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Volunteering moves to the mainstream

Society benefits, but so do volunteers who improve their skills and employment prospects.

(Source: Sme)

VOLUNTEERING is highly regarded in western countries, many companies support the activities of their employees and people highlight their volunteer work on CVs. Slovakia is not an exception in terms of volunteering even though in the historical and cultural context so-called community volunteering and informal activities are more common here.

“Volunteering in Slovakia is developing in the right direction,” Alžbeta Brozmanová Gregorová from the University of Matej Bel and the Volunteering Centre told The Slovak Spectator. “There is more and more information and people are interested in joining the activities. Especially the year of 2011 as the European Year of Volunteering helped promote and develop volunteering.”

Development of volunteering in Slovakia was affected by the fact that Slovakia only adopted the basic legislation defining what actually constitutes volunteering, volunteering activities and a volunteer in 2011.

“The perception of volunteering has been changing not only for volunteers in their perception of new opportunities, where and how volunteering activity can be carried out but also by the public, which is starting to perceive the importance of volunteering to a greater extent,” Matúš Jakub, the project manager at CARDO, the National Volunteer Centre, told The Slovak Spectator.

Brozmanová Gregorová added that volunteering does not refer only to activities within organisations but also informal activities in communities and neighbourhoods, something that is already common in Slovakia.

Volunteering also affects the economic situation of a country and living standards. Currently, it accounts for about 8 percent of Slovakia’s GDP, Alžbeta Mračková from the Platform of Volunteering Centres and Organisations said.

“According to the latest data, about 30 percent of Slovaks are involved in volunteering, whereas in northern and western Europe it is up to 40–50 percent, partially due to the higher standard of living,” said Mračková, adding that Slovakia is still better in comparison to the Czech Republic and Hungary.

Volunteering can also aid personal development, experts say.

“Slovaks are motivated mainly by doing some meaningful activities,” Mračková told The Slovak Spectator. “Still, the model is more about altruism, although some people pursue the experience and skills with volunteering to boost up their CV.”

Enriching experience

Fewer job opportunities for young people after the economic crisis turned volunteering into a viable alternative in preparation for future employment.

“They have the accommodation and travel covered; therefore some people choose this experience,” Ondrej Mäsiar from Mladiinfo Slovensko said. “The main motivation is to travel abroad, spend 6 – 12 months there and improve the language, though some working people in their late 20s take it as an opportunity to free themselves of stereotypes.”

When volunteering, people acquire new skills, get contacts and if the volunteering is in their occupational sector, keep in touch with their trade. This makes a job applicant more attractive in eyes of a potential employer.

“The main advantage is that volunteers are often engaged people and thus have a higher value and motivation for employers,” said Jakub. “They have more practical experiences and skills, especially those soft ones.”

This was proven within the volunteering project Don’t Have a Bad feeling (Nemaj blbý pocit) organised by the platform of Volunteer Centres and Organisations which closed in December 2014.

“Unemployed people with different types of health and social disadvantage acquired new skills and knowledge, got new contacts, increased self-confidence and social skills,” said Mračková.

Out of about 500 participants about 30 percent found employment thanks to this project and the platform is preparing a second edition, which should be launched this year. Apart from that, the project continues in form of an online tool that offers short self-learning courses in flexibility, team work, presentation skills and fundraising. People can even get certificates from the UMB.

Legislation

The law on volunteering was passed in 2011; however, it does not address all aspects.

“It [the law] brought some base, but still does not address financial matters such as tax levies or benefits,” said Mračková.

Brozmanová Gregorová points out that the law on volunteering does not create options for financial support of volunteer organisations. The only option is to assign to the NGOs 3 percent instead of 2 percent of the due income tax if the person worked at least 40 hours as a volunteer. There are also some benefits from the municipalities, but they have not been used to their full potential so far.

She also pointed to discrepancies in legislation in terms of what is volunteering. While the law on help in material need introduced last year made it a duty to work in order to receive welfare, one of the possibilities of how to meet this duty is carrying out volunteering activities. At the same time, the volunteering law defines volunteering as activity carried out freely and without title for financial reward.

“In practice this causes problems especially to organisations working with volunteers,” said Brozmanová Gregorová. “But this also does not help the general image of volunteering and joining people into volunteering activities.”

International connections

While Slovaks travel to volunteer abroad, foreigners also come to Slovakia to volunteer, mainly from France and Germany.

“Incoming volunteers are a big contribution because they bring experience from abroad, but the participation of natives is also important for the development of volunteering,” said Jakub.

Mladiinfo sent more than 100 people to 22 different countries during the last four years.

“They are usually young people aged 18–30 from different backgrounds and with different educations,” said Mäsiar. “Moreover, EU has included volunteering into the Erasmus+ programme, covered by the European grants.”

Brozmanová Gregorová perceives volunteering abroad as a specific type of volunteering.

“Within this type of volunteering volunteers can gain, apart from the classical benefits, also inter-cultural experience, to learn the language of the country or to obtain more intensive experience in a specific field,” said Brozmanová Gregorová.

Topic: Corporate Responsibility


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