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Volunteering youth

Three of five Latin American and Caribbean citizens are under age 30. Arguably, the future of the region had never been so dependent on a single generation. Several activities organized by the IDB in celebration of Global Youth Service Day, April 16, recognize the special role young people should play in building stable democracies, sustainable economies and equity-based societies throughout the region.

“There are few investments as effective as providing young people the opportunity to give back to their communities through voluntary service,” remarked IDB President Enrique V. Iglesias on celebrating the occasion. “I encourage all people and groups to take advantage of Global Youth Service Day to highlight the power of partnership between young people and adults, and between youth organizations and the public and private sectors to create healthy youth and healthy communities.”

Several recent studies point out that Latin America and the Caribbean need to develop more volunteerism and civic service programs. The role of youth on such programs was recently analyzed at a seminar during the IDB Annual Meeting in Lima, Peru, where over 1,000 participants agreed on ways to promote social capital through entrepreneurship and volunteer work.

Participants in the youth seminar in Lima also worked with local residents in reforestation activities and in repairing sports and recreational areas under the Youth Development and Outreach Program, created by the IDB in 1995. The program raises awareness among young political and economic leaders on the key role of youth in community development by promoting the development and active participation of the region's youth in the development process.

Some days before, at Bank headquarters in Washington, DC, professor of social development Dr. Michael Sherraden had emphasized the role of volunteerism and civic service as a tool for social and economic development. Sherraden is particularly interested in the contribution of social policies to economic growth, and he underscored how volunteerism and civic service might more effectively reduce poverty if applied under a strategy that strengthens youth services.

Sherraden's studies show volunteerism and civic service as a growing trend for engagement in social issues. Anecdotal evidence suggests that volunteers tend to receive better education and develop more skills, and have a higher self-esteem, better cultural understanding, and enhanced citizenship development.

“Volunteerism may be one strategy among many that can be used to address social and economic goals, and civic service may represent a productive strategy worthy of more attention,” according to a study released on March 2004 by the Global Service Institute and Center for Social Development of the Washington University in St. Louis, MO.

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