Fanning the flames of firebrands

Gabriella Civico / November 1, 2018

Fanning the flames of firebrands

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We have seen a lot in the media lately about mismanagement and crisis of confidence in large NGOs across the world.  This has been particularly highlighted in the humanitarian aid and ‘development’ sectors in the kinds of organisations that are often at the forefront of public awareness, including that of policymakers, as regards their role in meeting human and societal needs.  As such, they are often the main target of public policies. As large as they are however, are they the most significant part of civil society and the volunteering ecosystem?  Or is there another, more hidden sector, of small initiatives that are as important, if not more important, than these bigger well-known NGO ‘brands’. Local activists – “Firebrands” commit to addressing identified needs across Europe and around the world, relying on their own competencies, energy and commitment to act in solidarity with others and respond to the needs they identify around them.  What policy support do these Firebrands need, and get, however, to ensure that their efforts can achieve maximum impact? Do policymakers know that they are there and understand their significance in meeting local, national and global needs?  Do the existing policies ‘fan their flames’ and help them make an even bigger impact?  Or do they rather suffocate and extinguish this immense outpouring of love and solidarity?

At the European Volunteer Centre (CEV) we work to support all those in Europe, and more widely across the world, who, in the framework of an existing organisation, or on their own initiative (as can be the case of “Firebrands”), take, and make, the time and effort to develop and implement solutions in response to the needs they identify around them.  These volunteers, including those who we can identify as “Firebrands”, need and deserve supportive local, regional, national and European public policies that facilitate their activities.  This was one of the motivating factors for the development of the European Volunteering Capital Competition.

Launched in 2013, the European Volunteering Capital competition aims to promote and develop volunteering at the local level by giving recognition to municipalities that support and strengthen partnerships with volunteer centres,  volunteer-involving organisations and also “Firebrand” and other grassroots and citizen-led initiatives. The competition aims to celebrate and promote volunteering and the impact made by all volunteers who are acting in the interest of the common good, whether in a sporadic and occasional context or in a more permanent long-term process.

We recognize that volunteering supports social inclusion & solidarity, underpins active citizenship & social engagement, and promotes shared responsibilities & European values. In the framework of the competition CEV aims to strengthen cross-sector partnerships as regards both policies and programmes at the local level to ensure that the full potential of volunteering can be reached.  We also aim to highlight that volunteering contributes to the European Social model, to security, peace and prosperity, provides a framework for an alternative narrative to extremist and populist views and actions, and can contribute to their prevention. Another emphasis is on how volunteering actively prevents Hate Speech, promotes inclusion and tolerance and enables citizens to be directly active in developing the Europe they strive for. CEV connects individual and collective volunteer efforts in promoting and defending European rights and values to the European context, and local & national volunteering strategies with European policy frameworks.

CEV wants to remind policymakers at all levels, but especially at the local level that if the potential of these “Helping Hands” from “Firebrands” and all volunteers in whatever context, are to offer the maximum possible HOPE for Europe, then there needs to be the organisational infrastructure available to welcome, recognize and value them. Only in this way will enough quality volunteering experiences, with the capability to harness their enthusiasm, commitment and energy, be provided. Full implementation of the 5 ‘Rs’ and other criteria for the European Volunteering Capital competition will ‘fan the flames of solidarity’ and bring Europe closer to this goal of the enabling environment for volunteering in Europe that citizens want – and Europe deserves!

Representing the EYV 2011 Alliance in the 2011 EYV conference in Athens I said that:    “If the Euro is the beating heart of Europe then maybe we can see volunteers as the lungs – breathing life in Europe for the years to come.”  To continue the analogy – If we now see the Euro with chronic heart disease in these difficult economic times – are we also seeing, due to neglect, abuse and poor care to the infrastructure….chronic lung disease with respect to volunteering? Or are volunteers like a thriving rainforest with a functioning sustainable logging policy keeping the planet alive?

We  have common agreement in Europe that volunteering is a choice – A choice based on free will that results in voluntary acts of kindness and expressions of solidarity that change people’s lives.  Of equal importance however is that the volunteering has the power to change attitudes and that volunteering is a Choice for Change!

We have all seen in recent years across Europe more visibility for the volunteers providing refugees with critical, material help and care in the form of clothes, food and shelter.  Actions that have had a huge impact on people’s lives.  The less recognized impact however must also be the change-making example that they are giving to others.

Although financial and social status limits the amount of choice that individual people can exercise, in Europe we are lucky to have the freedom to choose and we want to see a Europe where, if someone chooses to try to change someone’s life for the better, chooses to try change attitudes and chooses to volunteer as a “Firebrand” or in another context that:

  • The organizational infrastructure is available to welcome them,
  • They are provided with a quality experience harnessing their enthusiasm, commitment and energy,
  • They are properly recognized and valued.

Are we close to this?  Are we in a position to maximize the potential of these Helping Hands?  Are we all ready to offer HOPE for Europe – through Helping bring Opportunities for Participation in Europe?   CEV members together, in partnership with public policymakers through the European Volunteering Capital competition will bring us one step closer to this goal and the enabling environment for volunteering in Europe that we all want  – and Europe deserves!

Gabriella Civico, Director European Volunteer Centre (CEV)

Aarhus European Volunteering Capital 2018 where also the Festival of Firebands took place.