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UN Volunteering

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UN Volunteering

The United Nations Volunteers programme (UNV) was created by the General Assembly in 1970 to serve as an operational partner in development cooperation at the request of member states.  It reports to UNDP and works through UNDP's country offices around the world.

The UNV website states that the Millennium Development Goals are the overarching foundation supporting UNV’s mission, and that voluntary action by people both in developed and developing countries is a vastly under-used resource that needs to be engaged.

In 2006, 7569 volunteers served in 134 countries, with the largest UNV operations taking place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Sudan, India, Côte d’Ivoire, Haiti, Kosovo, Timor-Leste, Zambia, Burundi and Ethiopia.

What to expect

The UNV programme involves a broad range of areas, including agriculture, health and education, social conditions, community development, vocational training, industry, transport, population and information technology.

Volunteers are divided into categories. The length of service, eligibility criteria and nature of work differs greatly between categories. Details for each category, along with information on how to apply can be found here.


Although the criteria are specific to the type of volunteer assignment, there are basic guidelines that apply to the type of service most likely to be sought by young professionals:

  • A university degree or higher technical diplomas
  • Several years of relevant working experience
  • At least age 25 (no maximum age limit)
  • Good working knowledge in at least one of the three working UN languages: English, French and Spanish
  • Strong commitment to values and principles of volunteerism
  • Ability to work in a multi-cultural environment
  • Ability to adjust in difficult living conditions
  • Strong interpersonal and organisational skills
  • Prior volunteering and/or working experience in a developing country is an asset

Other volunteering opportunities

The UNV programme recruits volunteers for assignments through the UN system, including agencies such as UNICEF, for example.  If you want to volunteer for a particular agency, it is best to approach them directly and enquire about possible opportunities.

It is also possible to undertake volunteer work within the UN headquarters in New York, where volunteers are generally given administrative tasks. There is no formal programme or scheme to apply for such positions, but if you are interested, you should contact the relevant department directly and enquire about possible opportunities.

Photo: UN Day Celebration at Kapuri School, South Sudan, copyright UN Photo 25 October 2014.