Volunteer Culture in the Kingdom

Dalia Bajri - Jazan Track
This article was written by a Youth Voice program participant. Youth Voice Program is an enriching dialogue program that aims to engage Saudi Youth from all around the Kingdom in several seminars, discussion meetings and training. It focuses mainly on critical thinking and persuasive communication skills.

Social characteristics are natural human traits, and feeling a sense of belonging is a common universal human desire. By nature, humans cannot live alone and need to stay within a community or group of individuals to belong and feel safe, whether in a personal or professional setting. Volunteering is one of the most crucial acts that strengthen the values of social cohesion and sense of belonging. Volunteering is a contribution that the individual makes, with consent and conviction, to provide a social service, without expecting anything in return. This contribution may be financial, service-based, physical or intellectual. Volunteering aims at enriching and contributing to the community through gained experience in a specific field or the completion of volunteering hours for an educational organization.

Volunteering enhances social skills. It opens the door to the building of new relationships and bonds and constantly meeting people from different cultural backgrounds. It also pushes volunteers to engage in new activities outside their scope of work.

The verb was first recorded in 1755. It was derived from the noun volunteer, in c. 1600, "one who offers himself for military service," from the Middle French voluntaire. In the non-military sense, the word was first recorded during the 1630s. The word volunteering has more recent usage—still predominantly military—coinciding with the phrase community service.  

Volunteering is vital for the following reasons:

  • It boosts self-confidence.
  • It makes individuals gain and use new skills.
  • It makes good use of one's free time and raises young people’s awareness on its importance in serving society and the nation.
  • It expands social knowledge.
  • It spreads the culture of benevolence and helping others.

The Kingdom has promoted and supported volunteering and added it to its Vision 2030 goals. It is set to follow a distinctive approach that fosters community adoption and empowerment in order to reach one million male and female volunteers by the end of 2030.

The Kingdom celebrates International Volunteer Day every year and has launched at the local level the Saudi Volunteer Day to promote the values of volunteering. This initiative has increased the number of volunteers to 120,000, according to statistics conducted by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development in 2019.

The Kingdom has already implemented many volunteering initiatives with some ministries through organized activities and events with volunteer teams in several fields, including the Health Awareness Initiative, the Housing Restoration Initiative by the Ministry of Housing, and the initiative of afforestation and increase of the agricultural and green cover in the Kingdom in cooperation with the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture.

According to the environmental protection field in Vision 2030, the initiative is set to spread the culture of afforestation (trees and plants) and its practice among community members through volunteering campaigns.

A target of 48,125 volunteer opportunities has been set for the initiative, with achieved opportunities actually exceeding 300,837, 67% of which were achieved in 2019, 21% in skilled volunteering, and 12% in professional volunteering. Moreover, the number of volunteer hours has reached 18,735,625.

With the rise of volunteering culture, volunteers have been believed to be exploited for other reasons in some places. Their skills and volunteering efforts have been used in projects that generate large profits. They were also under immense pressure in some cases and had to work for long hours under unhealthy and unsuitable conditions, which affected their work and level of generosity. Exposing volunteers to that type of challenges draws a negative image for volunteering. This is why the hashtag #NoToExploitativeVolunteering was created on Twitter and received major response. Many tweeted about exploitative volunteering and the difference between this type and real volunteering.  In response to this hashtag, a decision was issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development stating that "any work for profit establishments shall not be considered volunteer work but shall rather fall under contractual activities for which the worker deserves to be paid for.” This was a great, firm decision that restored confidence in the concept of volunteering among individuals and limited their exploitation by some profit establishments and entities. This proves our beloved nation's efforts to spread awareness and culture in society. A volunteer platform was also created allowing non-profit organizations to announce volunteering opportunities. This platform then issues volunteering certificates which are documented by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development.

The new Volunteer Service Law, which was approved by the Ministry, included provisions to protect the rights of volunteers and organizations. This shows that we are marching towards a new, different conscious era, in which the culture of volunteering is spreading throughout the Kingdom. Our religion of Islam preceded all theories and concepts and encouraged volunteering though the Almighty’s words, "But whoever does good of his own accord, it is better for him".

Over the years, the idea of volunteering never crossed my mind. This may be due to my ignorance and lack of knowledge, and my belief that volunteering is limited to college and school students.

I eventually volunteered in a non-profit organization called "Data Science and Artificial Intelligence" to gain experience and develop my skills. During that time, I acquired some experience and formed valuable professional relationships that are worth talking about in the field of data science, even though my technological background is quite limited. I grew a passion for data science and a desire to connect it with my field of specialization. Consequently, I started learning some programming languages through the organization's meetings and programs and I now aspire to become a data scientist.

At the professional level, I believe that my volunteering journey has allowed me to gain many skills that will help me enter the labor market. At the personal level, it encouraged me to give more and instilled in me a sense of initiative-taking, achievement, and love for others. Finally, I feel that I belong to a community that represents me and provides educational services that benefit community members.

In summary, the Kingdom will witness a new era that will be reflected in the country's urban and developmental scene. Volunteering will become one of its pillars. It is a beautiful human act that instills a spirit of cooperation, a love to do good for others, and a sense of honor and belonging to the community. Volunteering will develop and advance societies. It shows the dynamic and cultures of the peoples, strengthens the spirit of partnership between society members, and most importantly, the security of nations. However, this act must be greatly appreciated if it is to add value to individuals or to the community, as volunteers dedicate their time and effort to provide their service. We also need to be vigilant and wary of exploitative volunteering.


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