Vision statement on volunteer workers in Flanders

Vision statement on volunteer workers in Flanders

The Flemish Government recognises and supports the character and value of voluntary work in all the aspects of our Flemish community. The benefit accrues to the individual volunteers, to organisations and institutions which work with volunteers and to society as a whole.

  • In terms of the community, the role of voluntary work is in the first place is to fulfil needs, to help people and the situations in which they find themselves, to help to protect the natural environment, to be responsible for tasks which either can(not) be or are insufficiently dealt with by the free market or government institutions and are therefore taken on by associations and volunteers. This goes beyond the merely functional aspect of voluntary work. Voluntary work adds to the resilience of a society.
  • In terms of society voluntary commitment helps social networks to function, creates new contemporary forms of networks and builds bridges between individuals. Working together leads to more social cohesion and mutual understanding. Volunteers make a constructive contribution to the community. The efforts of volunteers make it possible to lower the threshold of access to some kinds of services and/or to offer other kinds of activities.
  • In terms of personal development volunteers discover that they learn new things through volunteer work: meetings, working together, communication,… this informal learning within volunteer work is of basic importance for all volunteer workers, and it produces new strength, even in vulnerable individuals. Voluntary work, in a welcoming environment, gives people an opportunity to learn new methods of work, habits and language, so that it is an excellent situation in which to build integration. Voluntary work is above all a pleasure, and that is what it must always remain.
  • In terms of care volunteers daily provide proof of their care for others: lonely old people, children who need extra learning support, recent arrivals looking for housing or work,… Volunteers are the practical part of the caring community.
  • Voluntary work is beneficial for the mental and physical health of the volunteer. The volunteers are personally aware that they are indeed connected to other people and that they are part of an organisation that appreciates and values their efforts.
  • Volunteers are also happy to contribute constructively to democratic decision making and play a crucial role in democracy and democratic processes. Voluntary work, as part of what is called civil society, fulfils an intermediate function in the democratic landscape.
  • Voluntary work is not an isolated feature in society. Links are made with other sectors though cooperation with (local) administrations, businesses, education, other organisations, Volunteers or voluntary organisations often play the role of pioneer in innovating and creating new ways of working or job opportunities.
  • In terms of the economy voluntary work contributes to the growth of the GNP. Volunteers rarely think in terms of economic benefit and are modest about the contribution that they deliver to society. Quantitative measurements clearly demonstrate that volunteers contribute to the growth of GNP, that is to say, to economic growth. Not only because voluntary work delivers an increase in efficiency, but also because it often generates activities and services which can be expressed in economic terms. Voluntary work makes it possible for a large number of services to be and to continue to be affordable. This is a very important fact for those who benefit from that voluntary work.
  • Volunteers develop competences, talents, skills and attitudes thanks to their voluntary commitment. That makes the volunteer a flexible person who acquires additional and even essential competences which are of benefit to the labour market and to their own employability. Voluntary work also contributes directly and indirectly to the personal and professional development of the volunteer as an individual. Voluntary work is also often a way into re-integration into the world of work, and even though employability on the labour market is not an aim of voluntary work, it is an added advantage.

Based on the statistics, the environmental analysis and the SWOT analysis relating to voluntary work in Flanders (see appendix “Vrijwilligerswerk: cijfers, omgeving en SWOT-analyse”), and the recognition of the value and characteristics of voluntary work, the Flemish authorities have come to the following vision for voluntary work and volunteer policy:

Volunteers are found everywhere and fulfil a fundamental role in society both as a whole and in all its parts and areas. The contribution and commitment of the many volunteers to the warmth and solidarity of the Flemish community is of immeasurable value. In Flanders the non-profit sector, civil society, the world of clubs and organisations are its biotope par excellence. In addition government authorities figure as substantial organisers of voluntary work.

No monetary compensation is available for voluntary work. The value for the volunteer lies in the appreciation, the offering of a socially worthwhile contribution, the experience, something new learnt, the pleasure enjoyed and the chance to meet other people. The appreciation that society and the government can show for that voluntary commitment comes in the form of creating a welcoming environment for volunteers by:

keeping voluntary work “pure”;

protecting volunteers;

doing its best to support and inform volunteers;

supporting clubs and organisations;

giving everyone the chance to take part in voluntary work;

promoting and raising the visibility of voluntary work.

The Flemish Government will put this ambition and these predetermined aims into practice and develop them further by amongst other things:

  • Keeping voluntary work pure:

– The Flemish Government stands behind the Federal definition in the Volunteer Law (Vrijwilligerswet) and will keep this under observation via intergovernmental consultation.

– The Flemish government will prohibit compensation for voluntary work and will carry out research concerning conditional or obligatory forms of voluntary work and give a different name to these practices. Voluntary work always has positive effects, but if it does not involve truly voluntary commitment then it is be given a different name and will take place under a different legal statute.

  • Protecting volunteers:

– The Flemish government will, in order to support voluntary work, take action in the area of insurance for voluntary workers. This includes taking over the provincial insurance policy, which may have to be brought up to date and altered and support the promotion and stimulation of volunteer insurance.

– The Government will carry out research to find out how the vulnerable individual volunteer can be given a hearing in the case of a complaint. The individual volunteer is  always in a weak position compared to the organisation.

  • Support and information

– The Flemish Government will establish a central Flemish knowledge and expertise centre where the transversal support on a range of levels will be brought together. It would seem desirable to assign this role to an existing institute which has expertise and knowledge in the area. The roles of such a centre are on the one hand support (by providing information, training,…;  about concrete matters (laws, insurance) but also “softer” matters (management, competence development); for both associations and administrations, and on the other hand promotion and persuasion (visibility, appreciation by society). Having regard to the willingness of many organisations in the sector to cooperate and network it will be the job of this centre to facilitate and support these networks. Flanders will also be able to support local governments in their volunteer policies.

  • Support for clubs and associations

As regards the support for clubs and associations, Flanders believes in the principle of subsidiarity. Support for organisations (in the sector) should, in the first instance come from the various existing policy areas. There is in no ambition to create a coordinated volunteers policy which will reform the whole club and associations policy. The  Flemish Government remains strongly in favour of a strong civil society and of a dialogue with that civil society which is formalised by the charter with the “Verenigde Vereniging” (union of clubs and associations).

– The Flemish government aims to reduce the administrative load by research leading to one central digital contact point for associations which they can use to avail themselves of services (subsidies, lending services, work registration in the case of groups and federations;…) on the local, provincial and Flemish levels of government.

– A great deal of what is described by volunteers as “regulitis” occurs at the local level. More efforts need to be made to spread information about good examples of how local regulations can be made more volunteer friendly.

  • Accessibility to volunteer work

– It is acknowledged across the world: voluntary work is not accessible to every one. Socio-economic factors play an important role. In addition, as regards ethnic-cultural diversity, volunteer work remains largely restricted to the native population. In recent years initiatives have been started in various sectors, but it is unrealistic to expect these to offer a complete solution in the short term. A large number of organisations are making practical efforts in their working practices. These efforts should be brought together and shared as examples of best practice.

  • Promotion and raising visibility

– The role of promoter of volunteer work can be undertaken by the central knowledge and expertise centre (see above).

– Investment in research will be necessary in order to make volunteer work and its impact more visible. The intention of the King Boudewijn Foundation to repeat the 2015 every three years  is praiseworthy and Flanders can link into this by going deeper into the data collected and relating it to the scale and context of Flanders. There will also be an investigation as to the best way to combine this with other surveys and services, such as the Flemish Government study service and the Flemish Statistical Authority.

– On the Flemish level there will be coordination concerning the registration of the contribution made by volunteers in the various sectors and its further development. This is not a question of more registration, but rather a call for a critical look at what is already registered in the area of volunteer work and for ways to be found to make better use of this information.

All these actions and initiatives must be continuously followed up and adjusted by the Horizontal Volunteer Consultation Group (Horizantaal Overleg Vrijwilligersbeleid) so that the HOV can periodically report, evaluate and send proposals for adjustments to the Flemish Government.

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