunger, poverty, unemployment, forced migration, conflict and an increased risk of extreme weather events related to climate change.

In Burkina Faso, for example, a third of the landscape is degraded. This means that over nine million hectares of land, once used for agriculture, is no longer viable for farming.

It is projected that degradation will continue to expand at 360 000 hectares per year. If the situation is not reversed, forests are at risk of being cleared to make way for productive agricultural land.

Africa is currently losing four million hectares of forest every year for this reason, yet has more than 700 million hectares of degraded land viable for restoration. By bringing degraded land back to life, farmers do not have to clear additional forest land to turn into cropland for Africa’s rising population and growing food demands.

When Mr. Sacande talks about restoring land in Africa, the passion in his voice is evident. “Restoring degraded land back to productive good health is a huge opportunity for Africa. It brings big social and economic benefits to rural farming communities,” he says. “It’s a bulwark against climate change and it brings technology to enhance traditional knowledge.”

A version of this story first appeared on the FAO website.

Action Against Desertification – Delfino ploughs for land preparation and landscape restoration

© UN News (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: UN News

Original Article: globalissues.org

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From Milan to Glasgow, Young Moroccans Commit to Fighting Climate Change

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© United Nations MoroccoYoung Moroccan climate activists and entrepreneurs are taking a group photo with Sylvia Lopez-Ekra in Morocco.Saturday, January 22, 2022UN News

Behind all these initiatives, are the young men and women featured in “From Milan to Glasgow: Moroccan Youth Leaders in the Spotlight“, a new campaign launched by the United Nations team in Morocco to empower young people to take climate action and reduce the harmful carbon emissions that are dangerously heating the planet.

For the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Morocco, Sylvia Lopez-Ekra, the new campaign is a “bet on the importance of partnering with Moroccan youth invested in climate issues.”

Tipping the balance

One of the activists featured is Manal Bidar, an 18-year-old from the city of Agadir, who believes “it is young people who can tip the balance to the right side in the fight against climate change.”

She first got involved in climate and environment action at 13, when she joined a group of friends from a local club, to clean a beach.

She is now an ambassador for the African Youth Climate Hub, a platform that brings together activists from the continent, and serves as an advisor to the Global Center on Adaptation (GCA), an international non-profit dedicated to promote climate-resilience around the world. 

‘Fight of our lives’

Like Ms. Bidar, Hasnae Bakhchouch, a 22-year-old student from Rabat, is taking action to tackle the impact of climate change. 

“With its adverse effects on biodiversity and the health of living beings, climate change jeopardizes societies and can cause conflicts over access to natural resources”, she says.

Ms. Bakhchouch was a National Coordinator of the Moroccan youth delegation to the UN Conference of Youth on Climate, held in September 2021 in Milan, Italy. 

She explains that the goal was to draft recommendations for the 26th UN Climate Change conference (COP26), which was held in Glasgow, Scotland, a couple of months later. 

The Conference closed with a “compromise” deal, which the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said was simply “not enough”. 

At the time, the UN chief encouraged young people and everyone leading the charge, to keep fighting. 

“We are in the fight of our lives, and this fight must be won”, he said. 

From coffee to bricks

One day, while enjoying a cup of coffee, Hamza Laalej, a 23-year-old Moroccan student from Meknes, asked himself if there was a way to recycle the large amount of coffee grounds that end up in the garbage every day. 

Months later, Mr. Laalej managed to turn his idea into a viable green business, where one of the main products is an eco-friendly brick made with a mix of coffee grounds and regular clay.

“Inspired by the Moroccan craft tradition, the production of these bricks relies on [using less] heating, thus helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”, he explains. 

Since then, he has teamed up with 23-year-old Moroccan, Nour El Houda Ben Khoudja, to launch a company that specializes in the collection, sorting, and transformation of coffee grounds into building materials and decoration products.

“You don’t have to wait for the perfect time to start [a green business]. It’s the obstacles you encounter along the way that make business creation an inspiring and fruitful adventure”, he says. 

Green entrepreneurs

A roundtable organized last November, during the launch of this UN campaign, saw other young people present their green start-up projects.

Oussama Nour and Mohamed Taha El Ouaryachi, for example, introduced WAVEBEAT, a company that aims to produce electricity from ocean waves.

© United Nations Morocco

Oussama Nour, President, and Mohamed Taha El Ouaryachi, General Director of WAVEBEA in Morocco

The goal is to provide companies operating in the Moroccan port of Tangier Med, with a renewable alternative to meet their energy needs.

Younes Ouazri presented an ecological and energy-efficient construction method to build homes, including seasonal residences and tourism resorts, using locally sourced materials. 

Hicham Zouaoui and Otman Harrak spoke about their carpooling app, that currently allows some 400,000 Moroccans to travel across the Kingdom, helping save on transportation costs and reducing CO2 emissions.

For his part, Seifeddin Laalej heads a start-up that specializes in recycling plastic waste to manufacture building materials, which he sells all over the country.

“It is important that young people believe in their potential and launch their own projects based on their skills and professional networks”, he said. 

A key player

According to the UN Resident Coordinator, “thanks to its climate policy for the past years, Morocco has become a key leader on initiatives for climate action.”

Through an ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reduction programme and strategies for the preservation of natural resources, Morocco intends to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 45.5 per cent by 2030 and achieve a 52 per cent share of renewable energy in its energy mix in the same year. 

The country is currently one of the few nations with a nationally determined contribution (NDC) in line with the global target of 1.5°C.

© UN News (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: UN News

Article: globalissues.org

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