Right in time for the debate on the newly established European Solidarity Corps and the mid-term evaluation of the current Erasmus+ program, the European Commission puts forward a study on the „Impact of Transnational Volunteering through the European Voluntary Service“. The study consisted of literature review, a quantitative part that covered the whole period of 1996 – 2016 and collected almost 10.500 answers to an online survey and a qualitative part of 100 targeted interviews and 15 in-depth case studies.
Some people stated that they felt disadvantaged for other reasons, such as for example visa issues, then the ones established in the „fewer opportunities“ criteria.
The majority of EVS volunteers are women and well educated
61% of the current European Volunteers are women, which is not a uniqueness of EVS, but a general trend for international mobility programs and men are on the rise considering that as much as 73% of the former volunteers, who responded to the survey, were female.
The parents of the majority of EVS volunteers are educated to a tertiary degree level and already 61% of the current volunteers do hold a tertiary degree level themselves. The study also states that the more recent the EVS project, the higher the volunteers level of qualification or experience. Many EVS volunteers nowadays have already completed their entire studies, some of them abroad and/or have previously worked already as volunteers or employees in the areas that they apply for. EVS hosting organisations have a wide range of young people to choose from and some mentioned that they select the highest motivated and matching persons, while seeing taking on young people from disadvantaged backgrounds as part of special inclusion projects.
Young people with fewer opportunities
19% of the participants of the study considered themselves as having fewer opportunities, but – not surprisingly – the study also states that self-reporting as such is a challenge and seen as pejorative. Also is the notion of „fewer opportunities“ relative and some people stated that they felt disadvantaged for other reasons, such as for example visa issues, then the ones established in the „fewer opportunities“ criteria. Examples from the in-depth case studies show that some of the respondents would be seen as having fewer opportunities by the used definition, but did not perceive themselves as such – so the actual percentage might be higher than the results show. The most frequent mentioned types of fewer opportunities were by far unemployment and significantly less coming from a remote/rural area or other obstacles (such as financial difficulties).
What is the effect on the participating young people
In general EVS is seen as very beneficial by the participants themselves – almost all agree that it had a significant impact on their personal development including gaining insights about themselves and their abilities and developing their autonomy and independence. The majority experienced improvement of their inter-personal and social competences, gained more clarity in opportunities for their professional future, raised their social capital and developed an international attitude and better understanding of the problems faced by certain groups of people in society.
Participation and Citizenship
While there is some evidence in increased civic engagement, it is not as high as one might expect. Though a reason for that is that most volunteers had already before been highly involved on regional and national level, so the majority was active before and after the stay. Nevertheless it seems important to mention that the most positive and significant changes in this regard are noted among young people with fewer opportunities.
EVS also confirmed for some volunteers the wish to contribute to building the community and the society at large. The vast majority of EVS volunteers feel that the experience made them more aware of social issues such as exclusion and discrimination and raised their solidarity. Also two-thirds of EVS volunteers are more interested in European topics and 36% feel more European. This also shows in some other studies used for the literature review that for example found that 42% of volunteers reported to have voted in the 2009 European election, compared to the EU average of 29% in the same age group.
42% of volunteers reported to have voted in the 2009 European election, compared to the EU average of 29% in the same age group.
While EVS thus can be overall seen as a European success story also the study suggests some recommendations to still improve EVS for the volunteers – among those are:
Sets of recommendations are also provided on how to improve EVS for the involved organisations and local communities. The study gives details on all mentioned aspects of characteristics of EVS volunteers, impact on the sending – and hosting organisations and the receiving local communities, different aspects of learning and e.g. what hinders people to participate.
Enter European Solidarity Corps
Having said all this in the meantime concrete proposals for implementing the new European Solidarity Corps are on the table and have – to put it mildly – a major impact on EVS. In fact it gets clear that the European Voluntary Service as we know it, will no longer exist.
The Estonian National Agency in cooperation with some partner NAs has organised in association with the Estonian presidency of the Council of the EU the “European Voluntary Service Future Search (EVS) conference – enhances perspectives for transnational volunteering for youth in Europe” on 3-5 July 2017 in Tallinn. The purpose of the Conference was to explore the essence of EVS so far and shape the future of volunteering opportunities for youth, but of course the discussion on the developments around the European Solidarity Corps also had its space there. Read the outcomes of the conference here.
In the meantime the European Commission has put forward a „Proposal for a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL laying down the legal framework of the European Solidarity Corps and amending Regulations“ and held a public feedback round on it, which closed on 28.7.2017. Browsing through the received comments it gets quickly clear that former and present volunteers, youth workers and other professionals involved in international youth mobility are sharing a lot of concerns and fears connected to this proposal – loss of quality of the learning experience, accessibility for young people with fewer opportunities (thus need for more support), involvement of local structures as sending and hosting organisations, unclarity about the related training offers are among the mentioned issues. You can follow the debate and consult relevant documents here.
by Alexandra Beweis (2017)
Alexandra Beweis is involved in youth work since 1994 and currently working as project manager for poywe and freelance trainer/facilitator.
Photo: volunteers cleaning street: © Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com
Video: © European Parliament / youtube