Volunteering trends in the European Union, new forms of volunteering, but also public authorities' support for organisations and volunteers and their economic role, were among the subjects discussed at the conference on Volunteers – citizens building the future of Europe, held at the European Solidarity Centre on Thursday 7 July.
Gdańsk, which is this year's European Volunteering Capital, was host to a three-day mission by the EESC's Civil Society Organisations' Group, which focused on the role of volunteers in society. The mission was organised in liaison with the Centre for European Volunteering, the City of Gdańsk, the National Freedom Institute – Centre for Civil Society Development, the European Solidarity Centre in Gdańsk, the Gdańsk Museum of the Second World War, the Gdańsk Regional Volunteer Centre, the Polish Scouting and Guiding Association and the Scouting Association of the Republic of Poland. The conference was one element of the mission.
Volunteering accounts for 5% of European GDP
At the official opening of the conference, Séamus Boland, President of the Civil Society Organisations' Group of the European Economic and Social Committee, pointed out that volunteers always turn up where they are needed and are some of the first to do so. This was the case during the pandemic, for example, as well as following the outbreak of the war in Ukraine.
One of the EESC's objectives is to highlight volunteers' contribution in such situations, said Séamus Boland.
Volunteering cannot replace the government's core tasks, but the advantage is that volunteers have freedom to act. We are always on the ground as soon as something happens, because the volunteer, seeing the problem, can be on-site immediately. They do not need to be asked. Importantly, however, volunteering requires government support in order to be taken seriously and to be able to operate safely and freely, he added.
He also pointed out that volunteering accounts for 5% of European GDP, and therefore has not only a social but also an economic dimension.
10 local volunteering centres in Gdańsk
The Mayor of Gdańsk, Aleksandra Dulkiewicz, acknowledged that when the city was preparing its bid to become European Volunteering Capital, it set itself several objectives. One of them was to treble the number of active volunteers. Following the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, it became clear just how many volunteers there were in Gdańsk – there was no shortage of people wanting to help the Ukrainians who were fleeing.
Our work continues. We are currently developing a network of local volunteering centres. We want ten of them to be built across the city. These are small steps, but we are already seeing positive results. However, this would not have been possible without the involvement of our active residents and local councillors, stressed Ms Dulkiewicz.
The mayor also announced that work was currently under way to create a Volunteering Charter, which would be a sort of addition to Gdańsk's current Housing Charter.
For me, a volunteer is an informed citizen. We have a large group of volunteers in our city who support us in organising major sporting and cultural events, among other things. And this all began with the Euro 2012 football championship, she pointed out.
Today, we are also developing employee volunteering. We have active volunteers in our office, but also in many companies operating in Gdańsk, she added.
Gabriella Civico, Director of the Centre for European Volunteering and member of the Civil Society Europe Steering Committee, acknowledged the ongoing efforts to recognise 2025 as the Year of Volunteers.
We want to focus on the people who volunteer. They are always there, complementing services that are the responsibility of public authorities. We want the European Union to recognise the importance of volunteering, said Ms Civico.
Poland saves 40 billion thanks to volunteers
Wojciech Kaczmarczyk, Director of the National Institute for Freedom – Centre for Civil Society Development, highlighted figures from Poland's Central Statistical Office showing that 3% of the country's GDP comes from volunteering.
This means Poland would have a shortfall of PLN 40 billion if the work of volunteers had to be replaced. Their work is therefore of economic and financial importance too, he stressed.
He also underlined that volunteers were active in Poland at the time of the Polish People's Republic, in the 1980s, when there were large-scale internments.
There was a mass movement of support in difficult times, with help for families whose relatives had been interned and were therefore deprived of their livelihoods, said Mr Kaczmarczyk. "The challenge of this conference is to look at how we can professionalise volunteering so that volunteers have the best skills and remain keen to volunteer."