This week, at a major global meeting in Antalya, Turkey, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) will elect its new president for a four-year term.
The new president will take the reins of the world's largest and oldest humanitarian network at a time of unparalleled humanitarian need and complexity, and will immediately be confronted by an array of global priorities – the impact of climate change on already disaster-prone communities, protracted crises around the world that have decimated societies and destroyed economic infrastructure, the massive movements of people fleeing conflict and violence, and the need to grow the Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteer base.
The last issue will be chief among the new president's concerns. He or she will quickly need to focus on the growing dangers faced by volunteers everywhere, and the changing nature of volunteering around the world.
The Indonesian Red Cross Society (Palang Merah Indonesia, PMI) has a strong volunteer network that covers our entire country. They are our strength – the reason that PMI can respond quickly and effectively to emergencies both large and small. These local heroes have excellent credentials to do this work. They speak the local language, understand the local culture and are committed to helping their neighbors.
Volunteers represent an irreplaceable lifeline in times of conflict, natural disasters and disease outbreaks. Without them, countless communities would be left alone and without aid. The vast majority of first responders are local volunteers, who often act as the major or even exclusive humanitarian players within crisis settings.
However, around the world, there is a major shift taking place in volunteering. Put simply: fewer people are coming forward as volunteers and for shorter periods of time. All countries should take note of this, including ours, Indonesia.
In the past, people would choose an organization like the Red Cross, and remain with it for years or even decades. But this pattern of stability and loyalty to an organization has changed over the past decade. Increasingly, young people align themselves with causes rather than organizations.
New technologies and social media make it easier for them to choose their opportunities, or create opportunities themselves. The trend now is toward shorter bursts of volunteering through e-volunteering, online campaigning, skilled volunteering, swarm volunteering and self-organized volunteering.
This means we are seeing an overall decline in the number of people volunteering with "traditional" volunteer-based organizations, and a steady increase in the average age of people engaging.
This new generation of volunteers wants greater flexibility and a greater diversity of engagement opportunities. Volunteer-based organizations like PMI need to do more to fulfil these aspirations while ensuring that the volunteer spirit is not diluted or spread too thin.
This is a challenge for many charitable and social organizations which provide essential services for the community through volunteer effort, but are finding it harder and harder to maintain that support.
At PMI, we are already working to find new ways of offering volunteer opportunities. One of our priorities is creating new partnerships with Indonesia's corporate sector to provide us with their technical expertise to address the crisis nationwide.
In times of emergency, we need excellent logistics support to deploy immediate needs of the affected communities. We need more dedicated medical personnel to care for people in dire need of health service. We need more teachers and educators to teach children when they have lost their schools to a disaster or conflict. We need more psychologists to help the traumatized community members cope with their problems, to name a few.
The corporate sector support, through corporate volunteers, greatly complements our community service across the country.
This week, I will travel to Turkey for the IFRC General Assembly — the biannual meeting of 190 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies linked together to form the world's largest humanitarian network.
Together, we will elect our new president. He or she will tackle these issues head-on, knowing that our network's shared vision of a world where no one is left behind, will never be realized without the courage, commitment and dedication of everyday Red Cross and Red Crescent heroes – our volunteers.
Ritola Tasmaya is the secretary general of the Indonesian Red Cross Society.