Gov't cuts put onus on volunteers-1998-08-26
The work of volunteers is becoming more important as governments do less and less in society, says one of the leaders of an international development network.
Princess Zahra Aga Khan, 27, is the oldest of three children of the Aga Khan, the wealthy developer and financier who is spiritual leader of the world's 15 million Ismaili Muslims.
Princess Zahra works on social welfare, women's activities and youth programs supported by the Aga Khan Development Network, a 30-year-old group of private, non-denominational international development agencies.
She told a news conference Tuesday that people must become more involved in helping others.
"As we move away from the welfare state and more toward a civic society, volunteers become more and more important," she said.
"I think there has to be a cultural change which transcends family ties and groups ... as the state takes care of fewer and fewer needs."
Princess Zahra, who lives with her husband in France and England, was one of the speakers at the World Volunteer Conference.
She said at the news conference that cuts in government spending on international aid haven't had much effect on her organization. However, she expects this will be one of the "harsh realities" they'll face in the new millennium.
However, volunteer groups and governments must work together, especially to help poor countries with big, widely dispersed populations, she said.
"I don't think it's a case of competition or one doing something better than another. It's more complementary."
In her speech, Princess Zahra said the Aga Khan Development Network programs depend heavily on volunteers, particularly in schools, health clinics and hospitals.
But she warned against taking volunteers for granted, saying they need "a level of preparation, oversight and recognition that is comparable to that provided to regular employees."
Another speaker, Robert Goodwin, said the United States is now undergoing a "tremendous unleashing" of volunteer spirit.
Goodwin is president of the Washington, D.C.-based Points of Light Foundation, a non-profit group that promotes volunteering as a way to solve social problems.
He helped organize a 1996 summit of all living past and present U.S. presidents. It was aimed at improving the lives of the 15 million American children living in poverty or with other problems.
More than 200 cities and towns have since joined the movement to put the summit's goals into action, he said.
"Volunteering is not nice, it's necessary," he said. "It's not something for people to do and involve themselves as a pastime -- it's something we must do to rebuild the bonds of community."