Throughout the MENA region, there is a need to invest in scaled-up volunteerism for youth and move towards a general culture of contributing to improvements in society. Awareness also needs to be raised on how volunteerism contributes to bridging cultural barriers and to long-term peace. In Lebanon, volunteerism exists, but has been affected by the 15 year civil war and the ensuing fragility and political instability. The few available volunteering opportunities are provided primarily through political parties, NGOs/Community Based Organizations (CBOs), universities, municipalities/central ministry, and to a very limited extent, the private sector. For example, the NGO sector, which is numerous and active in Lebanon, provides its member youths with some volunteering opportunities. However, it has limited capacity to manage them and recruit additional volunteers.
Besides the lack of sufficient volunteering opportunities, another factor preventing youth from volunteering is the country’s difficult economic situation, which requires them to focus on finding paying jobs. In Lebanon, the unemployment rate amongst youth aged 15-24 is 34 percent, compared to an overall unemployment rate of 11 percent. According to the World Development Report 2007, young people with few opportunities to participate in society economically or civically are likely to feel disillusioned and powerless to improve their lives and/or their communities/societies. Volunteerism can provide youth the opportunity to participate in an unpaid work experience and improve their soft skills, thus increasing their employability. Indeed, soft-skills, which include the ability to work in teams, innovate, manage and resolve conflict as well as responsibility and flexibility at work, enable youth to work efficiently and effectively at the workplace, thus improving overall performance and productivity.
Despite its small geographic size, many youth have never been exposed to another part of the country before they enter the academic or professional world. With a highly complex political, religious and social landscape, as well as numerous political parties and large numbers of refugees, the country’s current civil peace is fragile. Volunteerism is believed to defuse tensions by bringing groups together around shared goals, thus building more cohesive societies through citizenship development.
With all this in mind, the Government of Lebanon has included the promotion of volunteerism in Lebanon as an objective in the National Social Development Strategy. As such, the Government has allocated US$2 million in grant money to strengthen the capacity of the Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSA) in promoting youth civic engagement across the country. The grant is being administered by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) through funds provided by the State and Peace-Building Fund (SPF) to the MOSA.