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Volunteering, always part of a bigger story
The #EYVplus10 editions of volunteering weeks and festivals should include a European perspective.
Across Europe, over 100 million people volunteer. Wherever they are needed, volunteers are there, and they bring a significant contribution to building solid communities and maintaining social cohesion; moreover, they are the living proof of the meaning of European values manifested at national and local level, strengthening societies and securing the path towards sustainable development.
In the latest episode of CEV’s podcast ‘Let’s Talk Volunteering’, when asked how a world without volunteering would look like, CEV President Lejla Selič Relič stated without hesitation that such a world could not be imagined. Volunteering is integral to societies at such a level that subtracting it is not possible. Volunteering is not only about meeting the immediate and constant socio-humanitarian needs of each community; it is also the human connection, social cohesion, solidarity aspect of volunteering that makes it essential to the way human societies form and exist.
Are we always aware of this reality? Do we always grasp the real significance of the contribution volunteers bring to communities? Although we come across volunteers and volunteering in its many shapes and forms all the time, we don’t stop to think about the bigger picture. Generally, we look at volunteering actions individually or by event (such as in the case of a natural disaster when volunteers mobilise almost instantly), but how much do we put it all in perspective? Do we understand the value of volunteering at society level?
Every community, large or small, has its volunteering support structure or organisation. These entities not only observe and assess the value of and need for volunteering, but they also strive to create and maintain solid infrastructures which allow volunteering to happen in the most efficient and effective way. Members of CEV are such examples in their respective countries.
To raise awareness on the importance of volunteering, and to further develop solutions for volunteers and volunteering, many of these organisations organise or host Volunteering Weeks/ Conference and/or Festivals taking place at the local, regional or National level. These events are a crucial opportunity to see the wider perspective when it comes to the impact of volunteering. It is when the value of volunteering is expressed through empirical data, but also when the challenges and areas of success and need for improvement in volunteering support are brought to the attention of key stakeholders. Volunteering is one of the main expressions of European democratic values, but it is not a fortuitous event. Enabling it to happen represents a sustained effort by a range of stakeholders working together to support the volunteering ecosystem.
Within CEV’s European level network alone, there are a number of organisations in countries such as Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Romania, UK, who are organising these volunteering weeks and festivals every year. And while celebrating local volunteers and creating a space for national stakeholders to come together and share solutions and opportunities for the volunteering ecosystem, what these events have the opportunity to bring in is a European perspective. Being part of a European volunteering network gives CEV members visibility over what other countries are building in terms of volunteering infrastructure; what European volunteering policy work is underway; what tools and resources are being used by other countries in supporting volunteering - and they use all this knowledge to further strengthen their volunteering support.
Why Volunteering Weeks/Conferences and Festivals will be different in 2021
2021 is a special year for volunteering. First, it is the 10th anniversary of the European Year of Volunteering 2011. This anniversary brings the opportunity to evaluate the advancements in and transformation of volunteering support since the creation of the Policy Agenda for Volunteering in Europe (PAVE). But 2021 is also the year when we are getting ready to drive on the Road to Recovery, following the COVID-19 pandemic which transformed the world in 2020. More than ever, volunteering actions across Europe during the pandemic showed the resilience of its citizens, who expressed the value of solidarity helping each other and their communities to overcome the great challenges the pandemic brought upon us all. And while tackling these challenges was essential to keep the communities going, we must now prepare to recover, rebuild, reinvent, reconnect, mitigating the long-term negative effects of the pandemic in our society and avoiding a health crisis becomes an endemic social crisis. There is no scenario in which the recovery will succeed without volunteers. Enabling inclusive, safe and holistic volunteering support for communities is of the essence as Europe is building a strategy for socio-economic recovery.
This is why, this year, all of our volunteering weeks, festivals, events and campaigns, will have to be different. We not only have the opportunity to assess what we now need in terms of volunteering support 10 years after PAVE was formulated, but we will have to move to immediate action, enabling volunteering to sustain the efforts of recovery in a post-pandemic world. The great opportunity we have at European level is to learn from each other’s practice and successes, as well as to work together to find solutions where we are all still struggling. This year, the events must include a European component – we are all in this together and volunteering events represent the ideal setting for collaboration and resource mobilisation for volunteering support.
Why make it a week when you can have a whole year – a National Volunteer Year
Some countries, recognising the value and need of volunteering support, are going a long way to strengthen their national volunteering ecosystem. Utilising the frame of the EYV 2011 10th anniversary, Netherlands and Hungary have each created their own National Year of Volunteering programmes.
CEV member in the Netherlands, Vereniging Nederlandse Organisaties Vrijwilligerswerk (NOV), is leading the national program ‘People Make the Netherlands’. Benefitting from government support and launched in December 2020 by Queen Máxima, the initiative aims to bring more people into volunteering, while nurturing the diversity and inclusiveness of the volunteering community. The program is set to particularly focus on the post-pandemic recovery process in the Netherlands, by gathering support and participation from key stakeholders across the country, from local and regional government agencies, to the private sector, volunteering support organisations and volunteers themselves. Recognizing the impact this initiative can bring in other nations across Europe, NOV is prepared to share their tools and knowledge database with other entities across the continent, as they are advancing on their recovery process and solidifying their volunteering ecosystems.
In Hungary, CEV member Volunteering Hungary – Centre for Social Innovation, alongside other 10 NGOs received government support to organise the Hungarian National Year of Volunteering 2021 (ÖMÉ2021). The program focuses on offering a wide spectrum of opportunities for volunteering, from individual temporary commitment actions, to more generalised, municipality level volunteering programs. The initiative is also designed to collaborate with the private sector, encouraging and enabling employee volunteering as a key component of the companies’ social responsibility programs. Erika Miklósa, Hungarian coloratura soprano singer, elected last year to the Immortals’ Society, and Mihály Gundel Takács, Hungarian journalist, presenter, sports reporter and commentator, are the ambassadors of the National Year of Volunteering in Hungary. Aiming to give greater visibility to volunteering at national level and across all sectors of the population, the ambassadors will work to enhance the impact of volunteering and the European value of solidarity in the Hungarian society. This national initiative was officially launched in a live streamed event on 3 February 2021.
In an upcoming podcast episode, we will cover the impact these national programs are set to have as we discuss them in more detail with our guests from NOV, Netherlands and Volunteering Hungary - Centre for Social Innovation.
Now is the time to prepare your own volunteering event
This year, more than ever, volunteering as a practice needs to be enabled and strengthened to ensure all countries build a solid foundation for post-pandemic recovery. And organising National Volunteering Weeks, festivals and events should not be merely a time to celebrate volunteers and their supporters, but also an opportunity to build better support structures for them as they are preparing to support their communities to rebuild.
At CEV, as part of the European level efforts to support volunteers and volunteering activity, we are focused on bringing the European perspective through these volunteering events and campaigns., enabling volunteering to happen with the highest possible impact in every community across Europe. There is no better time to show our support as European citizens; we are thus prepared to facilitate European level collaboration towards volunteering support. Every organiser of an event or campaign can integrate in their programme such a space for collaboration, which can take the shape of, for example:
A virtual volunteer experience exchange,
Best practice sharing webinars,
Exchange of experience on tools and volunteering support solutions
Co-creating online events
This is the time for volunteering practice to advance, to be adapted to the current needs and conditions, to be made ever more inclusive and to be placed at the heart of social cohesion, through the solidary action of all volunteers.
At European level, CEV is set to capture all these developments and solutions while working to create the Blueprint for European Volunteering 2030. This framework will then guide the policy and practice efforts of policymakers, all volunteering supporting organisations and other key stakeholders’, as we all “Step up a Gear” on the Road to Recovery, together.