At the beginning of this month, I had the opportunity to attend the capacity building conference “Developing European Volunteering Strategies” organised by the European Volunteer Centre (CEV) in London City Hall. Members of CEV and UK based volunteering organisations gathered for two days to discuss volunteering strategies at the local, national and European level.

 

From the very outset of the conference, Team London’s Assistant Director Laura Brown and CEV Director Gabriella Civico made it clear that validating volunteering experiences and facilitating partnerships between the corporate and private sectors will be crucial aspects of future successful volunteering strategies. In the context of Volunteering Matters’ involvement in the EuroVIP project, and indeed other Volonteurope projects such as ProVol, this commitment to validating volunteering is heartening, and hopefully indicative of a more general movement towards wider recognition of the skills acquired while volunteering. Furthermore, the focus on facilitating cross-sectoral partnerships and cooperation suggest that our EuroVIP project could also help to address needs existing in several European countries.

 

Sligo, the current European Volunteering Capital, and their delegation echoed the statements around validating volunteering, and added that a holistic strategy on national level was crucial to ensure actors on local level can support volunteers. For example, in Sligo they have set up and supported local volunteer centres as part of a local strategy that highlights volunteers’ engagement and facilitates collaboration between the private and non-profit sectors.  Currently, the Republic of Ireland is lacking a national volunteering strategy, but Sligo’s delegation told us how they hoped that their locally-devised strategy will eventually serve as a model to draft a nationwide Irish volunteering strategy.

 

After hearing of successful past and current strategies, it was time to look to the future. Aarhus, the 2018 European Volunteer Capital, are using a  new unique method to ensure the voice of volunteers is taken into account  during the process of drafting the city’s new volunteering strategy. Rather than hosting a round of online consultations, the municipality organised forty dinners, enabling over seven hundred volunteers to provide feedback on the proposed strategy in a relaxed and informal setting.  Aarhus did not have the final results of this consultation method ready to present at the conference, but I look forward to hearing how the volunteers’ contributions influenced their new volunteering strategy.

 

Following Aarhus’ presentation several actors took the stage to propose strategies for ensuring continuing volunteering and volunteer engagement. The Good Network Foundation gave an extensive overview of current good practices in online volunteering and how they support the further integration between online and offline volunteering experiences. I look forward to hear more about their work in the future, especially since online volunteering opportunities are an important aspect of the EU Aid Volunteers project, in which the Volonteurope Secretariat is involved through the Technical Assistance project.

 

Volunteer Scotland advocated a change of mind-set around employee volunteering. They suggested that the exchange of best practices in employee volunteering should no longer be considered taboo, but as a way to strengthen social action undertaken by those in employment. Volunteer Scotland also provided an overview of good practices already being used existing and it was great  to see the Employee Volunteering activities undertaken by our host organisation Volunteering Matters amongst them.

 

The next day, delegates from the Croatian city of Rijeka explained how volunteers played an essential role in their city obtaining the title of European Capital of Culture for 2020. A serious lack of funding and a dearth  of online advertising meant that the cultural sector did not attract many volunteers or volunteer coordinators over the last decade. The local council addressed these issues by providing the necessary office infrastructure and capacity training to small NGOs active in cultural projects, most of them running entirely on a voluntary basis. They also raised awareness of the benefits that volunteering in this field can bring youngsters in terms of developing their skills and gaining an understanding of other cultures. Consequently, the participation of youngsters in the activities in these newly established NGOs has risen, and some of them are now looking forward to hire their first full-time paid members of staff.

 

A very animated discussion, facilitated by Pro Vobis, on youth strategies in volunteering marked the end of the conference. We were encouraged to discuss in small groups what we considered to be crucial elements of a successful volunteering strategy and exchange opinions in a plenary discussion, it was very hard to arrive at a coherent youth strategy in the short time frame of the discussion. While we managed to establish that, in our group opinion, youngsters should be seen as both contributors to and beneficiaries of volunteering activities and that lifelong learning, solidarity, and ensuring mutual well-being are crucial aspects of our envisioned strategy. However, developing a truly holistic strategy proved to be much harder. Despite these difficulties, the exercise was extremely useful as we realised that the views of a variety of actors, including cross-sectoral input should be taken into account when devising youth volunteering strategies.

 

The conference was truly inspiring and made me aware of many challenges we have to overcome to ensure volunteering activities have a meaningful impact. In the coming months, I am keen to  explore some of the issues raised at the conference in more detail, particularly possibilities in online volunteering.

 

As part of the conference, CEV prepared a step by step plan for developing European strategies, which can be consulted here.

 

Pieter Baeten, European Projects Coordinator