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Tenth Annual Report of Arab NGOs

Research Team

·         State of Voluntarism in the Arab Region:

.         Features of the Current State and Future Prospects…...Dr. Amani Kandil

·         Hashemite Jordon Kingdom……………………....………Dr. Musa Shtiewi

·         Tunisia…………………………………………..…....………Dr. Fathia Saidi

·         Algeria……………………………………………….......……Mr. Taher Hussien

·         Sudan…………………………………….....…………......….Mr. Yasser Shalabi

·         United Arab Emirates……………………….....………...... Dr. Amna Khalifa

·         Egypt…………………………………………….…………....Dr. Nabil Samuel

·         Lebanon………………… Kamel Mohanna, Dr. Mohammed Yaghi, Dr. Hashim Al- Hussieni

·         Morroco……………………………………. Dr. Gamila Mosilli, Dr. Boutaina Karrouri


I - Objectives and methodology of the report

II - The concept of voluntarism and contemporary trends of the approach

III - Measuring voluntarism: challenges in the Arab region

IV - A critical review of the report findings

V - New Arab experiences proposing participatory voluntarism

Concluding remarks: challenges of the future



The specificity of this tenth annual report about Arab NGOs relies on several facts; first, we refer to the topic chosen for this year, i.e. “The State of Voluntarism in the Arab Region” which matches with the international evaluation of voluntarism ten years after the UN adoption of the world year of Voluntarism in 2001.

Secondly, the publication of our report comes simultaneously with the launching of the global report about “The State of Voluntarism Worldwide” that monitors and analyzes the developments regarding this “human act” in all regions of the world, including the Arab region.  It is important to note that the global report undertook a critical revision of the concept of voluntarism in an attempt to widen the scope of voluntarism to exceed the boundaries of the institutional and organizational frameworks referred to as Civil Society Organizations.  Author of the current report has participated in the successive expert group meetings (end of 2010 and all over 2011) that worked on the production of the United Nations global report[1].

The third added value of our report is that the Arab Network for NGOs has launched its first annual report ten years ago at the occasion of the World Year of Voluntarism in 2001.  The mentioned report was the first of its kind in the Arab region, aiming at identifying the features of Arab NGOs and the state of voluntarism inside these organizations.  Therefore, this was a reckless adventure initiated by a team of Arab researchers who “volunteered” to build the bases enabling the study of the “act of voluntarism” in the Arab region despite the scarcity of data and statistics or even its total absence in some instances[i].  At this specific moment of 2011, we are publishing our tenth report enriched by all the accumulation of knowledge and experience over the years; by doing this, we demonstrate the sustainability of our efforts over ten years.

The fourth reason about the specificity of the Arab report stems in the specific changes witnessed in our region and known as “the Arab spring”; actually, Tunisia, followed by Egypt and Libya have experimented revolutions that overthrew the regimes under which these countries were living with the aspiration to operate a comprehensive change at the socio-economic and political levels in order to secure the human dignity and achieve democracy and social justice.  Until now, Yemen is still struggling to achieve its revolution and other Arab countries are witnessing movements of protest and pressures to which governments react in various manners (Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, Sudan, Bahrain, etc.) with a violent repression in the case of Syria.

From the perspective of our tenth annual report, we are kin to highlight the fact that the initiatives of the Arab spring were mainly initiated by youth through the electronic space, moving in a later stage from the virtual space to the ground of reality.  We refer also to voluntary initiatives of individuals and groups that overcame the organizational boundaries of the Civil Society, and proposed unusual new models of voluntarism.  Moreover, the Arab spring witnesses an unprecedented blossoming of NGOs (mainly in Egypt and Tunisia) after the fall of the previous regimes.

In summary, the Tenth Annual Report of Arab NGOs about “The State of Voluntarism in the Arab Region” is born simultaneously with the UN global report at the occasion of the celebration of ten years after the World Year of Voluntarism (2001) in a very specific moment for our region requiring the best combination of voluntary efforts for the benefit of Arab citizens everywhere.


I - Objectives and methodology of the report

As mentioned before, this report is published along with the global report about voluntarism as well as at the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the annual reports about Arab NGOs that are becoming a major source of knowledge about the state of voluntarism and NGOs in the Arab region.

The first two reports published by the Arab Network for NGOs tackled general issues and sought to identify the main features of NGOs.  Following reports were more focused, each one concerned with the study of a specific topic as follows[ii]:

-        Arab NGOs and the alleviation of poverty.

-        Women Issues and Arab NGOs.

-        Building Effective Partnerships.

-        Children in the Context of the Arab Civil Society.

-        Youth and the Civil Society.

-        Civil Society’s Concern with Environmental Issues.

-        The Social Responsibility.

-        The State of Voluntarism in the Arab Region.

The importance of the Tenth Report about the State of Voluntarism in the Arab Region (2011) stems in the following reasons:

1.      The topic of the report meets the global concern about voluntarism as demonstrated by the publication of the UNV report.  Moreover, the participation of the Arab Network for NGOs in the expert group meetings as the sole representative of the Arab region represented a valuable contribution in the elaboration of the global report.

2.      In addition, this report represents a development in the comparative studies between Arab countries because its objective is to identify the valuable voluntary practices that are closely tied to the Arab culture.

3.      The report undertakes a critical revision of the concept of voluntarism, its dimensions and components through the methodology of cultural analysis that looks at the phenomenon as a specific “human act” within specific social, economic and political contexts.

4.      The report monitors the impact of the huge developments in information technology and the social media (especially face book and twitter), and their interaction with the voluntary trends among Arab youth.

5.      Furthermore, the report contributes in enriching the flow of knowledge and information about the phenomenon of voluntarism under a contemporary definition that tends to liberate this human act from the organizational and institutional structures (as it was presented in the two reports of 2001 and 2002).

6.      The Tenth Annual Report of NGOs about the State of Voluntarism grants a special attention to the views of youth and their voluntary initiatives either independent (i.e. related to specific events or objectives) or those occurring within voluntary non-profit organizational structures aiming at serving the public benefit, referred to as Civil Society Organizations and NGOs.  This focus on youth is particularly important in light of the events in the region all over 2011 that were specifically initiated by youth.

7.      The report aims also at presenting models of global methodologies besides the limited ones available at the Arab level; these methodologies are related to the monitoring and analysis of voluntarism (as well as philanthropic giving).  Moreover, it seeks to encourage surveys and scientific research in order to provide a source of information for the design of policies; actually, these surveys are considered as the best scientific approach to promote voluntarism in the Arab region.

In terms of methodology, the report adopted the following approach:

1)      The socio-cultural approach that deals with the phenomenon under study as a spontaneous and human voluntary action inherent to human existence everywhere; however, the cultural and religious diversity, the discrepancies between social variables (education, income, gender, etc.) and the historical background are all factors that might create “specificity” or shape specific features to this human action.

2)      In a socio-economic and political context that was not much concerned with conducting surveys and studies about voluntarism, our methodology relied on both the quantitative and qualitative aspects; in other words, the research team remained committed to the conceptual framework agreed upon, i.e., available data in each country served as quantitative indicators while other qualitative indicators were useful for the analysis.

3)      On the other hand, the report relied to various extents on previous research and studies conducted by the Arab Network for NGOs, on national studies undertaken in some Arab countries as well as on case studies selected by individual researchers according to criteria agreed upon by the group[2].

4)      Along the same line adopted by the Arab Network for NGOs all over the years, this report is the result of collective work par excellence: ten researchers studied the cases of Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Sudan, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates in addition to activists and other researchers who conducted the case studies that enriched the report and are presented in boxes.

5)      Similarly to other annual reports, the principal researcher and supervisor of the report proposes the main axes or terms of reference in order to enable the inclusion of a first chapter presenting a comparative analysis between the various countries under study; this comparative dimension is highly important as it highlights commonalities (such as youth preference of voluntarism outside the organizational structures as well as the launching of voluntary initiatives from the virtual space to move towards the real world), and points out to the discrepancies between Arab countries, sometimes even within a single country (such as the greater value of philanthropy compared with voluntarism in some countries; the report noted in addition an important trend of foreign voluntarism in the case of Sudan.

In conclusion, the Tenth Annual Report of the Arab Network for NGOs about Voluntarism comes along with global and regional changes and is published in a historical moment where everybody is seeking to benefit from a better life, social justice and democracy; all aspirations heavily relying on spontaneous voluntarism and partnership between all the stakeholders in order to meet the challenges of development.  We hope the report will serve as an incentive for activists, citizens, voluntary organizations and scientific institutions to promote and enhance voluntarism.


II - The concept of voluntarism and contemporary trends of the approach

Before presenting the new trends that sought to amend the traditional vision of voluntary action, it is important to formulate the following preliminary remarks:

1 - Until recently, global literature followed by Arab literature tended to stereotype voluntarism.  Actually, the definition adopted in 2001 considered that voluntarism consisted in allocating time and efforts, in a voluntary free way, in order to help others without expecting any material benefit in return, and directed to the public benefit.  Despite the loose character of this definition, and its capacity to include various forms and fields of voluntarism, research was focusing on organized voluntarism, i.e. on voluntarism performed through NGOs either by joining membership or by volunteering in one of the programs or projects conducted by these organizations.


At present and by the end of 2011, the concept of voluntarism is widened and freed from the boundaries of organizations or intermediary institutions: NGOs or Civil Society Organizations.  Currently, we have adopted the definition “by features” that widens importantly the concept, overcomes the traditional model and is very much concerned with voluntarism based on the free will.


2 - Secondly, we are taking distance from the old basic paradigm that looked at voluntarism as a human philanthropic tendency aiming at helping the needy categories of the society.  Instead, we gradually refer to a new measurement or barometer based on several indicators in order to understand this human phenomenon, assimilate its adherent diversity and value the voluntary practices that rely on cultural and historical dimensions and are closer to norms that are adopted spontaneously and systematically.  The review of the concept and practices of “twiza” in the report of Algeria (and to a lesser extent in the report of Morocco) indicate a different nature of voluntarism closer to compulsory traditions that hold a great importance in the fields of agriculture, pavement of roads, and building of bridges without being connected to organizations holding a legal status.

The remark above confirms that our identification of voluntarism in the Arab region is moving away from the traditional paradigm that was mainly considering the phenomenon as a philanthropic or humanitarian action aiming at helping a needy categories; actually, our new approach includes voluntary practices with a cultural and historical dimension in the field of the public benefit; it is important to note that these voluntary practices are not charitable.


3 - As an Arab and international academic community concerned with voluntary initiatives and Civil Society Organizations, we are currently revising and critically reading the literature that we have contributed to develop[iii]; therefore, one of the dimensions of this revision extended to the tools and methodologies that we used.  We mention here new arising questions that remain unanswered or inaccurately answered such as:

-        What is the significance of quantitative indicators?  Is the growing number of NGOs (mainly voluntary) means efficiency or a wider space of freedom?

-        Is there really a crisis of volunteers especially among youth and women as it is widely circulated by Civil Society Organizations? If we have reached this conclusion through quantitative indicators and percentages of members in NGOs the question becomes: is the result obtained objective and realistic?

-        Do social movements reflect a culture of protest in some Arab countries as a reaction towards specific occasions or events, falling outside the scope of voluntary initiatives by the allocation of time and efforts despite the fact that they aim at achieving the public benefit, such as the respect of human dignity and human rights?

-        Do volunteers prefer secure voluntary participation through philanthropic and humanitarian practices and move away from fields that are more exposed to dangers as a consequence of the social and political situation?

-        Why Civil Society Organizations claiming that there is a crisis of voluntarism do not question themselves about their responsibility in creating this crisis? Answers might be hurting and demonstrate that the crisis is due to the patriarchal culture, the practice of hegemony, lack of transparency or incapacity to practice collective work.

-        Why criticism is sometimes harsh about the use of youth for the electronic social media to the extent that they are qualified as the keyboard fighters?  Actually, there are some excellent initiatives that were initiated in the virtual space to join the real ground, revealing potentials to operate change within the limits of their own capacities.

Thus, the academic community is raising new questions that undoubtedly revise several dimensions of the concept of voluntarism and voluntary organizations; we did not use to raise these questions before; however, it becomes imperative to find answers now.


4 - The fourth remark is that our Tenth Annual Report about the State of Voluntarism in the Arab Region relies on a cognitive accumulation gradually achieved by the Arab Network for NGOs through consecutive phases that we summarize in the following lines:

Phase one (1997-2000)[3] produced several scientific works mainly focused on identifying the features of Arab NGOs in terms of history, legislation ruling them, relationship with the State, beneficiaries or target categories, etc.  At this stage, the main unit under study was the organization.  However, there were tenacious efforts to find volunteers: who are they? What are their social and economic backgrounds?[iv]

Phase two (2000-2006) included a new quality of studies that were concerned with diverse aspects such as the organized/institutionalized voluntarism in the fields of poverty alleviation, improvement of education and eradication of illiteracy, human rights, women or youth issues, etc.  During this phase, two important  studies directly related to voluntarism were published: the first one was concerned with the motives and features of volunteers (Shtewi while the second one was concerned to identify the training needs of NGOs (El Amri); a top priority was set to deal with the crisis of volunteers and the means to mobilize them[v].   In addition, the Arab translation of a global survey on voluntarism was published (2001), besides the participation of the Arab Network for NGOs in a series of distinguished studies conducted by Johns Hopkins University about the socio-economic value of the third sector (Kandil and El Hosseiny: 2003)[vi]

During the third phase (2007-2011), several scientific studies were published and investigated more thoroughly the state of voluntarism; we note here the Arab Encyclopedia of the Civil Society (Kandil 2008) that included the definition of voluntarism as well as all related concepts (such as the social capital).  This was followed by a valuable collective work on the indicators for the measurement of the effectiveness of the Civil Society that referred to the indicator of voluntarism among four groups of indicators as well as the potentials offered by electronic archiving in accurately identifying the trends of voluntarism.

In conclusion, the Arab Network for NGOs that published 38 studies and research with the participation of 160 researchers from various Arab countries was always concerned with the human voluntary elements, either on the ground or in theoretical studies, from within organizations as well as members of local communities contributing in the implementation of programs and projects.  This work produced all over the years offers an important accumulation of knowledge that was gradually developed to identify the capabilities of human resources.


On the base of the four remarks formulated above, the main issue we will present now is the current definition of voluntarism and the difference between voluntarism and charitable giving.

1)      According to the Arab Encyclopedia of the Civil Society, voluntarism is defined as a “voluntary free human action translated by the allocation of time and effort without expectation of material reward, aiming at achieving the public benefit or at contributing in providing care and empowering some marginalized sectors of the society.

Linguistically, the word voluntarism is derived in Arabic from the concept of obedience, i.e. what humans donate voluntarily, without coercion.  Voluntarism has its roots in the holy religions and developed throughout all civilizations on earth to switch from individual informal voluntarism into institutionalized and organized voluntarism.  Therefore, the first generation of voluntary organizations is characterized by the philanthropic approach addressing its services to the needy and poor categories.

Furthermore, the Arab Encyclopedia presented definitions of other related concepts including participation, citizenship, partnership, social capital, measurement of voluntarism, empowerment, social responsibility, etc[vii].

2)      In developing the guidebook for the measurement of voluntarism published in 2001 at the occasion of the International Year of Voluntarism (with the support of UNV), the experts representing all the regions of the world[viii] reached a consensus about three main principles that should be included regardless socio-economic or cultural disparities:

Voluntarism does not occur to obtain material profits; although in some societies a symbolic incentive might be offered it should never be equal to the value of the wages paid in the labor market against a similar effort.

Voluntarism is based on the free will that represents a basic dimension in defining voluntary action (I can still remember the debate that took place among the members of the expert group around whether to consider or not voluntarism of students at school or in universities as part of the concept if these voluntary actions were due to external pressures; finally, the majority of members rejected the idea).

Voluntarism is beneficial to the society, targeted categories and to volunteers themselves (the school of social service and sociology raised the latter in order to identify the motives and benefits perceived by volunteers about their action).

3)      Ten years after the International Year of Voluntarism, is there a change in the concept of voluntarism, especially in the vision of the expert group representing the various regions, reflected in the global report that will be published end of 2011?

Actually, several changes took place either in the definition of the concept, its components, as well as its trend to include voluntary actions that were not a subject of concern before.  The main features of these changes according to the group of experts and in the final draft of the report[ix] include the following:

Voluntarism was redefined as a human social behavior voluntarily practiced by many people providing services or productive works to others.  It is directed outside the household (when practiced inside the nuclear or extended family it is called informal care).  This voluntary action might be met by a compensation (although not compulsory or imposed by law) lesser than its economic value.

Thus, the definition above relies on basic principles capable of attaining consensus among the majority; however, the most important thing about voluntarism in this report is the widened scope of the voluntary social action.


4)      What are the types of voluntary actions that were included in the report about “The State of Voluntarism in the World”?

-        The social movements supporting a specific claim (human rights, women, environment, etc.) reflect a type of voluntarism aiming at protecting human beings and calling for specific demands.

-        The activities of professional groups and businessmen.

-        Groups/organizations for the exchange of benefits.

-        Cooperatives.

-        Political advocacy.

-        Philanthropic, humanitarian and developmental action.

-        Faith based services.

The concept is simply becoming wider to refer to any voluntary action from within or outside an institutional or organizational context outside the family targeting to achieve the benefit of people, the society as a whole or to fight for principles.

The report on the State of Voluntarism in the World refers to ten “false” ideas about voluntarism characterized by their rigidity and narrowness; they include that

1.      Voluntarism is a social or charitable service.

2.      Voluntarism occurs only through programs conducted by organizations.

3.      The best voluntary practices take place in developed countries with high incomes.

4.      As voluntarism is not materially rewarded, it is not necessarily synonymous of good quality of performance.

5.      As voluntarism is a free action, it is not subject to accountability.

6.      Voluntarism is a spontaneous action that is not impacted by the socio-economic or cultural context.

7.      Voluntarism can develop and improve without planning or be in connection with the public policies.

8.      Volunteering time and efforts is a free action; therefore, it is useless to study its cost or socio-economic feasibility.

9.      It is needless to measure the economic value of voluntarism as long as it is not rewarded.

10.  History and culture have a limited impact in producing models of voluntarism that can serve as good lessons; recent models are the best.


The Arab report about the State of Voluntarism aims to convey a main message leading to raise the perception that there is diversity in the forms and meanings of voluntarism worldwide as well as at the Arab level; even the expressions referring to this human action might differ from a place to the other (such as “twiza” in the Arab Maghreb); therefore, there are quite important forms of voluntarism that remain hidden.  There is need to facilitate and support all forms of voluntarism either inside or outside organizational contexts, traditional or contemporary: they all serve as branches feeding and improving the social capital.

5)      What is the difference between voluntarism and philanthropic giving?

While voluntarism is mainly directed to activities provided voluntarily by some individuals without material reward, it refers principally to allocation of time added to effort; on the other hand, giving takes the form of financial or in kind donations aimed at helping the needy or contributing in charitable actions.

The common ground between voluntarism (time + efforts) and giving (financial and in kind donations) is that both are voluntarily and freely directed to the most marginalized categories.


An issue that is often debated in some Western literature as well as during the scientific and international events concerned with voluntarism and giving is that Muslims in general, and in the Arab region in particular focus on philanthropic giving rather than on volunteering their time and efforts.  They refer here to “Zakat”[4] and benefaction as well as to the commandments of the Holy Quran; while “Zakat” is compulsory, benefaction is a voluntary gesture to get closer from God.  However, this opinion reflects an ignorance of Islam that encourages social solidarity and the grant of support (not limited to material aid) to the needy.  Religious endowments that represent also one of the main types of philanthropy are not only directed to charity, but can be used for education (Cairo University in 1914), health (the Hospital of the Charitable Association in 1927), and are developed in various directions in some Arab countries to support the cost of educational missions abroad or scientific research (Egypt, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, etc.).

In addition, Western countries are used to conduct surveys about voluntarism which results are regularly disseminated showing the number of volunteers, the number of volunteer working hours, etc.  There are also studies worldwide about the economic value of voluntarism conducted by several universities and specialized research centers.  On the contrary, the Arab region suffers from a serious lack of such regular surveys or the implementation of the methodology of measurement.  Therefore, there is a void regarding the availability of knowledge about volunteer allocation of time and efforts leading some people thinking that Islam and practices in the Arab region focus only on charity, i.e. on financial and in kind donations.

The Cairo University: A scientific monument built on donations and endowments

Cairo University represents a respectable and lightening model of project based on financial and in kind donations as well as on the efforts of individuals.  In 1906, the Egyptian leader Moustafa Kamel called in the Egyptian newspapers for the establishment of the university; the door for subscriptions was opened and a preparatory committee was formed to monitor the process.  Princess Fatma endowed a piece of land to host the university and other figures offered donations; among them we note Awad Eryan who was one of the dignitaries in Beni Swaif and endowed seventy three acres for the university and mentioned in his legacy that the land would become owned by the university after his death.


III - Measuring voluntarism: challenges in the Arab region

Measurement could be defined as a process of representation of abstract concepts transformed into empirical indicators.  The focus in this process is to highlight the relationship between the abstract and the theoretical[x]

Measurement is a process of deduction to understand the phenomenon under study, in our case voluntarism, and get acquainted with its weight within a specific socio-economic, cultural and political context.  Our aim here is to develop indicators in order to measure the phenomenon in the reality and compare it with other diverse contexts.


1.      Concern with measuring voluntarism on the base of several indicators has grown during the nineties of the twentieth century in parallel with the trend towards developing indicators related to human development as well as the increased interest in the added value of voluntarism and Civil Society organizations.

Measuring voluntarism is not merely a scientific exercise; it is rather an activity ultimately oriented towards the future (after identifying the actual reality); therefore, it aims at establishing the relationship between the phenomenon (voluntarism) and the social, cultural and political context, as well as dealing with the obstacles and challenges in order to promote and rationalize this human action.

Measuring voluntarism requires the following:

-        Accuracy in defining the concept in order to reach a consensus about its main dimensions (a voluntary action, freely adopted, not seeking profit, achieving benefit for others, and practiced outside the household).

-        Clear identification of the dimension targeted by measurement (do we measure voluntarism across organizations or intermediary institutions? Do we measure free and spontaneous individual voluntarism?).

-        Availability of data, statistics and knowledge about the phenomenon to be measured.

-        Awareness of the added value of measurement in order to highlight the socio-economic feasibility of voluntarism for the public opinion and the State.


Measuring voluntarism informs us about the number of volunteers, the rates of development, the number of voluntary hours, the types and fields of voluntarism, the contribution of volunteers in providing labor, the alternative cost of the service offered, and the contribution of voluntarism in the national income.


The efforts to measure voluntarism have gradually increased in the West (specifically in Canada, the United States, and Britain) producing data through surveys of the labor force.  In a further phase, John Hopkins University has adopted in 1989 an ambitious project that included thirteen developed and developing countries (Egypt[5], Brazil, USA, Canada, France, Britain, Italy and other countries) aiming at testing the possibilities of comparing the socio-economic contribution of the nonprofit sector.

Among other findings, the first phase showed the huge gap existing between developed and developing countries in terms of data and statistics[6].  Moreover, it pointed out to the importance of developing a unified guidebook for the measurement of voluntarism.  This was achieved through two steps:

1 - Reaching a consensus about the sources of data, i.e. the governmental offices of statistics in the various countries.

2 - The production of the United Nations guidebook for nonprofit organizations.  During the past few years, the International Labor Office succeeded to develop a guidebook for the measurement of voluntarism in order to improve traditional statistics and data bases as to become capable of identifying its economic value[xi].


Main findings of John Hopkins project regarding the measurement of voluntarism

-        In 36 countries from Western and Eastern Europe, 140 million people contribute in voluntary activities representing 12% of the adult population in these countries.

-        The contribution of volunteers in Western economies was estimated at 400 billion dollars (2008).

-        In Sweden, the contribution of volunteers in the nonprofit labor force reached 76% followed by Norway at the percentage of 63%, representing the highest percentages worldwide.

-        The value of time granted by volunteers exceeds the monetary value of philanthropic giving by an average of 50%.


These global achievements were produced through international research projects, the UN office of statistics and the ILO (in cooperation with Johns Hopkins University).  Moreover, in some countries, diverse methodologies and indicators are used in order to regularly measure voluntarism.  Without going into technical details, it is important to confirm the following:

·         There are specialized bodies responsible of developing indicators, gathering data and analyzing findings; these bodies could be the office of the prime minister as it is the case in Britain, a national research center such as the Australian Institution of Voluntarism, the office of labor statistics in the USA, or the Canadian Center of Philanthropy.

·         Surveys for the measurement of voluntarism should be regularly conducted on a representative sample.

·         Findings of the surveys should be transparently published in the media and websites in order to be discussed by all concerned parties and contribute in understanding the reasons of crises or existing gaps.  For example, the 2008 survey in the United States indicated a regression in youth voluntarism; this finding raised a high concern that led to the development of programs and policies aiming at facing the phenomenon.  We notice a rise in voluntarism among youth in 2010 indicating the importance of these surveys in impacting policies.

Main indicators to measure voluntarism

-        The rate of voluntarism, i.e. the percentage of the population participating in voluntary activities during a referential period.

-        The type of voluntary work on the basis of the main categories of professions and economic activities.

-        The number of voluntary hours during a referential period.

-        The institutional framework of voluntary action (if any).

-        The field of voluntary action, i.e. the main economic activity.


Challenges facing the measurement of voluntarism in the Arab region

Despite the important growth of research and studies about voluntarism in the Arab region, one cannot find distinguished efforts to measure the phenomenon; this gap is due to several reasons:

§  During the past period, focus was on “formal voluntarism”, i.e. voluntarism related to organizations with a legal status.

§  NGOs and Civil Society Organizations show a weak concern with registering and documenting data about volunteers despite the important progress achieved in the field of information technology and electronic documentation.  Moreover, Arab legislation concerning NGOs do not require from these organizations to document voluntary activities.

§  The Arab region lacks any formal or informal body conducting every two or three year surveys to measure voluntarism; therefore, we are unaware of the rates of voluntarism among youth or whether they are regressing or progressing.  Furthermore, no one can scientifically accurately talk about the economic value of voluntarism (time + effort) either inside organizations (formal voluntarism) or outside these frameworks (free individual or collective action in the daily life).

§  The vast majority of those providing information about voluntarism are referring to the formal definition promoted by the ministries of social affairs or the federations of NGOs.  In such case, they monitor data regarding the number of founding members officially registered (case of some Gulf countries) or the number of members in NGOs (case of Egypt) regardless collection of membership subscriptions - minimum sign of belonging to the organization – occur or not.

National estimate of formal voluntarism in Egypt

According to official data relying on the number of NGOs’ members, the number of volunteers in Egypt is estimated to be around three millions; however, no data is available about their main fields of activity and priority, or about the socio-economic value of their contribution in formal voluntarism.  Moreover, no indication exists about the capacity of NGOs to mobilize volunteers in local communities.  In parallel, the data provided by the general federation of NGOs indicates a low percentage of payment of subscriptions (56%).


§  Another problematic encountered by the measurement of voluntarism basic elements (number of volunteers according to age, educational level, income, gender, etc.) is that the phenomenon is neither steady nor periodical; therefore benefit from voluntarism becomes seasonal and does not enable to undertake future projections or analysis through a given period in relation to the socio-economic and political factors.

It is important to mention here that some studies conducted either individually or collectively in several Arab countries have revealed important findings about both formal and informal voluntarism.  In addition, it was much easier to estimate the value of financial donations in the Arab region through philanthropic organizations as well as individuals.

Jordan: a good model to document the data about voluntarism

The Jordanian Ministry of Social Development provides a good data base about NGOs and voluntarism; in 2009, we find 2139 associations with 26% in rural areas and 7% in desert areas.  Members of these organizations amount to 188 thousand with 24% of females.  The data base of the Ministry indicates in 2010 a growth in the number of beneficiaries to reach one million and a half with 54% of females.

The data about volunteers documented by the Ministry was complemented with the findings of the Jordanian Center of Studies that was concerned with informal voluntarism and showed that in 2009, 9.6% of volunteers were young people, over half of them males, and 50% at the educational level of secondary school.  This field research confirms the findings of other country research about the weak belonging of youth to NGOs and their preference to work freely.


Among positive experiences and efforts to provide information about voluntarism, some voluntary initiatives took place in some Arab countries to establish websites documenting available data.  This represents one of the objectives of the Arab Network for NGOs in order to promote development and widen the participation of youth.

The initiative of the website “tanmia” in the Kingdom of Morocco to document voluntarism is a new website specialized in documenting data about voluntary efforts as well as associations in the Kingdom of Morocco.  It raises important information about the gaps in voluntary developmental action.  This initiative represents a collective work that deserves consideration and might be replicated in several Arab countries.


In conclusion, we can say that there are two major parties responsible of the scarcity or lack of information about voluntarism:

NGOs themselves are not kin of registering accurate data about their work, including their volunteers and the fields of their interests.  As mentioned before, there is need for basic information about their numbers, educational status, age and gender.

A study conducted by the Arab Network for NGOs in 2010 reveals that voluntary organizations neglect documentation

In a field research conducted in several Arab countries (Egypt, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Yemen, the Arab Network for NGOs based its assumptions that one of the indicators of effectiveness is the capability of the organization to mobilize volunteers and involve them in its activities.  However, the findings showed a low number of volunteers as a general trend.  Moreover, an important percentage of answers in the questionnaire failed to provide information about the socio-economic background of volunteers and 60% of members did not pay their subscriptions.


The second party responsible of the lack of data regarding voluntarism is the governmental bodies in charge of monitoring NGOs as well as those concerned with population and labor force studies.  Therefore, it becomes quite difficult to regularly and systematically measure the phenomenon.

An experience of monitoring by a specialized center in the documentation of data

The Canadian Center of Philanthropy presents a new important experience regarding its surveys about voluntarism.  In the first survey, the Center investigated whether organizations do register volunteers and keep sufficient information about their contributions as well as a financial estimate of these contributions.  One of the main findings that impacted policies and legislations was that only 27% of the sample possessed files about volunteers and 7% only undertake the estimation of their contributions.


This indicates that there are mechanisms capable of encouraging the documentation of data in a regular way.  Actually, organizations are not only responsible of registering and documenting their projects or the grants they obtain, but they should also rely on electronic archiving in order to document voluntarism.

Training on electronic archiving

During the past three years, the Arab Network for NGOs provided training to workers and volunteers in an important number of Arab NGOs on electronic archiving.  Currently, the Network is developing a training guidebook about this topic, including the establishment of data bases.


Other mechanisms to improve the process of measuring voluntarism include the adoption of surveys, the monitoring of nonprofit organizations, and their orientation towards e-documentation by nonprofit centers (such as in the cases of Canada, USA and Britain).  Offices of statistics are also requested to collect and analyze data about voluntarism.

On the other hand, the various efforts to measure the economic value of voluntarism agree on two points.  While it is important to measure this value, some fields are quite difficult to be measured, such as the advocacy campaigns for human rights or the social movements (or movements of protest).  The second thing is that voluntarism is quite beneficial for volunteers at the moral level; however, this value cannot neither be measured nor ignored.

Ethical codes of conduct for voluntarism

There are several codes of conduct for voluntarism at both international level and Arab level.  Among the most important, we mention “The ethical code of conduct for voluntarism” published in 2001 during the World Conference on Voluntarism held in Amsterdam, initiated and developed by IAVE, confirming all over the document the principles of commitment, transparency and accountability.


Measurement of philanthropic and charitable giving

The concept of philanthropy refers to financial or in kind donations by individuals or bodies mainly targeting the poor and the needy.

Charitable giving might be expressed by “volunteering money” (differing thus from volunteering time and effort).  This type of giving is related to the cultural and value norms of societies and is mainly linked to religious commandments.  However, it is important to grant attention to this phenomenon, especially in the Arab region where it witnesses qualitative changes[xii].

In this context, we mention the following remarks:

§  The annual reports of the Arab Network for NGOs, as well as its various field studies have constantly highlighted the supremacy of the charitable trend over the developmental trend among Civil Society Organizations.

§  On the other hand, these studies indicate that charitable giving addressed to NGOs is linked to marginalized categories of poor households; therefore, it is mainly conveyed to organizations of a philanthropic nature that do not suffer from lack of funding in their majority.  On the other side, developmental and human rights organizations complain from the difficulties facing their sustainability due to the scarcity or absence of local funding[xiii].

§  The majority of Arab families are committed to charitable giving as commanded by Islam and Christianity.

§  A recent research[xiv] conducted in Egypt (2009) indicates that 21.2% of overall families make donations with around half of them granting benefaction to the needy.  In addition, around half of the youth included in the survey were kin to practice charity with a higher percentage of this trend among males (60%) compared to females (39.3%).

§  Studies indicate that in the Arab region the vast majority of families prefer to donate money, around quarter of them makes in kind donations (clothes, school bags, bags of food or open air tables offering meals during the month of Ramadan)

Trends of charity among Egyptian families

The Information Center of the Council of Ministers has recently published an important research (January 2010) showing that voluntary organizations obtain only 11.9% of the donations.  Direct aid to the poor and contribution in the cost of the marriage of female orphans represent 55.6% of the donations while places of cult and hospitals occupy 23%.


§  There is a sustained trend towards charity in the Arab region with a focus on the poor and the construction of places of cult; this reflects both the religious culture and the traditional practices that tend to give this way rather than providing the elements of social and economic strength to the poor.

§  There is a direct relationship between the practice of charity and the level of income in the household; thus, the higher is the income, the more is the size of charity; this was mentioned by 72% of charitable families in the research mentioned before[xv].

§  In the case of Arab Gulf countries, we reach similar findings as the priority of donations goes to poor families and the establishment of places of cult; however, regarding the big charitable foundations of donors, we notice two trends:

-        The trend to overcome the geographical boundaries either towards Arab countries or outside the Arab region by conducting humanitarian activities aiming at improving the conditions of poor societies[xvi].

-        In a previous study[xvii], the author of this paper had identified 25 big donor organizations in Arab Gulf countries that had exceeded the philanthropic approach to address developmental fields in order to provide means of sustainability and strength for poor communities; their activities included job opportunities, training, and the establishment of educational and medical institutions.  This new trend is worth noticing.

The International Charitable Islamic Agency

State of Kuwait

This is an independent international organization that adopts humanitarian objectives worldwide without discrimination and with no intervention in political affairs or in sectarian and racial conflicts.  Its fields of interest are humanitarian relief, education and social care.  The organization was established by virtue of Law 64/1986 and is funded by “Zakat”, legacies and donations compatible with the commandments of Islam and with its own mission.  The organization has the priority of supporting human development in order to improve the conditions of poor communities by establishing educational institutions (In Sudan, Somalia, Albania, Chad, etc.) as well as providing health care and creating centers of vocational training, granting agricultural projects, etc.


Measuring philanthropic giving, i.e. financial and in kind donations, might seem easier in technicality because it relies on the households surveys (either with a representative sample reflecting the diversity of variables in terms of education, income, geographic distribution and others, or by including this dimension as part of the big censuses of population).  Getting acquainted with the results of this kind of studies is quite important as they are complementing the surveys about voluntarism.  The reason is that

-        They provide data about charitable giving enabling to be accurately informed about the flow of funds/donations that reflects social solidarity on one hand, while measuring the extent of economic contribution in the national income by offering job opportunities, education, training and services for the marginalized categories.

-        The flow of charity is targeting specific categories; therefore, knowledge allows multiplying the benefit from these funds.

-        They reveal the connection between the variables of education, income, gender and geographic distribution from one side and charity from the other side.  Data obtained shows that donations are not solely linked to the level of income, i.e. to rich families (9.9% of poor families in Egypt make donations)[xviii].

-        The moral or material value of charitable giving is not determined by the size of donations as was demonstrated in Western studies and surveys where small donations represented the backbone of charitable giving by nonprofit organizations, meaning that they represented the main source of funding for the activities.  The same applies also to some Arab cases.

The Child Cancer Hospital in Egypt

This great medical monument offers a high quality of free of charge services to the poor; it represents an important model of what can be achieved through the donations of citizens; statistics indicate that 70% of the donations were less than one hundred Egyptian pounds (around 15 US$), indicating that it is the poor who provided the main contribution in establishing this hospital.


In conclusion, the estimation of charitable giving in any Arab society and under all its forms and levels will contribute to discover a rich reality of charitable voluntarism and giving.  In addition, it will help multiplying the effects of giving.

Is there Arab experiences documenting voluntarism and charitable giving?

In asking this question, we are concerned by two levels: the regional level and the national level.

The following preliminary remarks define the features of the current situation:

1)      The interest in studies about voluntarism or Civil Society Organizations in the Arab region has emerged during the nineties of the twentieth century; therefore, we are talking about a relatively recent concern compared to other countries worldwide.  The main motor behind these studies that focused on identifying the features of the voluntary sector was the Arab Network for NGOs, contributing in establishing a solid academic community and developing research and studies; however, we are still suffering from the lack of data and statistics.

2)      Governmental bodies responsible of providing data and statistics in the Arab region (i.e., ministries of social affairs and labor as well as national agencies of statistics) have focused on the application of censuses with legally registered organizations only.  And even when we talk about these organizations, it is still difficult to obtain all the necessary information throughout a specific span of time enabling comparison and analysis.  Moreover, for governmental authorities the numbers of volunteers refer to the overall number of boards members besides the membership.  There is also a lack of concern with the socio-economic characteristics of members (age, education, gender, etc.).  Therefore, the focus remains on the narrow definition of voluntarism.

3)      The new millennium has witnessed rapid unprecedented changes in information and communication technology that were not accompanied in most Arab countries by the development of data bases, or regular processes of updating, either at the governmental level or at the level of NGOs.  Therefore, the result is explicit when a field comparative study published in 2010[xix] indicates that only one quarter of the sample (for Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates) is relying on electronic documentation. 

The initiative of the Arab Network for NGOs to build data bases about voluntarism in 13 Arab countries

Since the threshold of the new millennium, the Arab Network for NGOs has launched the important project of establishing detailed data bases about NGOs in thirteen countries with the support of UNFPA and AGFUND.  These data bases include information about NGOs projects, volunteers and workers besides an analysis of the socio-economic and cultural features of their members who are volunteers.

Despite the success of this experience, there was no follow-up of the process of updating the data base either by the concerned governmental bodies, federations or organizations, abolishing thus the significance of this huge work conducted from 2000 to 2005.  The countries represented in the data base are Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Palestine.


4)      During the third millennium, several Arab initiatives emerged at the regional level (the Arab Union of Voluntarism) as well as the national level (The Youth Agency of Voluntarism in Syria 2009, the Sudanese Organization of Arab Voluntarism in 2010, the Lebanese Center of Voluntarism in 2006, The Emirates Association of Volunteers in 2009, the Egyptian Association of Voluntarism in 2001, etc).

Although these initiatives have formally adopted the promotion of voluntarism, they did not succeed to overcome the traditional style of mobilization; furthermore, none of them adopted a contemporary set of objectives and priorities on top of which comes a scientific investigation about the current situation backed by the provision of data and statistics about the socio-economic and cultural features of volunteers; moreover, none adopted a clear definition of voluntarism.  Nevertheless, we can find some positive models that could replicated elsewhere.

The Observatory of Philanthropy in Egypt

In the context of the sustained concern of the Center of Information annexed to the Council of Ministers in Egypt, the Observatory of Philanthropy was created to provide data and information about both voluntarism (allocation of time and efforts) and philanthropy (financial and in kind donations).  The Center released its first report in 2010 relying on international methodologies dealing with voluntarism and philanthropy as well as conducting a study that represents the first seed in order to become acquainted with the status and features of voluntarism and philanthropy in Egypt in terms of age, education, income and gender.  The Center sought also to be informed about households that make donations.  Undoubtedly, this serious first attempt will be developed in the forthcoming years.

Main findings

-        In 2009 the size of charitable giving reaches around 4.5 billion Egyptian pounds granted by 86% of Egyptian households.

-        The rate of voluntarism among youth did not exceed 3% of this category of the population, and the report refers to the retirement of youth from voluntarism.

-        Around 98% of Egyptian households are committed to pay the donations requested by religious commandments, either Muslim or Christian.

-        Around 45% of the surveyed households offer donations for the poor and the needy.

-        Rural youth is more inclined to voluntarism than urban youth.

-        51% of young volunteers belong to Upper Egypt.

-        Half of volunteers have a medium level of education (in contradiction with the general perception that voluntarism is connected to high levels of education).

-        According to the report, discrepancies in the economic status did not impact the rates of voluntarism.

-        Helping poor households followed by persons with special needs represented the priorities for volunteers.

-        The rates of voluntarism are higher among males compared to females.

(Source: The First Report of the Observatory of Philanthropy in Egypt)


We have attempted through three mainstreams to highlight the objectives of our Tenth Annual Report about the State of Voluntarism in the Arab region as well as indicating the methodology agreed upon between the research team.  Later on, we have discussed the concept or definition of voluntarism as well as the contemporary approaches related to this issue, including differences between voluntarism and charity.  In a third stream, we have indicated the importance of measuring voluntarism in the Arab region as well as the problems and constraints impeding this task.

In the forthcoming part of our report, we will undertake a critical review of the main findings about the state of voluntarism in eight Arab countries that are Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates.  We are also seeking to identify commonalities as well as discrepancies in order to conclude by presenting a vision for the future.

IV - A critical review of the report findings

As mentioned before, the Tenth Annual Report of the Arab Network for NGOs[7]about the state of Voluntarism in the Arab Region covered eight countries: Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates.  The study was conducted by a research team composed of twelve researchers from diverse Arab countries.

We remind the reader that the terms of reference for the country reports was based on the wider concept of voluntarism that is not limited to volunteer members of NGOs and extends to the voluntary initiatives emerging at a certain time or aiming at achieving a specific objective.  The team reached the consensus to grant special attention to the youth.  All reports were committed to these agreements and were performed in a serious and effective way.  Therefore, we have obtained a precious scientific material deserving to be critically examined in order to identify the results reached.

1.      Commitment to the new concept of voluntarism and the problematic of data

The first result is that the main trend in Arab countries is the perception of voluntarism under its official form, i.e. membership in NGOs, as being the most important type of voluntarism, besides the capability to document it through the official legal registration under the responsible governmental bodies that often keep track of the founders’ names as well as the number of members.  Thus, the problematic of data is not as acute in this case as it was at the beginning of the millennium.

§  However, the same challenge reappears when it comes to the data related to the cultural, educational or socio-economic background of volunteers.  To which economic status are volunteers affiliated? What are the age brackets that witness a growth in the number of volunteers? What about education and gender? Are there specific trends of voluntarism between rural, urban or desert areas?  Actually, official data is quite limited; however, researchers who participated in this study made an effort in order to fill this cognitive gap, by supplementing the lack of data through research and studies that provided some partial indicators.

§  The same problematic arises in the case of informal voluntarism that is not the object of comprehensive field surveys, or even surveys of representative samples of the population.  Therefore, there are also some gaps here.  However, internet has been very helpful for the majority of researchers in discovering a series of voluntary initiatives, especially those launched by youth beginning from the virtual space to move towards the real world.

Main data about voluntarism provided by the country reports

-        The overall number of NGOs registered in Egypt amounts to 31.000 in 2011 with 2500 new NGOs born after January revolution.

-        In Tunisia, the number of NGOs reached 9600 with around 500 registered after the revolution.

-        Lebanon includes 6600 NGOs with 600 only acting on a sectarian base.

-        In the United Arab Emirates, we count 196 NGOs in 2011 among which 25% are established by expatriates; this represents a specificity that is detailed later.

-        There are 2139 NGOs in Jordan, 45% are located in the capital and the remaining ones in the other governorates.

-        In Morocco there are 50.000 NGOs (noting that cooperatives are accounted under this statistic in addition to the associations of boards of parents in schools).

-        The number of NGOs in Algeria is similar to that of Morocco (50.000) and includes also alliances and boards of parents.  

-        Finally, Sudan includes 3627 voluntary organizations.

The question now is about the significance of these numbers regarding the current state of voluntarism in the region.

According to researchers, it is possible to assert that these numbers are significant, even if partially.  First, the gradual increase in the rates of registration all over the first decade of the millennium reveals a trend to participate in public life; secondly, the huge numbers registered in Tunisia and Egypt during the first half of 2011, after the two revolutions, indicate that there is a higher tendency to participate in the public life although the law regulating NGOs remains the same, pointing out to the extent of despotism played by the administration according to the ruling regime; in connection to the previous point, we note the establishment of organizations concerned by new issues that were formerly prevented from participation, namely the political Islamic trends, besides efficient liberal and leftist young activists.

Another connotation of these numbers appears when we compare them with the overall size of the population.  We mention here the specific case of Lebanon that is ranked on top of Arab countries and worldwide from the perspective of the percentage of NGOs to the population as each 10.000 people benefit from the services of voluntary organizations in Lebanon.

However, analyzing voluntarism through these numbers only is not sufficient, and we remain with a void regarding the numbers of active volunteers, their socio-economic features, etc.  It is worth mentioning that the country reports did not contain much information about this issue.

Specificity of the voluntary role in Lebanon

The valuable country report about the state of voluntarism in Lebanon included an estimate of NGOs annual economic contribution amounting to nearly 300 million dollars.  The report indicates that the Lebanese history testifies the “assembling” role of voluntary action after wars, disasters or political events at the social level.  Moreover, Civil Society Organizations played the role of the State during moments of crises and the networks of volunteers can be accounted by hundreds of thousands playing a major relief role.  However, permanent volunteers are estimated at 20.000 only.  According to the report, the lack of data prevents from accurately getting acquainted with the state of voluntarism under the wide definition of the concept.


Official estimates about the number of volunteers in Egypt (on the base of membership in NGOs) are referring to over three millions.  In Jordan, official sources indicate that members in NGOs amount to 10.636 and that women represent a little less than 25%.

For Sudan, the country report considers that if we rely on the number of founders of voluntary organizations (not less than thirty), we reach the number of 108.810 volunteers only, but if we take in consideration the official membership in some big NGOs we will reach a much higher estimate exceeding one million.  The researcher noted that the biggest size of membership (500.000) was in the Sudanese Red Crescent, followed by “Ana” Association (200.000), both playing an important relief role.

In conclusion, we can assert that voluntary action plays important roles in most Arab countries; however, the opportunities to find out accurate data are quite limited, mainly restricted to the overall number of voluntary organizations or their membership.  Therefore, a logical conclusion is that we are confronted by an information gap about volunteers, either inside or outside organizational frameworks.  Consequently, there is need to grant a greater concern to this issue on behalf of academic institutions as well as the governmental concerned parties.


2.      Coexistence between traditional and contemporary types of voluntarism

A critical review of the country reports indicates that traditional and contemporary types of voluntarism coexist without antagonism within a common social environment.  Traditional types of voluntarism refer to philanthropy and charitable actions relying on deep rooted religious practices, and on the base of a long history of support to the poor, widowed females and orphans.  This “supremacy” of traditional types is characterized by the following aspects:

-        Traditional voluntarism is practiced through organizations that have a legal status, registered as charitable and are targeting the poor.  The prevalence of these organizations in the region is confirmed by previous reports and studies of the Arab Network for NGOs[xx] (around 25% in Egypt and 80% in Arab Gulf countries).

-        These are charitable organizations which the purpose is charitable giving through the allocation of funds and donation to the poor inside the Arab region and towards Islamic countries; they are concentrated in their vast majority in Arab Gulf countries.

-        We also refer to relief organizations focusing on the provision of material and in kind support to the victims of disasters in areas witnessing wars, natural disasters or political violence (in Palestine, Sudan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, etc.).

While the types of organizations mentioned above reflect a voluntarism with a charity dimension, the country reports draw our attention on other types of voluntary practices either individual or collective of a charity nature under various forms:

a)      Social solidarity demonstrated by the majority of the society with a trend to increase in rural and desert areas where traditional cultures are concentrated.  This might justify – besides other factors - the lower number of charity organizations in these settings.  Actually, the Egyptian survey of charitable giving[xxi] indicates that 18% of the poor seek to help the poorer, delivering thus a clear message about the sustained trend of helping the others and doing the good.

b)      The translation of these values of solidarity and voluntarism resides in the word “twiza” for the Arab Maghreb.  In his valuable research about the state of voluntarism in Algeria, Mr. Taher Hussein writes that the “twiza” system refers to all types of voluntarism, a habit inherited from the ancestors, generation after generation.  He adds that the “twiza” is still alive in the customs of desert areas.  The word is derived from the Berber language and consists in providing help and cooperation.  It also means the top of the mountain that you cannot reach without the help of the others.

The twiza in Algeria: a historical and cultural distinction

Voluntary actions are referred to as “twiza” in Algeria; some of these actions are voluntary while others are compulsory due to the strength of social relations.  Twiza here represents the solidarity and cooperation in building or restoration of houses, agricultural works, building mosques, paving roads, etc.  It is a voluntary action targeting the public benefit; these actions are decided in the local councils or in voluntary organizations in the Berber area.


c)      Religious endowments, either Muslim or Christian, have played a very important role that still exists under contemporary forms.  These endowments are an expression of solidarity and mutual support among the members of the society.  The practice of endowments has lasted for centuries; however, the main types of endowments are dedicated to religious or charitable purposes.  We have mentioned earlier the case of Cairo University as well as the establishment of the biggest hospital free of charge in Cairo.  However, endowments in Egypt passed through crises as a result of political decisions after the 1952 revolution: interventions occurred at the level of the fields of endowments or the beneficiaries, countering in many cases the will of the endower.  During the past few years, positive developments and new forms of endowments are taking place in Egypt and the majority of Arab countries.

The Egyptian project of endowment

An important businessman launched in January 2010 the Egyptian project of endowment through the donation of 33% of the value of his company’s shares and commissioning a big bank to administrate this endowment.  The Foundation of the Egyptian Endowment aims at supporting health and developmental projects, alleviating poverty and improving the quality of education.  It is worth noting that the foundation cooperates with other nonprofit organizations such as the Bank of Food, and Amer Charitable Association in order to achieve its goals.  This project was adopted after consultation with “El Azhar” in order to get reassured that this investment was compatible with the Islamic commandments.  The Foundation has provided support to 3869 cases of marriage, contributed in building 157 mosques, purchase of wagons for trains as well as ambulances and medical laboratories.  Moreover, the Foundation helped 2000 students to pursue their studies.  Therefore, this project is serving charitable objectives in parallel with developmental activities.  


Mr. Yasser Shalabi mentions in his valuable report about Sudan that due to the important number of endowments with charity purposes, the National Ministry of Islamic Endowments was established to replace the Endowments Authority.  The number of endowments registered in the Ministry amounts to 6219 representing one billion five hundred thousand pounds distributed between Khartoum, the northern governorates, the Nile area and western Darfour followed by the other governorates.

Arab Gulf countries, especially Kuwait and the Arab Emirates, have witnessed a great improvement of Islamic endowments, such as The Time Endowment in Kuwait.  Purposes of these endowments are a combination of charity and developmental activities.  Another interesting fact is the growing trend towards the creation of nonprofit organizations funded by endowments.  These NGOs are managed in a contemporary way and provide important services either inside or outside the country.

The Emirates Philanthropic Foundation: Launching of the Solidarity Initiative

The Emirates Foundation has launched a program of voluntarism called the Solidarity Initiative aiming at promoting the culture of voluntarism and mobilizing youth in order to encourage creative thinking towards social and cultural development as well as improving civil participation in public life.  The Foundation is active in several fields that include education, technology, culture and arts.   This approach is quite positive and deserves to be encouraged.

The Initiative seeks also to strengthen the capacity building of volunteers, provide opportunities of volunteering, and improve the support of the private sector to voluntary initiatives as a commitment to the social responsibility of this sector.  Volunteers are oriented towards various projects such as the health sector, schools, people with special needs, environmental issues, etc.  Therefore, the Initiative is not limited to develop the infrastructure but is also concerned with volunteers as an important human resource.


The report of the United Arab Emirates that was prepared by Dr. Amna Khalifa includes new creative models of the combination between voluntarism and charity.  Among these models we mention the International Humanitarian Hospital of the Emirates (Zayed Foundation of Giving) which is the first sophisticated mobile hospital, representing an unprecedented humanitarian initiative.  The hospital is designed to move over various areas and countries in coordination with the ministries of health in the host countries.  This project is targeting the poor and the needy; it includes modern medical equipments as well as a distinguished pool of specialized physicians, together with volunteer consultants from inside and outside the country.  The mobile hospital remains three months in each country where it is requested to move.

In conclusion, there are two coexisting cultures inside every single society: on one hand, we have a traditional culture with religious roots where voluntarism is targeting to achieve the good and provide help to the poor; on the other hand, we have a “modern” culture addressing the issues of development (devoting sometimes efforts in charity actions to support the needy).  Thus, we can find in some instances a combination between the traditional and the modern represented by charity foundations based on endowments offering support to the poor and providing job opportunities and educational services, or   endowment foundations belonging to the private sector, or institutions targeting volunteers.


3.      Voluntary youth initiatives: the transfer from the virtual space to the real world

In 2007, the Arab Network for NGOs has published an important study about the Arab Civil Society and youth.  The research covered twelve countries[xxii].  One of the main findings was that the majority of youth abstains from joining organizations or from establishing their own organizations.  The reasons from their point of view included:

-        The hegemony of older generations over the positions of decision-making.

-        The limited chances to occupy leadership positions.

-        The “rigidity” of NGOs that do not express their aspirations.

-        The legal constraints imposed on NGOs.

Limited mutual confidence appeared to exist between youth and NGOs.  Therefore, the search for freedom was the best convenient way from youth point of view.  This freedom was found in the virtual space or internet where huge sectors of young people from various Arab countries used to meet, interact and criticize both the society and the State.  Various initiatives of collective voluntary action emerged here and there.

Despite its importance, the mentioned study did not raise much concern among readers and researchers about what the youth was doing or saying in their virtual space.  During the past three years, several movements of protest occurred in various Arab countries launched from twitter and face book.  One of the most prominent initiatives is the 6th of April movement in Egypt as well as other movements that advocate for human rights and protest against the violations of these rights.  Other movements were related to the elections, political incidents, the fight against corruption and the call for democracy that emerged in the majority of Arab countries (Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, Sudan, Morocco, Lebanon, Tunisia, Syria, etc.)

Thus, over a short span of time until the end of 2010, the majority of youth got involved in the social media that offered them a space of freedom characterized by wideness and flexibility; this space enabled them to interact in a way that leads us today to talk about the virtual Civil Society.

The big challenge facing this youth was to move from the virtual space towards the real world; here, the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions represented a major turning point, not only at the level of the Arab region but also worldwide.  A new unprecedented phenomenon blossomed with the capacity of youth to reach consensus about specific objectives (freedom, democracy and social justice), to mobilize and organize protest in the Arab streets, and to pressure until the fall of the ruling regimes, especially with the absence of charismatic figures.

The discovery of the huge potentials of social media and the chances of success in the cases of Tunisia and Egypt extended to Libya, Yemen and Syria as well as other Arab countries that focused on the fight against corruption and the claim for political and economic reform (Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, Sudan, etc.).

From the perspective of this research about the state of voluntarism, it is important to confirm the following points:

1 - In the era of globalization that witnesses important developments at the political level (the calls for democracy and respect of human rights), the economic level (market policies and capital without boundaries) and technology level (unprecedented opportunities provided by the information technology), we are witnessing today either in the Arab region or worldwide (the events of Wall Street that extended to Europe), the deep interaction between the three elements of the globalization mentioned above with the culture of protest led by the youth.

This can be explained by the fact that youth have utilized the information and communication technology to express their anger towards the absence of social justice and the hegemony of the market forces over the administration of the country.  The component of freedom and democracy has been adopted as part of their agenda.

2 - We also find ourselves in front of the beginnings of a socio-economic and political shift with the move from a virtual Civil Society to the world of reality; actually, we witness a human voluntary action aiming at achieving the public benefit firstly through the virtual space then moving to the real world.

3 - We are discovering the tendency of youth towards voluntarism as we are confronted by unprecedented voluntary initiatives; therefore, there is need to critically revise some previous writings where numbers and figures were referring to the abstention of youth that was justified by the prevalence of legal, social and political constraints.  Now, we are capable to understand why youth were abstaining from voluntarism, what are their aspirations and in which contexts they wish to volunteer.

Civil Society Organizations have often mentioned the crisis of volunteers, especially among youth from both sexes and women, justifying this by the socio-economic and political environment.  However, they never investigated internally whether they provided real chances of participation and clear roles for volunteers.  Moreover, the majority of NGOs are under the control of older generations; some young people have mentioned in the social media that the leaders are dealing with them as if they were their custodians in addition to the lack of transparency and accountability; moreover, they do not offer the opportunities of renewal and creativity.


4 - The concept of voluntarism that we promoted in 2001 focuses mainly on voluntarism in organizational structures, i.e. Civil Society Organizations.  However, this concept has greatly developed, impacted (as was elaborated during the meetings in Bonn) by two combined things that might appear to be antagonist: the impact of communication technology and social media on the state of voluntarism leading to include social movements in the concept besides the historical culture of voluntarism reflecting the specificity of some societies (the “twiza” in the Arab Maghreb).

In the following pages, we will mention some youth initiatives that began through internet and were transferred to the real world; these initiatives have in common their seriousness, creativity and renewal as well as the aim at achieving the public benefit.

-        In Morocco, the country report discovered a wide prevalence of groups of youth seeking to fight against corruption and claiming for a dignified life.  One of the groups called “Moroccan youth against corruption and oppression” define their objective as to “reveal the aspects of corruption and oppression in Morocco”.  During their first week of life, 3000 young men and women from all over Morocco rejoined the group.  An interesting point is that the group combines its objectives (fighting corruption) with the documentation of their findings through documents, pictures and videos.

A question might arise about the effectiveness of these groups in impacting decisions and policies.  The answer is proposed by a group of young Moroccans who organized a coordinated action to request the abolition of a festival called “Mawazin” that they consider a waste of the public wealth.  This pressure succeeded to abolish the festival.

Thus, there are opportunities of success for the pressures practiced by the public opinion on public policies and decision-makers, especially when these pressures rely on a clear rationale and are capable of mobilizing the public opinion.


-        In Sudan, the young researcher Yasser Shalabi considers that it is timely for various generations to interact and perceive that new features are shaping voluntarism today.  “We have to be modest and sit with the youth in order to understand the new concept and dimensions of voluntarism” says Shalabi, adding that the expression “keyboard fighters” or “keyboard volunteers” is diminishing the efforts of these young women and men and reflects a total ignorance about the winds of change.

Sudan: The Renaissance Initiative

This refers to a voluntary initiative of youth through internet presenting itself as an ideological trend seeking to achieve renewal: “we believe that it is the ideas that change the world and make miracles; we do not have leadership positions and have erased the word “president” from our vocabulary, replacing it by the term “coordinator” that is more a mandate than a honor.. the thing that groups us in this initiative is not walls but rather ideas and meanings that we have adopted”.

The initiative proposes scientific programs, specialized sessions of training, exhibitions and cultural activities for youth.  While being a virtual initiative, it is also active on the ground.

They are a group of youth who perceive science, knowledge and intellect as the way to achieve the desired renaissance.


-        The country report for Lebanon was conducted by a team of three researchers who accurately monitored the features of voluntarism under both organized and free forms.  Voluntarism and volunteers represent the relief front in times of crises in Lebanon.  This applies to the civil wars that lasted for 18 years, political events and sectarian conflicts.

The report confirms that the electronic boom has opened new perspectives for voluntarism and strongly impacted the human rights and social movements.  Moreover, it opened wide spaces of interaction between various sectors of the society moving in some instances to the real world.

Lebanon: “The people want to overthrow the sectarian system”

In November 2009, a group emerged on face book under the name “march of the Lebanese seculars to promote citizenship”; 4000 people joined this group and after a year a demonstration was organized in Beirut grouping over 5000 participants.  Later on, these activists remained interacting through face book under the slogan “the people want to overthrow the sectarian system” in parallel with the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions.


The Lebanese report includes other initiatives seeking to raise the awareness about women rights and protecting the family from all forms of violence; it also refers to the campaign about the right of Lebanese women to pass on their nationality to a foreign husband and to their children similarly to Lebanese men.  There are other campaigns to fight against corruption that were launched through the social media and then moved to the street claiming for a dignified life.

-        The country report of Jordan relied on a recent research that highlights the limited trust among youth in the usefulness of traditional voluntary organizations.  Dr. Moussa Shtewi notes in parallel the “unprecedented numbers of young people joining internet, and most importantly the main initiatives of youth rebelling against governments, political parties and the Civil Society”.

The researcher identified 46 initiatives of youth in internet until the end of April 2011 seeking in their majority to confirm their identity as representative of the Jordanian youth aiming for a better life of freedom and dignity.

4.      Voluntarism and youth between Tunisia and Egypt

a)      For Tunisia, Dr. Fathia Saidi presented a valuable analysis about the state of voluntarism before and after January 14 2011, offering us a picture indicating that the narrow concept of voluntarism was prevailing before the revolution, oppressed by legislation that emptied voluntary initiatives from their content with a majority of organizations moving in the orbit of the authoritarian regime.

The Tunisian report raises important questions mentioned in the beginning of this report such as the increase in the number of NGOs that suggests a qualitative change.  The question here is whether the blossoming in numbers of organizations and members refers to a flourishing of voluntarism.  Another issue is related to the increasing weight of organizations concerned with cultural and artistic activities: could culture in the open sense develop in the absence of freedom?  Moreover, the researcher monitored growing numbers of so called developmental organizations that might refer to the growth of a reformist trend, especially when these organizations call themselves developmental while being in their vast majority devoted to social care.


In conclusion, the classification of organizations by the State or its governmental bodies under the labels developmental, human rights or cultural might lead us to findings and conclusions that are not realistic about the priorities of voluntarism.  On the other hand, the report rejects the idea of merely relying on quantitative indicators about the number of NGOs and volunteers that should be complemented by qualitative indicators identifying the effectiveness and revealing the human voluntary action in an environment enabling the free choice.


In the period following January 14 2001, the researcher identifies two important facts:

First, she refers to the unprecedented number of newly registered organizations amounting to 600 in few months.  In our analysis, we noted the strong link between these organizations and new political and ideological actors that emerged on the scene.  The same trend is noticed in the case of Egypt.  Who are these new actors in organized voluntarism and what are their fields of concern? In Tunisia, youth, Islamic, liberal and leftist trends represented these new actors mainly focused on the following:

-        Memorization of the Holy Quran and inculcation of the good and moral values, including the religious commandments and charitable action.

-        Contribution in spreading the culture of human rights, freedoms, citizenship, equality, democratic principles and participation in public life.

-        Developmental organizations seeking to secure job opportunities for youth and to contribute in the elaboration of strategies in order to achieve social justice, promote sciences, culture and arts, improve the knowledge of Arabic language among youth, and deepen the Islamic and Arabic identity.

The second fact that is also applicable to Egypt is the increased number of youth initiatives through internet.  Actually, the easy use of face book has attracted huge numbers of individuals and groups unified around the single criteria of friendship; nevertheless this criterion did not prevent them from interacting about several topics related to politics and the public life.

Tunisia: Youth, revolution and citizenship

The studies conducted in Tunisia about social media users indicate that 90% are youth with a main common feature of anger exploding against repression and the violation of human rights translated into the “Jasmine revolution”.

The independent initiative about citizenship has succeeded to mobilize organizations, independent individuals as well as face book activists around a citizenship charter.  The initiative organized three huge demonstrations in the capital with the purpose of promoting political participation in order to improve the process of democratic change.


b)      Undoubtedly, the Egyptian case present a strong model of voluntary initiatives that were born in the virtual space and moved to the real world before and after the 25th of January revolution; we have already mentioned before the 6th of April movement.

The important population of Egypt, as well as its wide geographic landscape and its socio-economic and political features have conferred some specificity to the Egyptian model.

The first spark that blew up the potentials of protest and anger among youth was initiated by the page called “we are all Khaled Said” on face book.  Actually, this young man from Alexandria had all his human rights violated by the hands of some members of the security services.  This event might have passed silently, similarly to other successive prior events.  However, wide sectors and categories of youth succeeded in escalating their solidarity and protest against the regime and headed towards Tahrir square where they remained until the fall of the regime.

Although political, these signs refer directly to the capacities and potentials of youth in making use of internet for various purposes related to the participation in public life and volunteering.  In addition, the eight months following the fall of the regime have witnessed the highest rate in the registration of new NGOs (2547 between January and September 26 2011), similarly to the case of Tunisia.  Here also, we will attempt to get acquainted (for comparative purposes) with the nature of these organizations and their fields of concern as well as the political and ideological trends they represent if any.

Data was available for 23 governorates[8] enabling to identify the following characteristics:

-        With reference to all our previous studies about NGOs in Egypt, we find out that for the first time Cairo does not come on top of the rates of registration; actually, the governorates of Kafr El Sheikh and Qalioubiah occupied the first rank (253), followed by Giza (245), Alexandria (237), Dakahliah (207), Gharbiah (212) and Cairo (204).  Therefore the quota of Cairo after the revolution comes after six governorates and this is a fact that deserves a further thorough analysis.  However, it reflects at least a voluntary aspiration and a will of participation on behalf of governorates far from the capital that used to include lesser numbers of voluntary organizations.

-        Another interesting point is the unusual registration of many organizations active in specific professional and specialized fields representing categories of workers and fans of these fields.   Among others, they included organizations of computer workers, workers in the field of petroleum, trainers of school sports, professional health, graduates of some faculties, the Egyptian Association of Biology, the Association of Young Workers in Civil Aviation, etc.

-        Several organizations were registered in various governorates to express the revolutionary youth, including the Association of the Coalition of Revolutionary youth in the governorate of Qalioubiah.  Other organizations were kin to choose another identity such as the Youth for Reform, the Youth and Development, or the Youth and Social Justice.

-        We also find a positive new trend towards voluntarism reflected by the multitude of organizations registered after the revolution in the field of culture and sciences.

Highest percentage of organizations with a religious nature

Another characteristic of organized voluntarism is the sustained supremacy of the traditional charitable nature over the majority of associations in Egypt constantly related to Muslim symbols, followed to a lesser extent by Christian ones.


In parallel, we note the ascending trend of youth initiatives beginning from internet to move into the ground in order to mobilize volunteers, promote collective work and participate in the public life.

These youth initiatives were varied and included popular committees for the protection of districts and local communities, groups for the protection of the environment, for raising social and political awareness, for education, as well as cultural and artistic initiatives that joined the street where they presented exhibitions and performances.

These initiatives were mainly characterized by their independence from any political or religious movement; however, we note other initiatives related to political parties such as the initiative of Egyptians Development connected with the Party of Reform and Development.  Some other initiatives improved their effectiveness by joining active NGOs.

Voluntary initiatives of youth joining Ressala (The Message) Association

“Ressala” is an organization initiated by young graduates from the Faculty of Engineering in 1999 under the leadership of a young university teacher (Dr. Sherif Abdel Azim).  Important model for a case study, the organization established with the ideas and efforts of youth turned from a mere university group with seasonal activities into one of the biggest organizations in Egypt over twelve years only.  It currently counts over fifty branches disseminated all over the country.  Relying on a combination of charity and developmental approach, the specificity of this NGO is that it was and continue to be pending on the shoulders of youth, and is opening prospects and choices for youth.  The actual number of volunteers amounts to 200.000 offering three million hours of volunteering per year.  The orientation of volunteers and their capacity building remains one of the main reasons of success besides the wide democratic participation inside the organization adding credibility and trust.  In addition, Ressala relies on information technology to mobilize youth participation in its various campaigns.  These young volunteers who belong to various socio-economic backgrounds consider that the sustainability of voluntarism is achieved through the association that encourages them to volunteer through the practice of great flexibility and positive responses. 


V - New Arab experiences proposing participatory voluntarism

The concept of participatory voluntarism refers to a type of voluntarism where several institutions, voluntary organizations and volunteers from the target local communities participate together to achieve specific objectives through the distribution of roles and responsibilities among all the stakeholders, either groups or individuals; therefore, this model is a combination of formal and informal voluntarism.

In other words, participatory voluntarism is a voluntary action aiming at achieving development with the participation of various parties that do not hold equal potentials or resources, have different legal statuses and combine formal voluntarism (through NGOs) with individual voluntarism on behalf of the local community and the target beneficiaries.

The developmental groups: a model of participatory voluntarism

The initiative of the Arab Network for NGOs launched three years ago to implement the program of developmental groups in four Arab countries reflects accurately this new concept of participatory voluntarism.  Actually, the Arab Network aimed at establishing groups composed of 5 to 7 nonprofit organizations in all Arab countries with a support organization among the group capable of providing human and material resources and playing the role of project coordinator in each country.  The group is requested to formulate a developmental project seeking to improve the quality of life in a given community with the participation of volunteers.  Projects are implemented according to systematic steps where all concerned parties give their contribution.


In other terms, the Arab Network for NGOs has proposed the initiative in the target countries and provided the necessary funding with the support of OPEC Fund for Development, the Economic and Development Fund in Kuwait and the volunteer participation of four big NGOs in playing the role of coordinator.  Grassroots organizations selected a field of activity and designed the objectives of the project.  In turn, the Arab Network provided capacity building for the voluntary organizations and volunteers in the local community.

The main features of this new Arab experience could be summarized as follows:

1.      The main initiator of the initiative is the Arab Network for NGOs, an Arab nonprofit developmental organization that sought since its inception to contribute in strengthening the capacity building of the Civil Society.

2.      Important funding organizations have supported the proposed projects; they include the OPEC Fund for Development and the Economic and Developmental Fund in the State of Kuwait.

3.      Big voluntary developmental organizations have given their support to the project; they include the Foundations of Social Care in Lebanon, the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services in Egypt, the “Hawa” Association in Sudan and El Zahraa Forum in Morocco.

4.      Moreover, the project involves the participation of twenty five grassroots organizations well aware of the socio-economic and cultural nature of their local communities as well as the challenges facing them.

5.      Finally, we have the volunteers willing to participate and achieving the goals of the project for the benefit of the target local communities to whom they belong.

Positive dimensions of the developmental groups model

One of the main dimensions of this initiative is that each developmental group proposes its own projects and follows-up their implementation with the technical support of the Arab Network for NGOs.  As an outcome of the training offered, developmental groups can conduct self participatory evaluation of their performance, involving the target beneficiaries in this exercise.  Therefore, we are referring to a new type of collective work combined with capacity building, and strategic planning under a highly independent environment and status.


In this context, we present in the following lines a brief idea about the nature of each developmental group and their projects:

-        The first group from Sudan includes Hawaa Association as the support coordinator organization and five grassroots organizations that sought to achieve economic empowerment for poor women heads of households in the governorate of the North of Kordofan.  The group addressed 100 households in one of the marginalized districts.  Besides women the project targeted children who dropped out from school and found themselves either in the labor market or in the street.

Upon successive meetings with the target beneficiaries and groups of volunteer youth who were willing to support the project, the overall group succeeded to identify the adequate approach, develop planning and agree upon several income generating projects.  In a further phase vocational training was provided to habilitate the target beneficiaries.  Training was followed by the provision of the tool of production.  An important fact in the experience of Sudan is that training, monitoring, follow-up and self evaluation were voluntary provided by both the support organization and the grassroots organizations.  Moreover, the targeted household participated in the feasibility study of the projects related to the various options selected including small trading, poultry and handicrafts (2010/2011).

-        In Egypt, the support organization was the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services with the participation of four grassroots organizations in marginalized districts of Cairo.  The case of Egypt presented new dimensions, included support provided by the private sector (small companies and shops in the targeted districts), and partnership with governmental bodies to obtain authorizations for the establishment of distribution points for bread, as well as institutional capacity building to the partners who focused on vital topics such as planning projects, feasibility studies, transparency and financial management.

The objectives of this group were the improvement of the quality of life for poor households and their children who lack the majority of services; all over the duration of the project, efforts sought to empower the beneficiaries through a human rights approach comprising awareness and education.  Steps of the project were scientifically designed after a field research about the poor household in these marginalized communities.  Through a series of collective meetings with all partners, volunteers and owners of small shops who agreed to train the households in the production of handicrafts and offered to market the products. In addition, free of charge health care was provided by one of the grassroots organizations as well as a class for the eradication of illiteracy by the Authority of Adult Education.  One of the main characteristics of this group was to provide the opportunities for creativity and self expression by allowing children to perform for the first time in their life in one of the theatres affiliated to the palaces of culture.

-        Regarding the developmental group in Morocco (Tanger, Aghadir and Casablanca), coordinated by a network of NGOs called Zaharaa Forum the project selected was about women in difficult conditions to be approached from a human rights and developmental perspective.  The collective work targeted 1000 women and their families and achieved a good combination in one of the settings between socio-economic empowerment, awareness raising and intervention in the cases of human trafficking.

-        The fourth group in Lebanon was implemented by several small grassroots organizations located in poor marginalized settings that decided to work in order to improve the life of the target beneficiaries.  The project took place in Beirut, in the north of Lebanon and in the south of the country.  The Foundations of Social Care played a prominent role in the selection of the settings as well as the partner organizations.  An important number of volunteers from university students joined the project and contributed at the level of field research and at the level of implementation.

This concise presentation of the Arab Network experience of cooperation with Arab NGOs, funding institutions and volunteers reflects the realistic connection between voluntarism and partnerships in a common developmental context in order to highlight the possibility of combining the voluntarism of big support organization side by side with small grassroots organizations, together with the voluntary participation of various categories from the local communities, including the target groups themselves.  Therefore, the main principles of this voluntarism in partnership refer to the distribution of roles, collective work, reaching consensus about the objective, practicing transparency, monitoring and evaluation.


Concluding remarks: challenges of the future

The first chapter of our Tenth Report about the State of Voluntarism in the Arab Region that is published in parallel with the global report of the United Nations about voluntarism worldwide discusses whether the concept of voluntarism has changed ten years after the International Year of Voluntarism.  We have also examined the impact of global and regional changes on this concept.  Furthermore, we have presented an overview of the country reports as well as a critical comparative analysis.  The five main issues raised in this chapter include the following:

1)      The objectives of the Tenth Annual Report of the Arab Network for NGOs as well as its methodology.  Though, we do not pretend to provide answers to all the questions raised, we have attempted to investigate and analyze within the limits of the available data and information.

2)      The new concept of voluntarism as it is adopted in 2011 together with the approaches to this concept.  Here, we were kin to confirm the importance of broadening the concept instead of restricting it to organizations; we also confirm our choice to look at voluntarism as representing a voluntary human action that might be either independent or under organized frameworks of legal entities.

On the other hand, our concern was to differentiate between volunteering time and efforts with no reward in return aiming at achieving the public benefit and charitable giving relying on material and in kind donations.

3)      The Tenth Report presented also the international efforts to measure voluntarism and highlighted the added value of this exercise.  In addition, we mentioned the challenges facing the measurement of voluntarism in the Arab region with a reference to some actual interesting experiences.

4)      We have attempted to present a critical review of the eight country reports concluding that they offered a similar coexistence between the traditional and most recent forms of volunteerism.  We have also approached the impact of the cultural and social environment on the trends of voluntarism noting the difficulty of tackling the contemporary concept of the phenomenon as a consequence of the lack of data and statistics.  Among the findings of the reports, we have addressed a special concern for youth initiatives that begin in the virtual space to transfer to the reality.  In this context, it was important to grant a special attention to the models of Egypt and Tunisia.

5)      Finally, we have presented a practical experience initiated by the Arab Network for NGOs under the new nomination of participatory voluntarism where several parties are involved in a combination between formal and informal voluntarism.  This experience called the developmental groups was implemented in Egypt, Lebanon, Sudan and Morocco.

Regarding the future, a major question remains to be answered: How can we promote voluntarism in the Arab region?

1.      The first thing that should be said is that we found many positive indicators coloring somehow the black picture that was previously prevailing about voluntarism.  Among these indicators is that when we approach the value and cultural context, we note the prevalence of voluntary practices based on religious principles and on the norms of social solidarity, especially in rural and desert areas.  Other positive aspects include the need to revise the saying that there is a crisis of voluntarism among youth and women; actually, youth abstain from volunteering in the traditional organizational structures; however, they have proved to initiate important voluntary initiatives based on the spirit of citizenship; nevertheless, they are seeking to find a highly flexible space of freedom compatible with their age, tendencies and schedules.  Moreover, the assumption of the abstention of girls and women from volunteering might prove to be totally wrong.

The high level of charitable giving and its extension among various economic sectors of the population is another positive indicator of the strong spirit of giving in Arab societies.  We note also the steps adopted by the private sector as a commitment to their social responsibility in support of voluntarism.  In addition, there are the various types of endowments and their more recent forms addressing fields such as education and health in order to contribute achieving the improvement of social development.

On the other hand, the vision of voluntarism that tends in its vast majority, formal or informal, to take the form of charity can be approached from a developmental perspective as it actually provides the basic needs of the poor and aims at improving their conditions.

2.      The overall discourse about the so called “crisis of voluntarism in the Arab region” is characterized by much generalization and exaggeration; the comparative research as well as the reality allow reconsidering this assumption.  Actually, the main parties raising this issue are Civil Society Organizations; however, the country reports of this study clearly indicate the need for these organizations to reflect internally in order to identify the challenges facing voluntarism.  The reasons responsible of this situation might include:

-        Limited capacities of adaptation.

-        Fears from politicization, sectarianism or the rush of tribal types of members in NGOs.

-        Limited creativity and renewal.

-        Lack of programs to catalyze and mobilize volunteers.

-        Lack of transparency and accountability combined with limited mutual trust.

-        Conflicts between volunteers and professional paid workers.

-        Fights for leadership positions and weakness of collective spirit.

3.      Accurate examination in the connotations of quantitative indicators is another requisite as we have reached the conclusion that voluntarism is not limited to the organizational structures but occupies a much wider space.  When we ask ourselves about the preference of youth to the virtual space, we find out that they need to challenge the status quo as well as the traditional prevailing ideas; therefore, they need this space of freedom provided by the social media.  We cannot forget that this youth did not hesitate to move from the virtual space to the real world.

4.      Another positive indicator is that the relationship between the level of education and voluntarism is not always linear.  The country reports indicate that the majority of volunteers have an intermediary level of education; therefore, we can assert that there is awareness even with limited years of education.  This dimension is complemented by the fact that the majority of NGOs in the region are located in urban areas.  Therefore, there can be here a double explanation: the first is linked to the trend to establish organizations under spotlight, especially in the capitals; the second reason is the strong prevalence of informal voluntarism in villages and desert areas based on the culture, customs and habits.  We add to this the prevailing solidarity among Arab migrants abroad with their homelands through civil organizations created in the countries of destination rather than through the flow of funding and charity organizations (cases of Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco).

5.      However, there are still several challenges that should be met through programs and policies, including the design of strategies whenever possible:

-        Confronting the lack of knowledge about the voluntary sector by focusing on scientific research, adopting new methodologies in order to fill the cognitive gaps, and abstaining from generalizations and exaggerations.  This is mainly the responsibility of the academic community, educational institutions and research centers.

-        Improving the commitments of governmental bodies in charge of population surveys and statistics to undertake regular censuses covering information and data allowing to measure voluntarism.

-        Operating an amendment to legislations in order to contribute in building trust between volunteers inside and outside organizational institutions and the State; this requires mainly the abstention of bureaucratic bodies from adopting repressive attitudes and measures.

-        Recalling the right meaning of voluntarism that is essentially a process that should be initiated in the institutions of socialization and political education in order to become an integral part of the behavior for all people.

-        Changing the notion of voluntarism perceived as a seasonal or emergency action to become a sustainable program contributing in development.

-        Inciting Civil Society Organizations to revise seriously and calmly their practices of exclusion; this might require the development of programs helping to deal with the capacities of volunteers.

-        Facing challenges faced by the Arab region during the past years, including bridging the gaps between formal and informal voluntarism, traditional organizations and youth initiatives.

Ultimately, voluntarism is a free human voluntary action, a culture and values requesting a wide space of freedom in order to be creative instead of being imprisoned behind walls.






[1] The experts’ group included representatives from the various regions of the world, including the author of this report to prepare the global report about voluntarism.  The group held successive meetings in 2010 and 2011 in Bonn – Germany (where the UNV headquarters are located) in order to review and analyze the concepts ten years after 2001.

[2] The main criteria included a strong correlation between volunteers in the society as a whole and the case studies of NGOs, the pioneering and creative aspect of the models presented, voluntary initiatives of youth either within or outside an organizational structure aiming at operating social change.

[3] The Follow-Up Committee of Arab NGOs that gained its legitimacy from the First Conference of Arab NGOs (1989) played a major role as machinery preparing the ground for Arab collective action and revealing the features of the voluntary sector through research and training.  In 1997, this body was institutionalized into the Arab Network for NGOs upon a major recommendation of the Second Conference of Arab NGOs (Cairo, 1997).

[4] Zakat is one of the commandments of Islam where Muslims are requested to allocate a certain percentage of their income for the benefit of the poor.

[5] The first phase lasted from 1989 to 1995, the second phase extended to 2002, and the third phase that included 63 countries lasted until 2005.

[6] Egypt was not included in the results regarding quantitative measurement due to the lack of data and statistics.  It is worth mentioning that the author of this paper was member of the international team of researchers; she attempted to operate a change in the Egyptian labor force surveys; however, despite the conviction of officials about its importance, measurement of voluntarism was never added to these surveys.

[7] The executive board of the Arab Network sought to include more Arab countries in the report; however, the prevailing situation in some countries prevented us to interact with our counterparts; furthermore, some other countries apologized due to the lack of statistics.

[8] Thanks to Ms. Aziza Youssef, head of the central department of NGOs at the Ministry of Social Solidarity who provided all the available data to serve scientific research.



[i] First Annual Report of Arab NGOs, the Arab Network for NGOs, Cairo, 2001.

[ii] Refer to the reports published since 2002 until the tenth report about Voluntarism; each report includes a main issue in its relation with the Civil Society; website:

[iii] Amani Kandil, What Role is Played by the Civil Society? A Critical review of the Reality and of the Literature, Arab Network for NGOs, Cairo, 2011.

[iv] Refer to the collective research published by the Arab Network for NGOs: Amani Kandil “The Socio-Economic Contribution of NGOs in Arab Countries”, Cairo, 1997.

[v] Refer to:

Musa Shtewi, “Voluntarism and Volunteers in the Arab World: A Field Research in Egypt, Jordan and Palestine”, the Arab Network for NGOs, Cairo, 2002.

Salwa El Amri, “Training Needs of Arab NGOs at the Threshold of the New Millennium”, Arab Network for NGOs, Cairo, 2002.

[vi] Helmut Anhiere & Lester Salamon (eds.), The Nonprofit Sector in the Developing World, Manchester University Press, NY, 1999.

[vii] Amani Kandil, The Arab Encyclopedia of the Civil Society, the Arab Network for NGOs, Cairo: 2008.

[viii] Guidebook for the Measurement of Voluntarism: 2001 The International Year of Voluntarism, Organization of the Independent Sector in cooperation with UNV, Washington: 2001.

[ix] The State  of Voluntarism in the World, UN Volunteers, Bonn: 2011.

[x] Amani Kandil (principal researcher and editor), Indicators of Civil Society Organizations’effectiveness, the Arab Network for NGOs, Cairo, 2010.

[xi] John Hopkins.

[xii] Mohamed Ramadan Abdel Ghani, First Report of the Observatory of Philanthropy, Information Center of the Council of Ministers, Cairo, 2010.

[xiii] Amani Kandil (editor), The Global and Regional Development the Human Rights Concept and its Implications on NGOsm Arab Network for NGOs in cooperation with AGFUND, Cairo, 2006.

[xiv] Philanthropy of Egyptian Families, informative reports, Information Center of the Council of Ministers, issue number 44, August 2010.

[xv] First Report of the Observatory of Philanthropy, op.cit

[xvi] Amani Kandil, Building Social Partnership in Arab Gulf countries, executive Bureau of the Council of Ministers of Labor and Social Affairs in the Council of Arab Gulf Countries’ Cooperation, Bahrain, 2008.

[xvii] Third Annual Report of the Arab Network for NGOs, Alleviating Poverty and Contributing in Human Development, Arab Network for NGOs, Cairo, 2003.

[xviii] Informative reports, op.cit.

[xix] Indicators of the Effectiveness of Civil Society Organizations, op.cit.

[xx] Which Role is Played by the Civil Society? Op.cit.

[xxi]First Report of the Observatory of Philanthropy, op.cit

[xxii] Sixth Annual Report of the Arab Network for NGOs, Youth within the Civil Society, Arab Network for NGOs, Cairo, 2006.