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European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response
The European Year of Volunteering 2011 – What a Difference a Year Makes
Closing conference of the European Year of Volunteering 2011 "Preparing a lasting legacy for the European Year of Volunteering"
Warsaw, 1-2 December 2011
Dear ladies and gentlemen,
Representatives of the current EU Presidency - our Polish hosts
And foremost: Dear volunteers, dear friends!
The European Year of Volunteering is drawing to a close.
And I feel a bit like on New Year's Eve – when you celebrate with your friends and families; when you remember all its moments of joy and success; and when you look forward and solemnly declare your 'New Year's Resolutions'. This is what we are doing here today and tomorrow.
This Year 2011 has been an exciting journey for all of us. This, at a difficult time for Europe, a time when European citizens have to come together to prepare a better future for their children.
This year, the Alliance and its volunteers have worked relentlessly to bring together the voices of civil society and volunteer organisations; to collect commitments of people from all over Europe to volunteer – we are fast approaching two million hours registered on EYV2011 website.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of millions and millions of uncounted hours our Europeans have worked voluntarily these last months.
And all the discussions have led to an important document, a very well chosen name: PAVE – a Policy Agenda for Volunteering in Europe. To my knowledge this is the first of its kind and I am very honoured to have received it on behalf of the European Commission.
Can I for a second ask all those that have been involved in some way or the other in the work of the Alliance to stand up / show hands?
You all should be very proud of what you have achieved – and I can assure you that we from the Commission are very grateful for it. Indeed, we have worked together with National Coordination Bodies (NCB's) on the 'EYV 2011 Tour' – A Roadshow to knock on the door of every Member State. Personally, I have discussed volunteering in Budapest with humanitarian organisations, in Rome with the Vatican, and a few days ago in Sofia when the Roadshow stopped there.
Yet, these were small contributions to the events promoted by Vice-President Reding, and her team of the EYV 2011 Task Force whom I want to express my deep gratitude for having spared no effort, for going every 'extra mile' to make this Year a success – please John Mc Donald and your team show yourselves for a second.
Volunteers make a difference
If there is one thing I know I will remember from all these events and actions, it is how important volunteering is for us Europeans. Do you all know what the biggest EU Member State is? Germany? Well, officially I have to say yes of course… But we know that 3 Europeans out of 10 volunteer. These are 100 million Europeans – taken together, they are our largest Member State! So there are 100 million people who know, better than me, that:
volunteering benefits the people helped, but also help the volunteers to find themselves and this interaction brings social capital, which we need so much in these difficult times;
volunteering is a key factor for improving social cohesion;
and volunteering is a pathway to integration and employment.
VOLUNTEERS MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD !
It is not by chance that this was the slogan of our Year. Volunteers always make a difference, but the difference they make is bigger in though economic times.
So it is very timely to have the volunteering year in 2011, when the bleak economic outlook spread to everywhere in Europe, except perhaps in Poland, the only EU Member State that has totally avoided recession in the last 4 years.
Outcomes of 2011
This is one of the things we learned this year, but we have learned many other things, starting with the scope of the phenomenon, which varies from Member State to Member State. Some Member States are the champions of volunteering, such as Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom, with over 40% of adults in these countries involved in carrying out voluntary activities. Poland is a country with a relatively low level of volunteering, but concentrated in the youth, which bodes well for the future. These variations need to be addressed through making volunteering more visible and valuable for those who volunteer, according to the different specificities of the Member States.
This is already a good enough reason to make sure that 'volunteering' does not get off the European agenda. Member States have created National Coordination Bodies – for the first time a single access point for volunteering in many countries. Some have written National Policies on the promotion of volunteering. The European Parliament has been active right from the start with a Written Declaration and continues to organize a Volunteering Interest Group.
And we at the Commission have realized how large the impact of volunteers on our policies is and have adopted a Communication, a policy paper, which has been welcomed by the Member States through the Council conclusions on the role of voluntary activities in social policy.
Other things that we have learned this year, and that featured for example prominently in the Vatican conference I attended, was the need to empower volunteer organisations and improve the quality of volunteering through better support from professionals, and better training.
So this year of Volunteering has made it clear that we need to
keep raising awareness,
better measure the value of volunteering, starting with reliable data;
make sure that competences and skills gained through volunteering is recognised and used well – such as in the European Volunteers Humanitarian Corps, whose pilot projects were launched this year.
Paving the way forward (reference to the PAVE report)
Let me start with awareness. Many people face barriers towards volunteering, meet obstacles. The most recurrent one we hear is lack of information. So yes, I agree with you: we need to push Member States to raise awareness of volunteering in education systems. For poorer Member States, there must be a way to encourage all people to volunteer, not only those who are at the top of the social ladder. We can look at including volunteering into courses on citizenship, or make sure that the private sector provides incentives to those who volunteer.
Provide comparable data
You rightly point out that we are still far from accurate, detailed and comparable data on volunteering at a national, European and international levels.
In Europe, and elsewhere in the world, we do still live too much on the maxime: What you cannot count does not count. As an economist by training, I am particularly interested in the work of the Johns Hopkins University on measuring the economic value of volunteering. For example, Volunteers create a value in society larger than the transportation sector for example ! That is incredible and not well known – this is why we made an explicit reference to the need for better statistics in our recent 'Commission Communication on volunteering'.
Gaining skills: The European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps
Let me also talk to you about skills, through a very concrete initiative, and legacy after the Year 2011: The European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps, for which my core objective is to make sure that humanitarian volunteers are properly trained to be able to help efficiently those who need to improve their resilience to disasters, and those who have to deal with the effect of natural disasters. And with proper training, we hope to achieve a platform that can be shared by the best organisations in the sector, and demonstrate the importance of recognising volunteers' competence.
This is really needed, as disasters are clearly on the increase, due to climate change, and budgets are getting tighter and tighter, giving a huge space to people with big hearts.
We launched during the European Year of Volunteering 3 pilot projects inviting our humanitarian partner organisations to test how the future Corps can look like. Already the first 85 volunteers are being mobilised and 25 of these volunteers from 10 nationalities are already active all over the globe from Haiti to Indonesia; and from Mozambique to Tajikistan. Among them, there is Anna, a Polish volunteer from Wroclaw who is now in Tanzania. We will be following their experience and learning – and invite you to also do so on my blog, where some of these will report their stories.
These are just our first examples, as we are still in a crucial phase in preparing this programme until mid 2012 when we will propose the final set-up of the Corps. In the meantime, I am inviting you to try to be part of this adventure and to share your views about it.
One way of doing this is keeping your eyes open on our website, where we will look at ways to get a new attractive name for the Corps. Honestly, when I first heard EVHAC I thought of many things (that I should probably not spell out loud here), but not of an exciting opportunity for Europeans to make a concrete difference.
So we will need you soon (end of the month and January), to get a better name – and this will be done through our Commission website; my Facebook page and blog.
Voilà. This has been my New Year's looking back and moving forward. Our good resolutions are clear: The European Year of Volunteering 2011 has shown the great potential of volunteering for and in the EU. It will be the start of a process that will go well beyond this year. We can indeed connect this year to 2012, the Year on Active Ageing and the 2013 Year of the Citizens, as both have again a very clear 'volunteering thread'. And we should continue with 2014, 2015, 2016 etc.
When I was in Sofia for the volunteering roadshow, we were in the smallest hall of the conference centre, which is normal since Bulgaria has a low level of volunteering. But it should not take long before we manage to fill the biggest hall with volunteers, which is the result we have to achieve in all Member States!