EVS4ALL in Paris: progress made towards an inclusive European Voluntary Service

28 October 2016

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The EVS4ALL project consortium spent a few days in Paris in the beginning of October 2016 to discuss the progress of the European Voluntary Service for All – a two-year civil initiative striving for more inclusiveness and flexibility of the European Voluntary Service. The latter, a European programme that has been running for twenty years and one of the undisputable successes of European integration, has built many of the social, professional and cultural ties, necessary for nurturing a healthy European citizenry. The EVS4ALL project partners, on the other hand, have made a substantial contribution to the practical and policy aspects of extending the programme’s benefits to each and every European citizen. To learn more about the challenges addressed by the project, its conceptual underpinnings, structure and results follow the link.

THE CHALLENGES

It does not take much effort to notice that Europe has an issue with its youth. Recent terrorist attacks were committed by young Europeans, while right-wing groups in both East and West are filling their ranks with new recruits from the lower age groups.

One reason is of course the strained economic situation that many labor newcomers have found themselves caught up into post-2008. One only needs to open the World Employment and Social Outlook 2016: Trends for Youth to get a grasp of the reality, facing a growing number of Europeans, aged between 18 and 24. According to the report, prepared by the International Labour Organization (ILO), while youth unemployment seems to be stabilizing and in some cases even receding, European youth are progressively “taking the place of the elderly as the group at greatest risk of living in poverty”. Meaning that many young people work, but are still not managing to keep afloat.

Another reason, however, stems from the growing disparities cutting deep into the group’s core, underpinned by factors, such as geographical location, access to education/information and digital proficiency.

For some the golden path of a degree in a prestigious European university (preferably in one of Western Europe’s educational meccas) and a Brussels internship, paving the way for an early head-start and, ultimately, a coveted well-paid job, is the norm. Others, however, are less fortunate, with different barriers (i.e. socio-economic, cultural, linguistic) impeding their access to decent and stable job placement, and, hence, diminishing their professional and social prospects. Faced with limited career choices or at the risk of becoming “working poor”, such adolescents are often prone to absenteeism, and scapegoating.

Moreover, as any system based on efficiency, Europe’s bureaucracy is catered to streamlining the advancement of those young people that already possess the necessary qualifiers. As innate as it is to Europe’s largely technocratic institutional establishment such cherry picking sometimes sends the wrong signals to budding members of the continents workforce – namely, that their input is neither needed, nor encouraged.

Left unattended, in the short term the growing gaps will certainly stifle economic growth and social progress, cutting down on Europe’s youth potential. However, in the long term they threaten the very ability of Europe to sustain the democratic project it has placed its bets on.

THE CONCEPTUAL RESPONSE – WE ARE EUROPE! MANIFESTO

An ideational answer to the outlined issues has been devised with the We are Europe! manifesto, created in 2012 amidst a Europe-wide campaign, focusing on a European Year of Volunteering for Everyone and advancing a bottom-up approach to rebuilding Europe. The manifesto, initiated by the late Ulrich Beck und Daniel Cohn-Bendit and signed by a good deal of European activists, artists and politicians, strives to turn attention to the necessity of coming to terms with Europe of multiple tiers and harnessing the existing potential in solving the Gordian knots facing Europe today.

The underlying concept is simple – “Europe of technocrats and elites” needs to make room for input from all Europeans when making decisions affecting the citizenry of Europe. And nowhere is this more relevant than in European volunteering, where exchanging ideas among young Europeans produces the most viable results. Here opening the floodgates to youngsters from all walks of life in Europe holds the key to boosting political creativity, activating dormant potential, making use of existing civil society resources and encouraging Europe’s younger generations to commit to building the future of Europe.

The underlying concept is simple – “Europe of technocrats and elites” need to make room for input from all Europeans when making decisions affecting the citizenry of Europe. And nowhere is this more relevant than in European volunteering, where exchanging ideas among young Europeans produces the most viable results. Here opening the floodgates to youngsters from all walks of life in Europe holds the key to boosting political creativity, activating dormant potential, making use of existing civil society resources and encouraging Europe’s younger generations to commit to building the future of Europe.

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Logo: Courtesy of European Voluntary Service for All

The practical solution – EVS4ALL

Easier said than done, but a community of like-minded NGO enthusiasts has already started working on devising a practical solution to expanding the European Voluntary Service (EVS), one of the undisputed success stories of European integration, to young people with less opportunities.

The project European Voluntary Service for All (EVS4ALL) was launched in April 2015 (find more about the kick-off meeting here). An initiative of Allianz Cultural Foundation, coordinated by IKAB and co-funded by the EU Erasmus+ Programme, the project involves 14 partners across Europe, including civil society organizations, foundations and practitioners. Among those are La Ligue de l’enseignement and European Alternatives  (France), Yes-Forum (Germany), Volunteering Matters /Volonteurope (Great Britain), EDUQ Association and Foundation for Social Diversity (Poland), Chance for Life and Roma Education Fund (Romania) and Alianza por la Solidaridad and Fundación Tomillo (Spain).

EVS4ALL focuses on coming up with efficient approaches to recruiting, mentoring, motivating and hosting volunteers who would not normally have the opportunity to take part in EVS activities. The idea is to pave the way for such young people to overcome the inculcated barriers and take an active part in their communities by providing what for others is already there. Namely, a chance to travel, meet new cultures and build networks of knowledge with like-minded people. At the same time, the project keeps track of the larger discussion at hand – how to integrate the devised inclusion agenda into EVS programme mainstreaming, seeking to advance a set of policy recommendations, based on the accumulated experience.

Two days in Paris in October 2016

The EVS4ALL partners gathered two weeks ago in Paris (12-13 October 2016), where under the kind auspices of the host La Ligue de l’enseignement they discussed the results of the conducted mobility projects, mplemented in September 2016 after months of preparation.

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Photo courtesy: Alexander Neofitov

During the project’s span a lot of the partner consortium’s energy had been put in going through the procedural steps of hosting volunteers with fewer opportunities – from matching sending and host organizations (started in September 2015 as part of a partner meeting in London) to attracting participants and funding and the actual placement of volunteers by the hosts. The idea has been to shed light on the nuts and bolts of organizing inclusive mobilities and see what works and what does not.

Important aspects of the preparation and implementation phases that were brought forward included an accent on timely application for funding, preliminary needs assessment of volunteers, the role of offline networking and the significance of mentors. A major discussion point has also been the clear flow of information and feedback during the mobility process, including after the return of volunteers.

The results of the implemented mobilities, coupled with a thorough research led by UK’s Volunteering Matters, are expected to produce a set of recommendations to be presented at the EU policy level. Among the targeted addressees are decision-makers in the area of education, employment and inclusion.

On the learning front, considerable effort has been invested in devising a pedagogical approach and toolkit, based on blended learning, including both traditional face-to-face activities and digital tools. The goal has been to find a way to develop the digital capacity of participants in the program and nurture a set of practical skills. For this purpose, a mentor training was organized in February 2016 in Bonn, aiming to pinpoint a set of tools to be used during the implementation phase. Among those selected and ultimately used by mentors were Powtoon, Padlet and Learning Badges.

Finally, special attention has been paid to dissemination and project visibility. A number of very interesting videos depicting the actual experience of volunteers have been created and will be published soon. Some of the volunteers/mentors have also shared their observations in interviews that will see the day of light very soon as well, including as part of a book titled “Volunteers in profile”. Needless to say, anybody interested in volunteering or youth inclusion will find a throve of unique content there (more info on publication date to follow).

Not to forget live discussions – a series of popularization events are planned in each of the countries, taking part in the project – France, Germany, Poland, Romania and Spain: stay tuned for concrete dates and agendas. The project will culminate with a final conference in the city, where it started, Berlin, in March 2017, which will give the floor to partners, stakeholders and policy-makers for a fruitful debate on the issue of inclusive European volunteering.

More news on the EVS4ALL project coming up in the next days.