The Chair of the session, Ms. Eva More-Hollerweger (Senior Research at NPO-Institute, University of Economics, Vienna), started by putting the focus on the risk of instrumentalization of volunteers (when they are underpaid substitutes for regular staff, for instance). She also affirmed that volunteering is firstly about motivation, stimulating people who are no longer employed in taking a first step into the labour market.
The Keynote Speaker, Mr. Theo Wehner (Researcher at the University of Science and Technology, ETH Zurich) analyzed the difference in values between volunteering (commitment) and paid work and how volunteering is a social capital element, compensating what paid jobs cannot give to people (studies at European level show that people having high-grade jobs find a sense of “fulfillment” in volunteering, while people having low-grade jobs are more oriented in finding “compensation” in the volunteering activity).
After this intervention several different points of view from different Speakers were shared. Ms. Doris Rosenkranz (Researcher at the Technische Hochschule Nürnberg, Germany) analyzed the intrinsic connection between volunteering and commitment (studies conducted in the context of the German volunteering services show that more educated people are more willing to volunteer.; young people -14-29 years old- are more committed and they look at the volunteering experience as a “non-formal” way to acquire competences to be used in education and then into the labour market). She agreed with Mr. Wehner in that volunteering creates social capital but also social skills (e.g. ability to work in team) helping people with lower formal educational attainment or socially excluded to access the labour market. She highlighted that we need a better communication between the non-profit and the for-profit sectors and that employers should also give more attention to the issue of “social responsibility”.
What about changes in volunteering structures? Mr. Joost van Alkemade (CEO at Association of Dutch Voluntary Effort Organizations) presented the progressive changes in the volunteering structures from the ‘60s until the present day in The Netherlands. Since the ‘60s volunteering action has been community-based and financially supported by the government. Today, the contribution from government is decreasing and communities are asked and, sometimes obliged, to provide services at their own costs. In this context volunteers (who are around 1 million in NL) are considered as interchangeable with staff in providing different kind of social services (excluding health) but they cannot directly substitute them as an element of cost savings.
An example on how volunteering helps in creating social capital and, therefore, in improving the democratic settings of a country was provided by Ms Anna Snell (Communications and Corporate Partnerships Manager at National Forum For Voluntary Organization, Sweden). In Sweden more than 50% of the population volunteer and the major reason that drives their choice is growing as a person. The Forum acts as a platform to help people and non-profit organizations in finding each other, is an online tool for Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to find volunteers in different areas and it provides training for capacity building in volunteers’ management.
Finally, Ms. Hanna Christensen (Expert in Projects on Validation, Qualifications and Policy Analysis at European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training) asked how visible links can be made between non-formal and informally acquired competences and the labour market. She suggested that we need top-down, bottom-up and cross-sectoral cooperation and Life-Long-Learning approach for all ages, especially considering the “Council Recommendation on the Validation of Non-formal and Informal Learning” (2012) European Members States should have in place, no later than 2018, arrangements for the validation of non-formal and informal learning which enable individuals to: have knowledge, skills and competences which have been acquired through non-formal and informal learning validated; obtain a full qualification, or, where applicable, part qualification, on the basis of validated non-formal and informal learning experiences. Validation arrangements can vary from national circumstances and include involvement of different stakeholders.
In the interventions that followed some of the audience brought some other ideas into consideration. Notably, the different level of motivation between employed and unemployed people and the need to stimulate motivation from the earliest age in order to have more autonomous citizens who are more creative and able to take responsibility, achieving greater work-life balance and overall quality of life also impacting on a more positive in performance in their professional life. The belief that Civil Society Organisations are fundamental to avoid the instrumentalization of volunteers was also shared, as was the fact that there is a different perception of the value of volunteering in Western and Eastern countries.