Many governments are failing to harness the untapped potential of volunteers, ordinary citizens who can shine light on injustice and hold those in power to account, the United Nations said in a report on Friday.

More than one billion people around the world volunteer their time to different causes – from helping during West Africa’s Ebola outbreak to scrutinising city contracts for corruption in Brazil, the U.N. said in the first global analysis of volunteers’ contribution to better governance.

Volunteering also helps marginalised groups such as women, youth and minorities have their voices heard, the report said.

In September, U.N. member states are expected to adopt new international development goals as the Millennium Development Goals expire. The targets should include volunteering as a way of improving governance locally and globally, said U.N. experts.

“Volunteers have been claiming rights and raised awareness among politicians. Any new development agenda must have space for civic engagement,” said the report’s author Amanda Mukwashi of United Nations Volunteers (UNV).

Over the past two decades, people have mobilised in the Middle East and North Africa to repeal laws that prohibit women from passing their citizenship to their children and have led to the amendment of legislation in several countries like Egypt and Algeria, said the State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2015.

The public outrage that followed the gang rape and murder of a young female student in India in 2012 forced the government to respond and hold those responsible to account.

Huge participation in last year’s climate march in many cities worldwide raised awareness about the urgency and importance of combating global warming, said the report.

Despite positive examples, too many governments are failing to acknowledge and leverage the potential of volunteers in their development plans, said UNV.

“Change will occur with greater civic engagement broadening the number of people who have voice, who can participate and who can hold governance actors to account,” Richard Dictus, executive coordinator of UNV, said in a statement.

This article is published in collaboration with The Thomson Reuters Foundation. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Maria Caspani is a journalist at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, covering humanitarian crisis and women’s rights.

Image: The feet of visitors are seen from below as they make their way along a translucent walkway. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque.