Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
1-HP091: Volunteering, Solidarity and Development
Monday, 05/July/2021:
3:30pm - 4:45pm

Session Chair: Prof. Matt Baillie Smith, Northumbria University, United Kingdom
Session Chair: Chris Millora, University of East Anglia, United Kingdom

Session Abstract

This panel explores the relationship between volunteering, solidarity and development. Volunteering and development debates have been dominated by a focus on international volunteers from the global North, marginalising diverse forms of volunteering within and between global South settings and their multiple and contested relationships to development. This panel moves beyond a focus on how volunteering promotes development to explore what kind of development volunteering facilitates and for whom. To reflect more diverse volunteering experiences, the panel will explore volunteering’s relationship to efforts to build trust across different scales, struggles for peace and social justice, and responses to the climate emergency.

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Volunteering, Solidarity And Displacement: Young Refugees Volunteering In Uganda

Matt Baillie Smith1, Frank Ahimbisibwe2, Aisling O'Loghlen1, Robert Turyamureeba2

1Northumbria University, United Kingdom; 2Mbarara University of Science and Technology

This paper explores the relationships between volunteering, solidarity and displacement through a focus on the voluntary activities of young refugees in Uganda. Volunteering and development have often been explored through analyses of international volunteering as a form of transnational solidarity. Less attention has been paid to the forms and scales of solidarities that produce or are produced by other forms of volunteering. The framing of volunteering as an act of benevolence by the affluent toward the less well-off has further limited analyses of volunteering’s relationship to solidarities, sidelining activities by individuals and communities who are themselves from disadvantaged communities and ‘beneficiaries’ of aid and support.

This paper discusses findings from Refugee Youth Volunteering Uganda, a large mixed methods research project exploring the volunteering activities of young refugees in 4 settings across Uganda (, and exploring how these activities shape their skills, employability and experiences of inequality. This paper locates volunteering within the complex economic, cultural, social and political sites and mileu that arise through large scale displacements in the global South. By analysing the kinds of relationships and connections young people’s volunteering produces across social, national and ethnic groupings within these settings, we develop a new account of volunteering’s relationship to the everyday geopolitics of displacement. This provides a new lens on the scales and scope of volunteering to foster solidarities, rooted in the experiences, ideas and hopes of young displaced people in Uganda rather than in the affluent mobilities of international volunteers.

“We Are Together”: Experiences of Belonging and Being a Local Volunteer in Burundi

Bianca Fadel

Northumbria University, United Kingdom

This paper will discuss the critical roles of local volunteering in surviving and being in a protracted crisis. Based on evidence from current PhD research in Burundi, it will question current explanations about volunteering focused on service delivery and giver-recipient dichotomies by exploring, instead, agency and reciprocity at community level in the Global South. During protracted crises, humanitarian and development traditional approaches overlap and are not adequate lenses to understand community engagement through volunteering. Therefore, volunteering will be presented not only as an act of solidarity towards others, but also as a coping mechanism for the self. In the Burundian case, three dimensions of “belonging” shape local volunteers’ experiences: cultural belonging, community belonging and organisational belonging. The paper will focus more specifically on the third dimension to argue that the sense of belonging to a volunteering group or organisation is a strong driver for volunteering in Burundi. It allows mutual help values to be cultivated among volunteers and, consequently, encourages locally owned collective actions on behalf of their own communities. Despite the spontaneous nature of volunteering, which does not require any sort of association, evidence from both urban and rural settings Burundi suggests there are benefits in joining a volunteering group (i.e. Red Cross, religious groups, local associations). During a protracted crisis, vulnerabilities are mobile and affect almost everyone in different scales – working voluntarily on behalf of “the most vulnerable” does not mean volunteers are not exposed to the same kinds of vulnerabilities in different levels. Volunteering groups constitute then safe spaces that bring people together, allowing them to support each other in the first place (i.e. creation of income generation initiatives) and facilitating the identification of needs in the community. The research makes use of creative methodologies such as participatory mapping and innovative community dialogues to maximise volunteer’s voices, including the provision of opportunities for research participants to feedback on findings and shape analysis.

Youth Volunteering for Development in Sierra Leone: Tensions between Youth Empowerment and Volunteering as a Project Delivery Mechanism

Alice Chadwick

University of Bath, United Kingdom

Within development volunteering is supported by discourses that construct it as both a means to demonstrate citizen participation and build solidarity whilst at the same time being an effective mechanism for delivering services and projects within development agendas concerned with sustainability and community resilience. In Sierra Leone the marginalisation of young people alongside their perceived role in the civil conflict in the 1990s has led to a focus on youth participation and empowerment within development efforts. Framings of young people within this tend to vacillate between imposition and agency, leading to binary constructions of acceptable and non-acceptable forms of youthful participation in the development process. Volunteering emerges as an acceptable form of youth agency, shaping young people into the right kind of citizens to face the development challenges of today. An example of this is the role young people took during the Ebola outbreak (2014-16) – young volunteers provided crucial support to their communities to help the country to overcome the crisis, this has been acknowledged in post-Ebola development efforts by the continued engagement with young volunteers as a means of increasing participation and building solidarity amongst young people. However, for some development organisations young volunteers are also important as a project delivery mechanism, which is deemed to be both impactful and cost-effective in an increasingly constrained funding environment. In this paper I present findings from my ethnographic research with young volunteers working on development projects in Sierra Leone. I find that young volunteers can be empowered at an individual level through the development of skills and valuable job experience by their inclusion within development projects. However, volunteering as a project delivery mechanism involves the imposition of fixed timelines and outcome frameworks, which limit the ability for young people’s participation as volunteers to become a means of broader transformative social action and solidarity building. The dichotomy between personal empowerment and constrained solidarity is in-line with framings of young people as either having individual agency or having agendas imposed upon them – as alluded to above. The level of agency of volunteers delivering development projects leads us to consider what forms of development young volunteers are being supported to deliver and who benefits from these development actions, when projects are seeking to both empower volunteers and support wider social change within communities. In this paper I argue that young people’s negotiation of volunteering opportunities becomes a means of navigating the restrictive classifications and identities they are often subject to, especially in relation to the roles that are deemed to be acceptable for them within development projects. More awareness is needed of how the position of volunteers, as somewhere in between means of project delivery and beneficiary of empowerment, can disguise the power relations between development actors and the extent to which the involvement of young volunteers can be used to claim development as being youth-led. Additionally, too much focus on volunteering as a means of project delivery can limit the extent to which young people have a voice in framing the agenda, as too often they are still delivering someone else’s vision. Further emphasising how young Sierra Leoneans participation in volunteering can be subject to constraints in terms of its translation into youth-led social action and solidarity building.

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