United Nations Volunteers Program Is Established

The U.N. General Assembly established the Volunteers Program to serve as an operational partner to the Development Program. The successful Volunteers Program was mandated to promote the spirit of volunteerism within and among countries around the world.

Summary of Event

At the December 7, 1970, plenary meeting under the leadership of Secretary-General U Thant, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution establishing the Volunteers Program (UNV). The resolution was to take effect on January 1, 1971. Appointed to oversee the UNV was the administrator of the U.N. Development Program Development Program, U.N. (UNDP), who would, in turn, appoint a coordinator for the UNV. This coordinator would administer recruitment and training, and also the activities of the program. The UNV’s founding was inspired by the successful Peace Corps, which was established in 1961 by U.S. president John F. Kennedy. The Peace Corps had sent American volunteers to work in the developing world. (The Peace Corps also would help recruit American participants for the UNV.) United Nations;volunteerism
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[kw]United Nations Volunteers Program Is Established (Dec. 7, 1970)
[kw]Volunteers Program Is Established, United Nations (Dec. 7, 1970)
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[g]North America;Dec. 7, 1970: United Nations Volunteers Program Is Established[11050]
[g]United States;Dec. 7, 1970: United Nations Volunteers Program Is Established[11050]
[c]United Nations;Dec. 7, 1970: United Nations Volunteers Program Is Established[11050]
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Sadry, Assad K.
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[p]Thant, U;Volunteers Program

The resolution mandated that voluntary service was to be well planned and that it had to span a wide geographical area, but with a special focus on developing countries. Volunteers were required to have professional qualifications in skill areas needed in the recipient countries. The UNV, under its first coordinator was Assad K. Sadry, also required that the recipient government request and approve each potential volunteer.

The program, created at the request of U.N. member states, was envisioned as an organization that fosters the participation of youth in social and economic life. Discussion centered on the conviction that voluntary service is rewarding and beneficial to all involved—that volunteerism helps those who are aided as well as those who volunteer their time and energy.


Since 1971, the UNV has successfully tapped into the energies, enthusiasm, and idealism of young people to make a contribution to international development efforts. Through the first years of the twenty-first century, more than thirty thousand volunteers from developing as well as industrialized countries have supported a variety of relief, peace, and development-related initiatives in many parts of the world. UNV has more than one hundred professional volunteer categories, including agriculture, health, education, information and communication technologies, vocational training, population, and industry.

Program participation provides midcareer professionals from all continents a way to make significant and measurable contributions to the efforts of the United Nations. The volunteers are typically experienced professionals with college degrees and several years of related work experience.

The program has initiated thousands of projects worldwide, including developing clean-water supplies, fighting desertification, providing education to women, helping to train local human rights agencies, and facilitating dialogue across borders and across national and ethnic lines. Also addressed by volunteers are environmental sustainability, democratic governance, energy, the environment, crisis prevention, and HIV/AIDS. Program volunteers have been involved in civilian peacekeeping operations in more than a dozen countries. Many of these volunteer projects have complemented the work of other U.N. agencies, such as UNDP, or have followed up on the work of U.N. peacekeepers in war-torn regions such as Uganda or the former Yugoslavia. United Nations;volunteerism
Volunteers Program, U.N.

Further Reading

  • Albinati, Edoardo. Coming Back: Diary of a Mission to Afghanistan. Translated by Howard Curtis. London: Hesperus Press, 2003. A personal account of volunteering with the United Nations in Afghanistan.
  • Rehnstrom, Joel. Development Cooperation in Practice: The United Nations Volunteers in Nepal. New York: United Nations University Press, 2000. Focuses on the work of U.N. volunteers working in Nepal.
  • Remz, Florence, ed. Annual Review of United Nations Affairs, 1970-1971. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana, 1972. Reviews the main events, activities and documents adopted by the United Nations in 1970-1971, including the establishment of the UNV.
  • U.N. Volunteers. Volunteers Against Conflict. New York: United Nations University Press, 1996. Provides firsthand accounts of the work of the volunteer program.
  • United Nations. Basic Facts About the United Nations. New York: Author, 2004. Describes the multifaceted activities undertaken by agencies and programs within the United Nations, with emphasis on human rights, humanitarian assistance, peace, development, and international law.
  • U.S. Peace Corps. United Nations Volunteers. Washington, D.C.: Author, 1990. General information about the activities of the Volunteers Program.
  • Weiss, Thomas G., David P. Forsythe, and Roger A. Coate, eds. United Nations and Changing World Politics. 4th ed. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2004. Examines the contemporary work of the United Nations in three areas: international peace and security; humanitarian affairs and human rights, and efforts to build peace through sustainable development.

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