European Year of Volunteering 2011- the Volunteer Perspective
Anjelica joined Sir Stuart Etherington at the Economic & Social Committee in Brussels for a Public Hearing on the European Year of the Volunteer 2011 (EYV11), 8-9 November 2011.
Anjelica started volunteering at the age of 12 at Rutland Sailability and has continued to volunteer in a variety of organisations such as the national youth volunteering charity v, the Institute of Volunteering Research and the Jubilee Sailing Trust. She is now a PhD student at the University of Southampton researching government support of volunteering from 1969 - 2010.
Volunteering is not a new phenomenon: volunteering has existed across the centuries as an expression of community engagement and informal welfare provision. However, in the last ten years, there has been a surge of interest at the international level on issues relating to volunteering. The big breakthrough was the United Nations International Year of the Volunteer in 2001, the second being the European Year of the Volunteer (EYV) in 2011. A self-confessed volunteer geek, I jumped at the chance to visit Brussels to discuss the EYV and its impacts. With my PhD hat on, my main interest was in fully understanding the impact that EU level policy and the EYV could have on volunteering in the UK. This blog post offers some reflections from my trip and I hope it will act as a starting point for more discussion on EU level volunteering policy.
During the first part of the visit, we joined a meeting of SOC section at the European Economic and Social Council (EESC). Although not directly related to volunteering this meeting showed us how this key committee debates on a number of different Opinions, before agreeing on a joint position to send to the European Commission.
We then went onto a working Lunch hosted by the NCVO, which included the EESC Secretary-General, Martin Westlake, former SOC President, Brenda King (UK) and John MacDonald, Head of the Task Force for the EYC. After the introductions, the conversation kicked off with a lively debate about whether volunteering is distinct from community service (the volunteers vehemently believed it was) which led onto a discussion around the benefits of volunteering to the volunteer, for example increased employability (See IVR’s Gateway to Work). The pros and cons of employee volunteering also became a focus for the discussion. I was really engaged on these issues as they were at the centre of debate at last year’s student volunteering conference, Impact 2011. The debate around volunteering and employability are once again set to dominate discussion at this year’s conference, Impact 2012.
After lunch on the first day Tom Jones (Wales) took us to visit the European Parliament where we saw the European Parliament chamber and met Jill Evans (Plaid Cymru), an MEP for Wales who offered an interesting insight into the working life of an MEP.
The following day, we joined the public hearing on employee and employer supported volunteering. I was particularly interested in a Swedish Trade Union representative who argued that “volunteering” during the working day, and therefore still being paid, was not volunteering at all. Furthermore, we looked at the possibility of employees feeling covertly coerced into volunteering opportunities. Although employers do not make volunteering compulsory within their organisations, it was felt by some at the hearing that employees may feel that if they do not engage in such activity their progression in the organisation may be hindered. Here was the first example I was exposed to of the potential for the EU to legislate. As one participant in the discussion stated: “the horse has left the stable” in this case. Employee volunteering is now practiced in many national and international organisations; it is now the job of the EU to ensure quality of placements and to protect the employees.
Towards the close of the final day of the visit, we were able to observe a session which looked to set the Preliminary Conclusions on the EYV 2011. This was a fantastic opportunity and I want to thank the chair of the session Pavel Trantina (CZ) for allowing us to observe and, where appropriate, offer our own contributions. One particular issue that I am interested in learning more about is how the EU can look to support informal volunteering that happens below the radar. I look forward to reading the final conclusions.
As an individual volunteer I have not been aware of the EYV’s impact on volunteering in the UK. I will read the EYV2011 evaluation with interest. However, I came away from Brussels with the understanding that there is a need for the EU to issue policy or at least offer recommendations. For example, the protection of volunteers who wish to volunteer in another EU country is paramount. Another example which became a focal point of the trip is employee volunteering; there is scope for policy which would ensure that the volunteering activities of organisations do not have a negative impact on the community they engage with. Furthermore, that those employees who decide not to participate are not hindered by their choice.
I want to thank Oli Henman, Sir Stuart Etherington (NCVO) for giving me the opportunity to be the volunteer representative for the UK and to Maureen O’Neill (Scotland), Tom Jones (Wales) and Jane Morrice and Michael Smyth (Northern Ireland) for being fantastic hosts.
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Oliver Henman, EU and International Campaigns manager, discusses civil society around the world.