Volunteering in Europe: Same difference

CEV: The European Volunteer Centre

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the European Volunteer Centre (CEV) General Assembly and conference in Turin. I had decided to reconnect with the European volunteering network after several years’ absence and had put my name forward as a candidate for the CEV board. It was good to be back, meeting friends old and new, and discussing the issues facing volunteering across the continent.

Shifting boundaries

The conference focused on the shifting boundaries between the state, civil society and volunteering. The discussion convinced me of how similar are the issues facing us in Europe but also how different are our responses, depending on our culture, traditions and history.

The role of legislation

We talked about the need for new laws and legislation to protect volunteering in the new democracies of the East. This provoked horror among the delegates from Scandinavia, who believed that any attempt to legislate for volunteering, even for benign reasons, would strike at the very heart of the movement’s independence.

The growth of commissioning

There were also differences of opinion about what the sector’s response should be to the growing trend by governments across Europe to withdraw from the provision of services and to contract them out to market and non-profit groups.

Some saw the trend as an opportunity for civil society and volunteers to bring their distinctive values and experience to meeting the needs of the most vulnerable in society; others worried it would interfere with an organisation’s core mission and lead to an exploitation of volunteers, who would be valued only as a cheap source of labour.

All agreed that civil society organisations and volunteers should be involved in the co-design of services. Sound familiar?

New initiatives

European Capital of Volunteering

How many of you knew that Barcelona is the European Capital of Volunteering this year? The idea for a European city of volunteering arose out of the European Year of Volunteering in 2011. As far as I could tell Barcelona seems to have thrown itself into the year with enthusiasm and there was a feeling among the city representatives present that it has been valuable in raising awareness and unlocking resources. The candidates for 2015 were announced at the conference – Lisbon, Basel, and Naples, with the decision due on 5 December, the International Volunteer Day. Perhaps some of you might like to start thinking now of working with your local authority to put a bid in for 2016? Details of how to apply can be found on the CEV website.

European Parliament support for Volunteering

In the run up to the Election to the European Parliament earlier this year, CEV ran a ‘vote volunteer vision campaign’, encouraging candidates to sign a pledge to support volunteering should they get elected. Fifty-two signed up, which seemed to me a pretty good start. The bad news is that once elected, the enthusiasm of some seemed to mysteriously wane, and CEV has had problems redeeming the pledges. It is important that they do, as there is a proposal to create an Intergroup for volunteering which would help ensure that volunteering retains a locus within the Parliament.

The decision is due later this month, so any support you can provide, by contacting your MEP and asking them to sign the proposal, would be welcome:

Sustainable Development Goals

The UN is working on a new set of Sustainable Development Goals to replace the Millennium Development Goals, placing volunteering at the heart of their design and delivery.

This commitment has been picked up by a group of big businesses which, under the banner of Impact 2030, have pledged to support the goals through their employee volunteering programmes (let’s hope the employee volunteers will be invited to co-design this response). It struck me that we might be able to leverage some of this global commitment to support our communities at home.

More to follow

That’s enough for now. There will be more from me on CEV and Europe over the coming months as somehow or other I managed to get elected.

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Justin was executive director of volunteering and development at NCVO and chief executive of Volunteering England. He is now a senior research fellow at City University Cass Business School’s Centre for Charity Effectiveness.

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