Volunteering: Promoting community, wellbeing and social solidarity in Europe

Tamara Flanagan is director of European and Statutory Funding at CSV, responsible for work with major government departments and developing resources from Trusts, Foundations and the Lottery –she works withsignificant networks to facilitate work with government departments and European institutions, NNVIA the Network of National Volunteer Involving Agencies and is Chair of TSEN (Third Sector European Network) a national body representing voluntary and community sector interests in England. She also undertakes a range of European policy work on Inclusion and Active Citizenship in the context of Volonteurope as part of CSV’s aim to encourage volunteering as part of the European social agenda, building links with other voluntary organisations and promoting the transfer of knowledge and best practice. The network, which is now recognised in Brussels and Tamara works with a range of actors in Europe on social policy issues and participative democracy. The European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee, the European Commission where she is a member of the Active Citizenship Group and outwith the EU, the Council of Europe . She was a founder member of the EYV11 Alliance, responsible for securing 2011 as the European Year of Volunteering which has put NGOs at the centre of the advocacy movement for citizen engagement through voluntary action.

She sits on the board of SOLIDAR a European and International network of NGOs and trade unions and speaks and writes in French and English on the role of volunteering and European funding in combating exclusion.

Download Tamara Flanagan's presentation slides from the conference

The economic contribution of volunteer ‘industry’ to average EU GDP is 5-7% greater than the Finance /Media and Agricultural sectors-so this giving is a serious business.

The Volunteer involving sector takes donations and free time and turns them into services, jobs and surpluses to be deployed.

This model bears closer scrutiny in the context of remodelling the economy, with an eye to sustainability

Why don’t governments take it more seriously?

Human capital-the hardest thing to replicate

Volunteering promotes:

  • Thriving economy1
  • Health and well being-
  • Community Cohesion-
  • Employability
  • Social inclusion and integration2
  • Innovation and job creation

In the context of measuring wellbeing

The Stiglitz Report

NEF and the Happiness Index -where the index cites promoters of happiness as

  1. Connect
  2. Stay active
  3. Give
  4. Take notice of things around you
  5. Keep Learning3

National Office for Statistics now identifying objective measurement of well being

Need to understand the relevance of volunteering as part of the discourse on social and economic policy in Europe

To promote volunteering as a strategic response to economic and social challenges

Positive Results at EU level

The European Year of Volunteering has increased the profile of voluntary activity. The European Commission produces a Communication –which identifies awareness of this role, not just random acts of kindness-enshrined in communication.

Conclusions of the EC Communication

  • Volunteering is part of our social fabric. It supports fundamental values of inclusion and citizenship.
  • Volunteering is an important creator of human and social capital, a pathway to integration and employment and a key factor for improving social cohesion..
  • Its potential can be further developed within the Europe 2020 Strategy for growth. Volunteers are an important resource in our economy and society, but must not be considered as an alternative to a regular workforce.

This last note is particularly important, given that the English economic strategy needs to be coherent with EU 2020 (The successor to the Lisbon strategy) at many levels-identifying a role for volunteering in this economic context is helpful.

The European Council (Heads of State) produced a set of Conclusions on which they conclude

Voluntary activities can not replace the overall responsibility of the state to ensure and provide economic, social and cultural rights.

This ‘back stop’ function of the state has to be identified and retained –not all risk can be passed on to citizens, this ‘responsibilising’ of citizens can not be unlimited, otherwise why would we elect politicians.

Volunteering can create opportunities for learning and engaging in voluntary activities, provides citizens with new skills and strengthens the sense of belonging to society and can be catalyst for social change.

This recognition of the skills acquisition element of giving, where employers count time spent volunteering, where individuals can gain skills which can not be taught in schools/colleges develops a rounded , multi skilled individual which can be recognised through accreditation of prior learning and as part of degree courses, in the way sport modules are currently counted

Voluntary activities can contribute to growth and strengthening of social capital……

Voluntary activities can contribute to the development of active citizenship……

Current developments in giving

Important to hold the line –volunteering is about community action (co production), lengthening and strengthening.

Combat perception that volunteers can ‘do it for themselves’ like organising your holiday using internet-some can like Avaaz, 38% and the Citizen petition for the Hillsborough Enquiry but…for some activities we still need an interface for identifying opportunities, recruitment, training and vetting.

It is also important to remember the cost of volunteering and the need for investment as well as the value of volunteering.


1(Beugelsdijk and van Schaik 2003 –Tilsberg university- EU regions where volunteers at work have 2-3% greater GDP

2RETAS (Refugee Education Training and Advice Service) report 60% of all refugees engaged in volunteering found employment London 1998-also Something for Nothing , Oxfam London showing ways in which ‘the poor ‘ can contribute-carers/those with disabilities/those in areas of high unemployment



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