Hands-on-volunteering has been part of my life since I have been seventeen, when I became an activist of Amnesty International till the end of my university studies. I was part of the committee who enabled the liberation of three people imprisoned for their ideas and their religion, and I took the leadership of the campaigns against torture.
At the University of Verona I volunteered as President of the local AIESEC committee. For a couple of years - as a representative of a political party - I also volunteered as an administrator of a public library in Verona.
Later - while living in Milan and working with Accenture - I joined as an active member “Fondazione Bellisario”, where we promoted the female managers who could not count on family or networking to get professional and social visibility for their merit.
Now it should be clear why my activities with volunteer groups are part of my self-expression and my contribution to making a better world, at least to try …
Volunteering, in my opinion, has different nuances, it is a deep motivation that satisfies different ideals or intentions:
- Personal contribution - To be totally honest, volunteering is a great luxury to yourself, i.e. “giving for the pleasure of giving” and leaving something good in the world, on a small or bigger scale, according to your means.
- Civic consciousness - Volunteering is not only an act of caring and a sign of civic consciousness, but it is also a great opportunity for professional and personal growth.
- Skill development - Actually I was inspired to write this article when I realised that even LinkedIn has recognized the importance of the volunteering experience in profiles by introducing the “Volunteer Experience & Causes” field, where members can add volunteer positions.
Nicole Williams, LinkedIn's Connection Director and best-selling author of the book "Girl on Top” said: "Given the current economic climate and the hypercompetitive job market, it's essential to include your volunteer work on your profile. Even if you're currently unemployed, you can still actively volunteer and begin to accrue new skill sets” (*).
- Welfare – “In most developed countries, Welfare is largely provided by the government, in addition to charities, informal social groups, religious groups, and inter-governmental organizations. In the end, this term replaces "charity" as it was known for thousands of years, being the voluntary act of providing for those who temporarily or permanently could not provide for themselves “(**).
Have you ever thought how the International Red Cross was founded? Thanks to Jean-Henri Dunant (***), who - shocked by the terrible aftermath of the Solferino battle - devoted himself to helping with the treatment and care for the wounded.
Volunteering Vision, Framework and Implications
The SCHEME I built below reflects my overall idea/vision of a “Volunteering Credit Framework; of course, it needs a lot of thinking through, but I just wanted to share with you my belief that volunteering has to be encouraged and sustained as a healthy life-style and as pragmatic means to promote welfare.
In my eyes the main opportunity for promoting volunteering would be to create a legal and social “Volunteering Credit Framework” sponsored by the EU Institutions and leading corporations/ institutions, and to be implemented across the EU Countries in order to allow volunteering to be defined, measured and recognized.
It is very clear to me that volunteering is not for everybody and it should not be compulsory (“voluntas” means willingness in Latin), but it should be a great opportunity and recognition for the ones who take part in it.
In this framework - while there is not yet a diffused public consciousness of volunteering and solidarity – the trigger for people to embrace volunteering will be the possibility to accumulate credits and to utilize them according to people’s values (e.g. spend the accumulated credits, add them to normal working hours to retire a little bit earlier, or accomplish public honours/decorations).
The potential implications to sustain this framework could be:
- Cultural change - Including volunteering in school/ university curricula could lead to a change in culture and to a massive contribution to solidarity and active citizenship
- Professional asset - “Volunteering experiences” will become a recognized and appreciated asset in any professional curriculum by firms, educational institutions, governments and European institutions.
Recognised professional and social volunteering experiences will make people consider volunteering as a tremendous choice to:
- Try their hand at a range of new transferable skills and experiences (e.g. team-work, relationship management, marketing campaign, listening, group leadership, resourcing, budgeting, project management: very useful in the world of work) in a low-risk arena
- Develop their talents and gain experience
- Demonstrate values such as compassion and commitment (in a labour market where professional competencies abound, personal qualities and values should contribute to make the difference)
- Create or expand a network of qualified and valuable connections
- Social responsibility - Volunteering could be one stream for companies to explore “social responsibility”
- Aging society asset - Volunteering when retired will create the ground for new forms to sustain families, children and people in need, but above all will allow new ways to capture and disseminate wisdom, values, traditions and experiences.
Implementation challenges and encouraging facts
An inspiring parallel example of how the proposed volunteering credit framework could be introduced is the recent adoption by the European Parliament of the Report on 'Women and Business Leadership', aiming at increasing competent women's access to top jobs. This resolution, known as “Female Quotas” introduction, is now on the agenda of major companies, it will take time to be fully implemented, but – fortunately - is at a point of no return.
The main challenges to implement the proposed volunteering framework include bureaucracy, potential divergence on how to define and measure “volunteering”, how to detail credits and, of course, how to involve corporations and bring public companies on board. I am convinced that there are many countries, and many volunteering organisations around the world, which are more evolved in volunteering and can bring inspiration and good practical suggestions to countries and charities where volunteering is less developed.
For the moment let me share a couple (few) of preliminary but encouraging facts:
- New research from LinkedIn shows that one out of every five hiring managers in the U.S. agree they have hired a candidate because of their volunteer work experience
- Some of the best universities require previous volunteering experiences as a prerequisite for students’ applications
- The International Labour Organization has published the “ILO Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work” prepared for the 18th International Conference of Labour Statisticians: <<The objective is to improve and make available data on a significant form of work (volunteer work) that is growing in importance but that is often ignored or rarely captured in traditional economic statistics. Doing so will help to fulfil the mandate set forth in a resolution by the UN General Assembly to 'enhance the knowledge base' about volunteer work and to 'establish the economic value of volunteering>>.
In conclusion, let me summarize my thoughts, volunteering:
- Is a personal “choice”
- Should be encouraged, promoted, measured and rewarded as a blessing for the society
- Is the basis for further civilisation and welfare
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…” (*****)
(****) 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>>:
| Short Biography
Alessandra Zocca joined PWI Brussels in 2010 and in May 2011 was appointed as Secretary-General.
She is also the Founder and the Editor of the PWI Magazine.
Alessandra is a change management expert with an international career background. She has held different managerial positions - both as director and consultant - within leading global multinational companies, including DHL and Accenture, working in Belgium, Italy, Germany and Sweden.
She started her career as an organisation and manufacturing lecturer at the University of Verona, where she graduated in Economics in 1985 (her thesis was published). In 2001 she earned her Master’s Degree in Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP).
Alessandra has actively contributed to associations like Amnesty International, AIESEC and Fondazione Marisa Bellisario. She is also associate manager at Obiettivo50.
Born in Verona (Italy), Alessandra speaks five languages, is a passionate traveller and a psychology scholar.