I am writing this blog in the closing conference of the European Year of Volunteering 2011 in Warsaw, Poland. The conference focuses on how the achievements of the year can be built on for the future to ensure a lasting legacy as well as integrating it within the next two EU years, which focus on active ageing and intergenerational solidarity next year and active citizenship in 2013.
Sadly the UK is conspicuously under-represented at the conference. I think this reflects the relatively low profile of European Year of Volunteering 2011 in the UK. There has been some good work done – look no further than the excellent work of Volunteer Centre Warrington in supporting volunteer management for example – but the year has sadly been largely invisible in the UK.
I have been lucky enough to be actively involved in the year on behalf of Volunteering England as a co-chair of one of the European Year of Volunteering 2011 Alliance working groups, exploring the issue of quality volunteering. The outputs of this work, along with those of the other five alliance working groups (legal, employer supported volunteering, recognition, value of volunteering and infrastructure) will soon be published by the alliance in the Policy Agenda for Volunteering in Europe.
Pave, the first such document of its kind, is a product of collaboration by more than 100 working group members drawn from 26 countries across Europe. It sets a roadmap for how the EU, member states, social partners (unions, media and business) and civil society itself can further develop and strengthen volunteering on the back of the achievements of 2011.
Pave was also made possible through the collaboration of almost 40 members of the European Year of Volunteering 2011 Alliance. Such collaboration between civil society organisations from across the EU has been innovative and heralded by the European Commission as a core component of the success of the Year.
So what can we learn from the European Year of Volunteering 2011 in the UK?
First, as sector organisations here in the UK potentially view each other more suspiciously and competitively as funds get increasingly scarce and leaders more territorial, the model of collaboration demonstrated by the alliance has much to teach us about how to get things done in challenging times. It is encouraging to see some infrastructure bodies working closer together but more can always be done and we must ensure this remains focused on the needs of society and the sector and not simply on organisational survival.
Second, we can commit our organisations to implementing the recommendations of Pave, both in doing the work needed to improve our own engagement of volunteers and by lobbying others to effect the change needed for volunteering to flourish. Some actions are simple, some more challenging, but all are crucial if we are to effectively engage the full potential of volunteer support for organisations rather than simply blindly pursuing increasingly scare financial resources.
2012 looks like a more challenging year for UK civil society than the one drawing to a close. Therefore, let’s not ignore or forget the learning of the European Year of Volunteering just past and instead commit to how we can ensure its legacy for the benefits of our organisations, for the sector and for wider society.