New directions in voluntary action and community engagement

This Publication is a product of a learning programme, including two study workshops and seminars for grass root workers, which took place in Helsinki and Český Těšín. One of unique features of this publication is that it came out of the participatory approach that was implemented throughout whole learning process, including the elaboration of this publication. This means that the ideas it contains are directly related to everyday practice.

We base our work on the ideas that the most important resources for diaconal and social work are the involved and committed workers, paid or voluntary and the people with whom they work.

The observations, thoughts, reflections and tools we shared are inspiring, but the most important impressive factor in this process is commitment and approach of engaged people. Therefore, the focus of this publication will be on developing the approach to people and contexts as we have discovered them in practice, in the hope that this will support and encourage others in the field.

Summary of the Content of the Book

The publication follows the ‘life cycle’ of a volunteer or activist, so it begins with what motivates people to become involved as volunteers in the first place. We used our own experience in the group and this has some implications for those who would like to work more with volunteers to engage people in community action. Then we found out that the same ‘reality’ or situation is viewed very differently by different actors in the situation. For example in one community, the perspectives of young people, migrants, parents and so on can be very different according to their experience and

interests. But also the perspective of a diaconal or social worker may be different from that of a service user or resident.

We realised that the cultures surrounding volunteering are very different according to context and also according to the type of organisation which aims to involve people as volunteers or to support people’s action. So when we looked at ‘images of volunteering’ in some existing material we found that there was a bias towards older women as volunteers, except in organizations focusing on youth volunteering. But furthermore, the image of volunteering presented does not encourage action by people who are themselves marginalised or excluded in some way. To develop volunteering in these groups implies a different more active perspective. In our workshop we looked at examples from community based action and from work with homeless people and those recovering from mental illness.

In the fourth section of the report, starting from this insight we realised that there is a need to pay more attention to the variety of roles which volunteers and activists may take and to creating a developmental process surrounding voluntary action. If social and diaconal workers look for the ‘stereotypical’ volunteer to fill an auxiliary role in service delivery, they may miss very important resources among those normally seen as beneficiaries. But this demands a consistent developmental approach. How can we develop a culture of volunteering which includes people usually seen as ‘beneficiaries’?

All the steps in the process have implications for the ‘quality’ of voluntary work and in the final section the report looks at the roles of the different actors in the process and aims to define some quality marks or criteria and to work out implications for the future.

If you want to look at samples of Publication, click here.