Ignorance about volunteering is its major limitation to flourishing

12 Oct 2012 01:03 | Armelle Loghmanian

 “Ignorance about volunteering is its major limitation to flourishing"

Interview by Alessandra Zocca


Eva Hambach;
President of the European Volunteer Centre (CEV - Centre européen du volontariat),
Director of the “Vlaams Steunpunt Vrijwilligerswerk” and
President of the Belgian High Council for Volunteering

PWI – Eva, would you like to introduce CEV to the PWI Magazine readership?
What is the mission, scope and organization/structure? Which are the CEV member organisations? Who are the CEV ambassadors and supporters?

The European Volunteer Centre, CEV (from the French “Centre européen du volontariat”) was created in 1992 – actually it is our 20th anniversary this year - by a few countries like the UK, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, France and Spain, after a meeting in Lucca (Italy). CEV is a European network of volunteer organisations/centres/entities in the European Union mainly, but now we accept also volunteer associations outside of the European Union.

We have links with IAVE (The International Association for Volunteer Effort), a global network of volunteers, volunteer organisations, national representatives and volunteer centres, with members in over 70 countries in all world regions. A difference between CEV and IAVE is that the latter’s members can also be individuals and that we focus mainly on Europe.

The main purpose of CEV is cooperating, exchanging knowledge, experiences and information, but also strengthening the voice of the volunteering sector in the member states and at European level. For example we share the European policies to our members to make sure they can apply them at national level.

Referring to CEV organisation we have two assembles a year:
  • A General Assembly which is restricted to members only that is always linked to our CEV Conference, which is also open to external participants.
  • The next conference, the “Autum 2012 CEV Symposium”, will be held in Cascais (Portugal) on the 19th-20th October 2012. The theme of this year’s symposium will be <<We’re in this together? Volunteering and age friendly societies>>, because the Symposium will tackle the issue of volunteering in the context of the “European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations 2012”. Each year the conference is hosted by two different members states, one hosts the spring GA and Conference, another hosts the autumn GA and conference.

We have created the “ambassadors”, established out of the original idea to involve personalities from sport, art, culture, and politics in each country to support our cause and our organisation. Do you know that Elton John was the first CEV nominated ambassador?
Supporters or partners are companies at country or European level, governments, foundations and institutions that support us economically and in our activities, any stakeholder that is willing to support CEV and its mission.

PWI - Which are the main activities of CEV: for example projects, campaigns, policies and events?
Let me first clarify, Alessandra, that CEV includes any type of volunteering associations, cross-sector bodies independently from the volunteer organisation size. CEV has indeed a broad scope!

We carry out different types of activities:
  •  Monitoring – We monitor the volunteering situation in the countries, we try to understand the needs and trends, we collect data and we publish documentation about the different angles of volunteering.
  •  Advocacy – We make efforts to ensure that institutions and politics understand the value of volunteering. We follow up EU regulations and policies which impact on volunteering, we seek public support for them and we provide our members with recommendation of a particular policy.
    We organize conferences on volunteering themes, like the above mentioned symposium.
  • Projects – We run or take part in projects with specific focus, for example in partnership with the John Hopkins University to measure the value of volunteering.
We have engaged in the European Volunteering Measurement Project (MVMP), which is supported by the European Commission, by the Council of the European Union and by the European Parliament. Launched during the 2011 European Year of Volunteering, the European Volunteer Measurement Project is a collaboration between us, the Centro di Servizio per il Voluntario del Lazio (SPES) and the authors of the ILO* Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work, which aims to disseminate this Manual and promote its implementation throughout Europe.
Additionally we get involved in important projects launched at member country level (for ex. on life-long learning).

PWI – You are the President, Eva; tell us about yourself and your role. What inspired you to join CEV?
I am actually covering two roles. As my main job I am the Director of the Flemish Centre of Voluntary Work (VSVw - Vlaams Steunpunt Vrijwillingerswerk), which “aims the promotion of volunteering and the support of volunteer work. In order to realise this aim, this association provides guidance and support towards volunteers’ organisations in different sectors and protects their interests. This is done through the delivery of services as support from experts, information, advice, educational programs and products, publications, materials, techniques or equipment (**)”.

With a European hat on I am the President of CEV. I have been inspired by my former president of VSVw, who was one of the founding members (and board member) of CEV and who invited me to the CEV general Assembly in London in 2003. This is how I got involved, then, in 2005 I was given the opportunity to join the CEV board and in 2009 – when the CEV president stepped down – I was elected at the Malmö’s assembly as the CEV President.

What inspired me to work in the volunteering arena you ask … The trigger, I think, is “engagement”, the complexity of all volunteering aspects, the many dimensions of it. I believe it is like a mission to engage people in the society at European or local community level, my big drive is fighting for the recognition of the volunteer work, the value that volunteers create.
I adore the opportunity given by my role in CEV to be in contact with many counterparts and people with various skills, different points of view and alternative approaches. I get passionate about how all these volunteers, active in the field, are attached to their goals, how they do not get distracted from their objectives. I like also building policies, this means to me doing something good for the society.

PWI – What have you personally learned from your work with volunteers and volunteering organisations?
I have learned lessons on different aspects like freedom, behaviour, motivation …
I learned that we need to respect the approaches of others, even if we know we are experts, to give the others the freedom to reach their goals according to their style, there is not only one way to do things.

I understood the importance of “listening”, to open up your ears to others’ points of view, to accept other practices and to recognise that beyond differences there is a common soul in volunteering, a common idea of engagement and contribution to society.

I have learned also not to “take myself too seriously” all the time, but to use a sense of humour

PWI –  How would you define “volunteering”? Tell us why volunteering matters? 
In my opinion “volunteering” is actively contributing to the society out of our own free will. It matters to me that we reach a social cohesion, that we feel connected, we share values and that we add a human touch into the society.

What triggers the desire and the will to volunteer in somebody is very personal. Each individual has his/her own reasons for getting engaged in volunteering and, you know Alessandra, for me their reason is irrelevant, I do not want to judge others personal motivations, it does not matter why.
Actually, the motivation for volunteering can change over time, it’s proven by facts: for example people start volunteering for religious reasons or because they feel isolated or because they want to put this activity in their résumé for better credits. But after a time, by practicing it, they get more and more committed and they develop a stronger and stronger sense of responsibility.

PWI - What is the current status of volunteering in Europe and in the rest of the world? Which are the best practices in volunteering in your opinion?
I notice that CEV works with the European Commission; do you have any joint initiatives planned for the future?
It is still difficult to determine the status of volunteering in the different countries.
In terms of best practices, I have to admit that in each country in Europe and worldwide I find good practices.
Yes, we collaborate with the EU Institutions: last year the EU celebrated the Volunteering year in each state in order to trigger their attention on this phenomenon, unfortunately this does not mean that every state did something extra to support volunteering or to improve volunteering structures or to grant more funds… We need to check the EU Commission initiative’s sustainable impact in the coming years. For now what I can clearly see, is that volunteering has been put back into the picture, more visibility, this is the first step.
Are there more women volunteering than men or is it my impression?
Well, I think it depends: if you look at the whole picture, the balance is pretty equal, but you find difference across sectors. Caring volunteering is still a woman’s job, if you look at the sports domain, then it’s a man’s world, especially for football, hockey, basketball etc.
If we consider the volunteering associations at board level, again it is a man’s domain; even in volunteering … nothing differs from the other sectors, unfortunately. One area for our attention is gender balance in volunteering organisations. I mean we need to collect evidence, more accurate data <<where are the women?>>, but the first question we have to ask is whether women do want to climb up the hierarchical ladder.

As people now enjoy a longer and healthier retirement, do you think that more retirees will take up volunteering? How do you forecast the volunteering future?
What are the enablers and the barriers to volunteering blooming?
Taking into account some differences between western and eastern countries (the latter, during the period of communism, forced some citizens to do some compulsory “volunteer” tasks), I would say that the majority of volunteers are around 35-50 years old, followed by the increasing percentage of 50+ years-old volunteers.

My best forecast is that – from Belgian/ European statistics and the demographic trend - the number of “elderly volunteers” will grow constantly and significantly in the coming years due to the larger number of retired people, still in good shape, who find in volunteering a way to feel helpful.
The good news is that the forecast of volunteering shows a growth in the next 25 years, the bad news is that the world will have to cope with fewer volunteers, at least in the western countries. In fact, the expansion of volunteering in young people, will be jeopardized by the demographic contraction trend, which will create a sort of “inverted pyramid” with less young individuals and more elders. … I think that this consideration has not yet being brought to the table.

Coming to barriers, one of the main obstacle is the “ignorance” about the volunteering concept, a lack of information, people do not know what to expect, they cannot imagine. Another barrier is represented by the lack of talking about the volunteering work we do, we are too modest, too silent. A risk is that volunteering work could be abused, with volunteers used to replace paid jobs.

PWI -    
Eva, what is your dream regarding “volunteering”?         

My dream? Simple and complex at the same time, Alessandra.
My dream, in general, is to see more people enjoying volunteering across Europe!
The other dream is more related to CEV: more financial resources to build and develop our infrastructure.

Short Biography
Eva Hambach is Director of the “Vlaams Steunpunt Vrijwilligerswerk”, the Flemish region volunteer support centre in Belgium, and President of the Belgian High Council for Volunteering.
She holds a Master degree in Political Sciences and International Policy.
During her career she managed local community projects and served as Head of a Social Service Provision Office in Antwerp, was involved for several years in the Belgian Trade Union and has lived in Syria for 2 years before joining the Vlaams Steunpunt Vrijwilligerswerk in 2001 as its director.
Since 2003 Eva is active within the CEV network and was elected member of the Board of Directors in 2005. Eva has published various pieces on volunteering including manuals on the Belgian law on volunteering and on volunteer management.

Eva Hambach



(*) ILO Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work - <<This Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work is intended to guide countries in generating systematic and comparable data on volunteer work via regular supplements to labour force surveys>>:
(**) Flemish Centre of Voluntary Work (VSVw - Vlaams Steunpunt Vrijwillingerswerk)

Disclaimer -    
Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CEV, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.

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