Volunteering is an important social capital component. As Egypt moves towards launching development plans, there emerges the need to raise awareness of the significance of volunteering, which raises questions about the scope and scale of volunteering in Egypt, how far it develops and supports development efforts, and the prospects of volunteering regulation policies in Egypt.
Civil Society and Volunteering Incubators
At large, civil society and community-based organizations are the entities that buoy volunteering activities, contributing to creating job opportunities that support economic development. The Civil Society Assessment Report issued by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), indicated an improvement in all the dimensions of the Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index (CSOSI) in Egypt in 2020 (shown in Figure 1), which can be attributed to several reasons, including:
- The development of civil society organizations’ (CSOs) cooperation with the Egyptian government, particularly on issues that serve the national agenda and are consistent with the 2030 sustainable development goals (SDGs), including environment and climate change issues, rights of people with disabilities, women capacity building, and women economic empowerment.
- The Positive media coverage of CSOs’ activities, which contributed to correcting the negative societal image that was associated with CSOs in the aftermath of the Egyptian revolutions.
- Improvement of the CSOs legislative environment, which made the registration procedures easy for CSOs and the transformation of a significant proportion of these organizations into institutions.
All of these reasons brought about a significant growth in the number of the CSOs in Egypt. At the end of 2019, the number of CSOs registered with the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MOSS) amounted to more than 57,000, 65 percent of which are international organizations. However, data on the service sectors of these organizations and their actual scale remains unavailable. According to data from the MOSS, about 2,500 organizations are registered only in name with no actual activity as has been indicated in the 2019 CSOSI for Egypt.
Figure 1: Civil Society OrganizationS Sustainability Index (CSOSI) in Egypt in 2020
Development of the Legislative Framework on Volunteering
Until recently, volunteering has been seen as an enjoyable non-binding activity that can be undertaken in leisure time. While leisure is already included as a category of volunteering in the UN Plan of Action to integrate volunteering into the 2030 Agenda introduced at the 2020 Global Technical Meeting (GTM2020) on Reimagining Volunteering for the 2030 Agenda, there are other four categories of volunteering, including mutual aid, service, campaigning, and participation. Figure 2 shows the specific characteristics of each of these categories. Notably, these categories were the result of research aimed at updating volunteering practices globally by expanding the typology of volunteering based on the UN 1999 Typology. Prior to this global transformation, Egypt issued a law in 2019 regulating the Exercise of Civil Work. Provisions of this law apply to CSOs, regional and foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and unions working in this field in Egypt.
Figure 2: UN categories of volunteering
Source: Volunteering Practices in the Twenty-first Century, United Nations, June 2020.
This law and its implementing regulations mark a qualitative leap in civil work policies, with its articles upholding the right to establish CSOs and private civil work institutions, regulating funding sources for CSOs and controls over their work, and setting accountancy disciplines if necessary. As for volunteering, some articles of the law support the freedom of volunteering in accordance with standards of governance and rules of follow-up and accountability, towards achieving comprehensive community development and effective integration with both the public and private sectors. In line with these legislative measures, the MOSS published a training manual for volunteering entitled the “National Volunteering Guide”.
Public service, being a volunteering activity that is imposed by law on a specific group of society, differs from volunteering. As such, the Public Service Law issued in 1973 could be excluded when talking about the development of the Legislative Framework on Volunteering, notwithstanding the fact that it contributed to providing community services that support development such as elimination of illiteracy, Productive Families’ Project, among other educational and health services.
According to data from the MOSS, the number of male and female public servants amounted to about 135,000 in 2019, only 2,000 of whom were males. This low participation of males in public service could be originally attributed to males’ adherence to performing the military service, with only a small percentage of them –those exempted from the military service– performing the public service. There is no accurate data on the service sectors which public servants served in and how these sectors are evolving.
Additionally, the 1975 Law of Civil Society Organizations for Youth and Sports Welfare serves as a legislative basis for volunteering. It provided for the establishment of the General Union of Voluntary Public Service Bodies for Youth. In effect, the law remained in the pipeline until the 2017 law organizing youth bodies was issued followed by a ministerial decree providing for establishing the union, determining regulations of its board of directors, and assigning its general assembly.
In December 2021, the MOSS announced it started developing the National Volunteering Strategy, aimed at framing volunteering policies by launching a community dialogue that engages all the interested parties in society through holding workshops and discussion panels towards developing a comprehensive study on the future of volunteering in Egypt. This came against the backdrop of a series of significant events, including the launch of the National Human Rights Strategy which shed light on the weak culture of volunteering and social participation as one of the challenges facing the right to form and join CSOs in a way that guarantees freedom of organization as one of the items falling under the Civil and Political Rights theme in the strategy.
Overall, the success of the legislative efforts aimed at organizing volunteering in Egypt remains subject to several factors, including the creation of an authority or entity specialized in managing and following up on volunteer work affiliated with the MOSS, activation of the Voluntary Public Service Union of the Ministry of Youth and Sports (MOYS), and consolidation of volunteering bodies, their policies and objectives, particularly the political parties, foremost among them the Coordination of Youth Parties, to avoid overlapping of the official institutional frameworks pertaining to organizing volunteering as a result of pluralism, towards ensuring sustainability of civil initiatives and projects. As such, the political leadership’s announcement of the inauguration of the New Republic Youth Union (NRUN) during the first conference of Haya Karima [Decent Life] initiative last July marked an important step in this respect. Objectives of the NRUN included supporting and implementing community development plans and establishing rules for volunteering. The NRUN has about 21,000 volunteers, 31 percent of whom are females while the remaining 69 are males.
Volunteering Scale and Sectors
A report issued by the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) program in 2018 estimated the scale of volunteers in Egypt at about 3 percent of the total population above 15. The number of volunteers in Egypt reached about 1.8 million people, 55 percent females and 45 percent males. Egypt ranked 50th out of 68 countries with respect to volunteering. A 2010 report by the Information and Decision Support Center (IDSC) indicated that the scale of volunteering witnessed a significant growth following the 25th January Revolution, with volunteers accounting for 2.2 percent of total population in the age group 18-21, which is indicative of the growth of the scale of volunteering over the years from 2010 to 2018. However, according to the World Bank, this percentage is still below the global average.
Several factors govern the composition of volunteers in Egypt. A study by the IDSC entitled Map of Youth in Egypt pointed out that the rate of volunteering increases in the age group 18-20, with volunteers this age accounting for about 30 percent of the volume of volunteers. This percentage falls to its lowest rates in the 10-14 age group. Figure 3 shows the percentage of volunteers by age group.
Figure 3: Age of volunteers until 2009
When it comes to the educational level of volunteers, holders of technical high school diploma accounted for the largest share of volunteers, by over 30 percent. On the other hand, illiterate volunteers accounted for the smallest share of volunteers at a rate of 8 percent of the total volume of volunteering as is shown in figure 4. While males account for the largest share of volunteers globally, the opposite is true for Egypt. Perhaps this could be attributed to the inclusion of public servants (mostly females) within the total numbers of volunteers, while males who carried out the military service were exempted from performing the public service.
Figure (4): Education of volunteers until 2009
At large, the volunteering preferences of youth play a role in determining volunteering sectors, which are usually confined to short-term activities. Given the lack of data available on volunteering sectors, there is no map for volunteering sectors in Egypt. In a poll conducted last October by the IDSC, volunteering activities popular among males and university volunteers have been enumerated, chief among them was volunteering in mosques and churches, followed by blood donation, fundraising, and finally visiting orphanages, nursing homes, and homes for the disabled. In the same vein, the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research (Baseera) issued a report, in 2019, on the volunteering preferences of the Egyptian youth, revealing that providing aid and charity work comes at the top of these activities, followed by participation in educational projects, health projects, environment protection projects, and women’s capacity-building projects as is shown in table 1.
Table (1): Volunteering preferences of Egyptian youth in 2019
|43%||Providing Aid and Charitable Work|
|40%||Volunteering in Education|
|36%||Volunteering in Health|
|19%||Volunteering in Environmental Protection Projects|
|14%||Volunteering in Women Capacity Building Projects|
|24%||Volunteering in Human Rights Projects|
|23%||Volunteering in Youth Capacity Building Projects|
|18%||Volunteering in Economic Development Projects|
On the other hand, government entities, primarily the MOYS and MOSS, contribute to defining sectors of volunteering, while other ministries such as the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Endowments, the Ministry of Higher Education, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities work on promoting volunteering plans. Priorities of volunteering activities vary according to the ministry. For instance, the MOSS adopts initiatives that encourage volunteering within the framework of providing humanitarian aid, while the MOYS make use of volunteers in organizing events, such as conferences, exhibitions, elections, and local and international leagues, among other important events.
In short, these legislative and procedural steps meant to develop voluntary policies are demonstrative of the government’s endeavors to achieve its development goals. However, there is still a need to further disseminate the volunteering culture not only by raising awareness of the importance of volunteering but also by broadening people’s perception of volunteering from being restricted to short-term aid activities to entail a social responsibility that serve the long-term developmental plans and projects, e.g. Haya Karima. This necessitates launching an independent entity to manage volunteering in a way that supports the integration of the concerned ministries.