Lack of resources in the social sector? Why not build bridges between volunteers and social institutions

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Volunteer programmes of social institutions provide opportunities to fulfil the requirements of the beneficiaries on the one side and of the volunteers wishing to help on the other.

Borbála Hadrévy

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Project leader at Önkéntes Központ Alapítvány / Volunteering Hungary - Centre of Social Innovation.

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Social institutions in Central and Eastern Europe show rather similar picture: overloaded, mostly underpaid, hardworking employees working out of enthusiasm to change the lives of those in need. Despite professionalism and the continuous efforts of the personnel these institutions are often facing the challenges of being underfunded, bureaucratic and hierarchic. Since the State owned organisations usually lack personnel i.e.: the number of staff-members is by far less than required by the number of beneficiaries therefore certain services required by the beneficiaries cannot be ensured by the institutions. Most often issues like loneliness, isolation, feeling of being superfluous and not belonging to society exceed the capacity of the social institutions.

What could be done?

We at  Volunteering Hungary - Centre of Social Innovation (ÖKA) experience at the same time, however, that many people want to play an active role in the life of the community or society they live in. They are driven by different motivations e.g. gaining new skills, obtaining work experience or providing support for a specific group of beneficiaries or specific organisations/institutions. By offering their skills, experiences and commitment these people represent an invaluable resource for the beneficiaries, organisations/institutions and for the whole society. Therefore their motivation and initiatives should be nurtured and encouraged.

Volunteer programmes of social institutions provide opportunities to fulfil the requirements of the service users, - beneficiaries on the one side and of the volunteers wishing to help on the other.

Our experience shows that introducing volunteer programmes into social institutions however need careful planning and preparation of all involved parties: the leadership, the employees and the beneficiaries of the social institution, the possible volunteers as well as the local community should be involved into this process.

The well-functioning volunteer programmes support the social institutions and can make a huge impact on the local communities as well thus supporting the countries’ social capital. We believe that certain conditions are needed and if granted it is possible to build effective volunteer programs inside social institutions. Among others these are supportive attitude of the leadership, well defined volunteer strategy and internal documents, proper orientation and training for staff and volunteers, well prepared coordinator, supportive legal environment, financial resources, dedication and positive mind-set from all parties involved, just to mention a some of the most important elements.

Within the frame of the Erasmus + project, the so-called SoVol, with the coordination of Volunteering Hungary - Centre of Social Innovation the project partner organizations aim to strengthen the capacity of social institutions through the involvement of volunteers as we believe change is needed and is possible in this area. The intention is to encourage social institutions to utilize the added value that volunteers can generate. Therefore a series of handbooks have been issued for employees of social institutions who are open and willing to undertake the responsibility of establishing and nurturing volunteer programmes in their institutions for the good of all parties and the greater community.

To move further with the idea of innovation of the social sector an international conference will be organised in Budapest on 30th - 31st of May 2019 in cooperation with the European Volunteer Centre. Experts, innovators, employees of social institutions, volunteer involving organisations and volunteers will be looking for solutions for a responsive modern society to fulfil arising social needs. The aim is to build bridges between the volunteer and the social sector. The conference covers the development possibilities of the social institutional system of Central and Eastern European region and beyond in Europe, with the aim to support the development of a social care system that actively responds to changing needs and which motivates citizens and activates also local communities. Book your place for the conference here.

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