Volunteering is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and protecting and developing European values. The context and policies need to reflect and facilitate this.
The Center for European Volunteering presented the European Volunteering Plan 2030 in September 2021 , with the aim of being a reference document on the way to officially understanding volunteering as a key pillar in the construction of European values . The text has been drawn up following the line of the action plan that was carried out ten years ago in the same spirit.
Thus, to already established issues such as the quality of volunteering and its infrastructure that shed light on the common understanding of volunteering at the European level, the new document incorporates the appeal to policy makers to deploy the true potential of volunteering.
The Action Plan is organized around five concepts: the independent and inclusive commitment of volunteers, how to manage the incorporation of new volunteers and methods, motivate empowerment , how to value the contribution they make and how to manage public resources and coordinate volunteers.
The document wants to make a call to treat volunteering not only as labor for essential tasks, but also as primary agents in social cohesion , interpersonal relations, and progress towards common European values. It seeks a formal and official response from the administrations, as happened in 2011, when, following the first PAVE, many countries developed more solid and appropriate legal frameworks for volunteering.
Thus, the Action Plan seeks to motivate a situation that reflects the real importance of the effort, experience and commitment of volunteering for European development , also avoiding the exploitation of volunteers. Hence the text indicates the necessary measures that the administrations and others must take for this to happen.
The main points of the European Volunteering Plan 2030 are summarized below.
Independent and inclusive engagement
The Plan highlights the importance of understanding volunteering as an essential component of democracy , its active participation being important. Hence the need for dialogue between administration and citizens and the identification of people who are experts in volunteering to participate in the decisions taken in this area.
Precisely for this reason, the document points out that it is necessary to accept the contribution of volunteering as a key element of social cohesion, social justice and inclusion and accessibility, guaranteeing the protection of the basic principles of this group and incorporating it into the official initiatives of citizen agreement.
To motivate this cohesion, public funding must reflect the diversity of the voluntary network , distributing resources in an inclusive manner. Only in this way will the exploitation of vulnerabilities and the indiscriminate promotion of political programs be avoided.
In addition, inclusion must also be intersectoral , so that the same democratic structures promote collaboration between voluntary communities. And this, too, requires a fair and equal distribution of funding , in addition to constant and quality communication between agents from different areas and sectors.
In this sense, it is also essential that this communication is structured in areas, starting with the development of the local community , promoting collaboration between the public and private sectors, for-profit and non-profit, in the same region.
Equally important is a second area of collaboration, crossing borders and encouraging transnational cooperation and solidarity as challenges become more global. It is necessary for the administrations to recognize the role that volunteering plays in addressing these problems, providing support to education and organizations, facilitating volunteer exchange programs and making explicit the link between these and the 2030 Agenda .
New volunteers and methods
Just as the work of the volunteer must be protected, it is necessary to ensure that the comfort of the new additions and their good interaction with the existing institutions and the methods used.
Much of the voluntary network is made up of informal , spontaneous volunteering. This, while offering new ideas and positions, can also distance itself from the true needs of society. Thus, it is important that political institutions take this into account, and get involved to properly capitalize on the potential of this group and recognize the need to strengthen self-help networks in the event of a crisis.
Equally, it is necessary to guarantee that the new volunteering experiences are of quality , by offering training to the new additions and conveying to them and to all citizens the importance of voluntary work and solidarity.
In the same way, it is necessary to explore new forms of participation. For example, digitization has opened up as many possibilities as it has problems, and one of the issues to consider is responsible digital empowerment and bridging the digital divide in volunteering. Thus, to fully exploit these possibilities, a good distribution of resources and active listening by the administrations is necessary.
Nowadays, there is also a growth in volunteering opportunities derived from a trip . It is necessary for the administrations to regulate these experiences so that they result in common benefits and offer informed choices to the people who participate in them, raising awareness of the problems that may arise in the country of destination.
In addition, the protection of volunteering cannot ignore the recognition of the emergence of new employment situations resulting from changes in regulations and with greater flexibility and unpredictability. Thus, political leaders must allow organizations to adapt to the working conditions of volunteers, guaranteeing their rights.
This is part of an inclusive structuring of volunteering , as well as the fact that volunteering must be the individual's free initiative . No person can be excluded from volunteering because they are beneficiaries of state support, nor can volunteering be a tool of the authorities to condition support or access to a person's job.
As already briefly noted in the previous point, when knowledge and access to volunteering increases, both in quantity and quality, so does the general public's understanding of the importance of this practice, as well as their adaptation to European challenges .
Thus, it is important that political institutions offer spaces where voluntary reality can be discovered , both in formal education in educational systems and in society in general. It is essential to focus on the diversity and freedom of volunteering , and not impose it as an obligation on the youth, in order to connect them with the true spirit of their tasks.
This connection must be made at all levels, always ensuring inclusion and accessibility . Thus, policy makers will need to gather information about potential disparities in volunteering and invest in mitigating them, collaborating in this task with volunteers who can help exemplify awareness and visibility.
This, however, will have to be done bearing in mind that voluntary practice is a long-term career. Organizations need to be stable and sustainable , in order to provide a quality and long-term impact. The task of the political agents here is to offer support in transversality and the creation of work networks .
Despite this stabilization, it is necessary to understand volunteering as a changing ecosystem , and this is how the legal and political frameworks must understand it . The administration will therefore have to guarantee spaces for voluntary participation of all kinds, as well as the legal protection of the physical, mental and social security of the volunteers, so that the tasks are realistic and proportionate.
Appreciation of the contribution
The volunteering policy must bear in mind the work that these teams have done, are doing and will do. Only then will there be a match between supply and demand .
Socially, it is necessary to communicate that voluntary people are a force that faces growing and universal challenges , such as inequalities, the reduction of space for democracy, climate change, the protection of culture... It is necessary that the institutions administrative bodies publicly recognize these tasks with the value they have.
In this sense, and due to the involvement of the voluntary force in these objectives, organizations must be seen as agents beyond the services they provide. Political institutions must also understand their role in social cohesion and in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (ODS) , reflecting this importance through positive speeches and in the Voluntary National Examinations (VNR) .
At the same time, mechanisms must be made possible to validate the learning and skills that volunteers acquire. Policymakers need to understand that this knowledge is a very valid complement to formal education and experience, and they need to find a way to reflect this for the world of work.
To be able to make all these assessments and take appropriate action, however, policymakers will need to create ways of collecting data that realistically measure the transformative effect of volunteering in Europe. These assessments must go beyond economic value, and focus on the contribution to well-being, health, civic engagement or safety.
Resources and coordination
Organizations must be in a context , internal and external to them, that contributes and facilitates the work of volunteers and the positive effects that this has on society.
Externally, public funding must be adapted to the true cost of volunteering and its contribution, helping to adapt supply and demand , to exchange between organizations and to the elimination of barriers. Funds must be accessible and non-discriminatory , and respond to payment based on the positive impact of an association.
The resources must be part of a wider program , introducing volunteering to community planning for the prevention and response in crisis situations, always in relation to the potential risks of the task, and without forgetting the exceptionality of the situation.
This context must also guarantee the physical, psychological and social safety of volunteers. This must be done both internally, with funding and insurance for accidents and civil liability, and externally, by investing political agents in the development of coordination management courses versed in team safety.
European Solidarity Corps
In order to contribute to the creation of this optimal context for voluntary work, the Volunteering Plan proposes starting from the European Solidarity Corps for the creation of a broader European volunteering policy .
To do this, it is necessary for the administrations to focus on guaranteeing a coordination of all volunteering policies , establishing intersectoral dialogue and collaboration. The action must be at all levels: from the local to the European framework.