Who gets Involved? Insights on Civic Engagement in Africa and Implications for Fostering Volunteerism in Pursuit of Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set ambitious targets for countries and societies to improve lives and livelihoods around the world. While the expectations of meeting these goals largely fall on governments, it is widely recognized that joint efforts by citizens and their governments will be needed to achieve the best outcomes. Citizen action takes place in many forms and forums, including organizing and working together on shared goals, providing mutual support and assistance, campaigning or advocating for shared needs, and engaging with governments, making demands on them, and holding them to account. While some citizens may become involved in a formal capacity, such as through paid employment in nongovernmental advocacy or service organizations and through employment with governments or other service providers, large numbers will – and must – be engaged in a voluntary capacity. Understanding the nature of this voluntary engagement is a key goal of this analysis. Advocates of volunteerism in Africa have been plagued by a lack of data on who engages in voluntary service, how much they contribute, in what formats, and what the outcomes are. Only a handful of governments have collected data on this topic. Yet our ability to foster and build support for volunteerism is partly dependent on how well we understand the ways people are already engaging every day in these critical but uncompensated contributions in pursuit of the public good. Understanding who engages, under what circumstances, and why provides a foundation on which to more effectively promote civic engagement and volunteerism in pursuit of the SDGs and other development objectives.