“In every country, including our own, there is an untapped reservoir of people of tremendous talents and goodwill, who are motivated by service and who want to use their skills to make a difference in their community and their world,” Ms. Hessler-Radelet added.
The SPA program connects local and global volunteers with small grants to implement grassroots development projects. More than 25,000 SPA grants have been awarded to empower communities to create sustainable solutions to end poverty.
Distinguished guests Rep. David E. Price, D-N.C., and Administrator of USAID Rajiv Shah addressed the crowd, largely composed of former Peace Corps volunteers.
“When thousands of people volunteer, the collective impact is tremendous and transformative for our society as a whole,” said Rep. Price, co-chair of the bipartisan National Service Congressional Caucus.
Dr. Shah agreed but added that the success of current programs should be a path to future expansion. He said that both USAID and the Peace Corps are focused on responding to the call made by President Barack Obama in July to expand national service and develop a task force.
“We need a new way to engage thousands of young Americans and mid-career professionals in the effort to end extreme poverty,” Dr. Shah said. “Today, we need to rethink how the Peace Corps and USAID work together to reach these goals and answer the call of President Obama,” he added.
To do this, Dr. Shah said, both the Peace Corps and USAID are working together to announce a new partnership strategy in March 2014.
Following the speakers, Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski moderated a panel with Ms. Hesseler-Radelet, Sierra Leone Ambassador to the U.S. Bockari Stevens, Chairman of the Special Olympics Timothy P. Shriver and Chief Executive of VSO International
Marg Mayne, that examined the success and challenges of global volunteerism.
Amb. Stevens reflected on the arrival of Peace Corps members in Sierra Leone at the height of the Cold War.
“They came to share values, they came to share knowledge, and we were able to learn on both sides,” he said.
The idea that volunteerism is as transformative an experience for the volunteer as it is for the community they become a part of, was a running thread through the event.
For Dr. Shriver, the transformative power of volunteerism takes on a different meaning, given that the Special Olympics is a domestic program focused on engagement beyond delivering and developing tangible sustainable resources and built on a simple premise: getting people to play together.
“We think of building social capital as a sustained change in the community,” Dr. Shriver said. "We're not trying to get volunteers to just help someone else; we are trying to get citizens to think differently."
Ms. Mayne added that to be successful, volunteers must be fully integrated into the community.
“When volunteers get involved, local ownership is very critical,” she said. “It is important not only to make sure that the impact of the project is long lasting, but that the project is relevant in the first place.”
The comment echoed Provost Steven Lerman’s opening words regarding the university’s efforts to uphold the strategic plan’s pillar of citizenship and leadership.
“Every GW student will have a set of experiences throughout his or her four years here that will build their experiential base and make them more effective citizens,” Dr. Lerman said. “I have never seen a student body more interested in how they can make a difference.”