Volunteering for social organizations is an increasing trend among students all over the world. Smith et al (2010) conceptualized student volunteering as “outward-looking, focusing on students volunteering within their local communities.” What motivates students to volunteer is the opportunity to gain work experience and skills necessary to their interests and personal development.
Astin and Sax (1998) went beyond personal development and found that volunteering enhanced students’ academic development and their sense of social responsibility. Moreover, it increases their employability after graduation.
AIESEC (Association internationale des étudiants en sciences économiques et commerciales) introduced the idea of being a ‘Global Volunteer’ wherein students are able to go to 120 countries all around the world to be exposed to its respective local cultures and promote sustainable development. That way, exchange students are creating an impact on the lives of the local people in the communities where they went to.
This volunteering trend is being increasingly seen in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as the authorities are encouraging students by giving them opportunities to participate in various activities.
In an effort to increase volunteering activities in Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of the said Emirate, issued Law No. 5 of 2018 in April to promote social engagement in the communities.
The new law requires public, private, and non-profit entities to register to Dubai’s Community Development Authority (CDA) before conducting volunteering activities and fundraising events. The program is also operating under the slogan ‘Volunteering makes UAE proud,’ as it encourages to spread the culture of volunteerism in all of the Emirates.
The CDA is tasked to implement this legislation as part of the agency’s strategy this year in achieving sustainable development by creating a cohesive, happy, and well-knit society.
Volunteerism in the UAE
A national volunteering platform, UAE Volunteers, was first launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, in 2017 to promote volunteering as a vital pillar of social cohesion.
Through the said program, the volunteer sector aims to maximize its impact on the country’s population. Individuals will be able to apply their specialized skills and interests via the guidance of the platform and the management of its accreditations.
It also sees the need of 30,000 volunteers for the upcoming Expo 2020 Dubai as 25 million visitors are expected to come to the Emirate for the said event.
The platform includes 14 volunteering categories: education, care for the elderly, health, culture and arts, sports, leisure, environment, community service, hope-making, professional development, international volunteerism, and emergency response.
As a proof of completion for the volunteers, UAE Volunteers will provide a certificate of participation that includes the number of accredited volunteering hours.
At the national level, the program is implemented through the partnership of the Ministry of Community Development and the Emirates Foundation.
Implications on the Dubai communities
The CDA’s plan goes beyond Expo 2020. Its Dubai 2021 Plan is setting the Emirate to become “one of the world’s most advanced countries (sic) in the community development sector.”
The agency is spearheading the said program through a four-level strategic plan: involving the public, private, and non-profit stakeholders in community development, improving their financial performance, increasing the effectiveness of operations by being compliant to social standards, and supporting innovation and creativity through smart technologies.
Aside from increased engagement to the communities, the new law includes safeguards ensuring the safety of the volunteers by requiring organizers to provide insurance against injuries and equipment that will prevent people from harm.
Volunteering opportunities are not only limited to professionals. Students may also take part in the said activities provided that their volunteer registration is approved by their parents.
As a melting pot of cultures and varying skills necessary for the further development, this initiative may lead Dubai to a more sustainable and empowered community.
Dr. Sharon Mendoza-Dreisbach is an Assistant Professor at Skyline University College, a university in Sharjah that offers the best MBA programs in UAE and one of the top universities in UAE.
Astin, A. W., & Sax, L. J. (1998). How undergraduates are affected by service participation. Journal of College Student Development, 39, 251-263.
Community Development Authority Dubai. (2018). Dubai Volunteering Program. Retrieved from https://www.cda.gov.ae/en/volunteering/Pages/default.aspx
Global Volunteer. (2017). AIESEC. Retrieved from https://aiesec.org/global-volunteer
Smith, K., Holmes, K., Haski-Leventhal, D., Cnaan, R. A., Handy, F., & Brudney, J. L. (2010). Motivations and Benefits of Student Volunteering: Comparing Regular, Occasional, and Non-Volunteers in Five Countries. Canadian Journal of Nonprofit and Social Economy Research, 1(1) 65-81.