"The Role of Government [in Volunteering]"
Excerpted from "The values and basic principles of volunteering: complacency or caution?" by Jimmy Kearney in Volunteering and the Test of Time, edited by Justin Davis Smith and Michael Locke, Institute for Volunteering Research (London: UK), 2008.
What role or roles do governments play in supporting volunteering? What roles should they play? Should they have a role at all? Volunteering obviously does not take place in a vacuum. Its values and the nature of its relationship with the state are affected by the country's historical, political and cultural roots. In some countries, the state has in the past inhibited volunteering: for example, those regimes where there was an imposition on associations, or where social or citizens' initiatives were at worst suppressed or at best not supported, or where the development of civil society was opposed.
Some formerly totalitarian states experiencing major social change, such as Russia and the Czech Republic, are having to regenerate volunteering as an activity based on free will and choice rather than, as previously, obligatory unpaid work or collective social activities. In other countries such as Spain, where the freedom of association did not previously exist, there is now a legal framework for, or legal recognition of, voluntary work. Some countries have legislated to enable volunteering. An example is the enactment in January 2001 of Voluntary Service Law in Taiwan. This established a legal status for volunteers and gave them a set of rights and duties: for example, the right to proper training and the related duty to participate in training programmes. Another example is the federal Volunteer Protection Act 1997 in the USA, which provides that volunteers will not be personally liable for their acts or omissions if they are acting within the scope of their responsibility for the organisation and the harm is not caused by wilful or criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct, or a conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the individual harmed. In other countries, where civil society itself is well established and recognised, governments adopt an enabling role, supporting and encouraging volunteering outside a legal framework, while leaving the choice to participate or not to the individual. In yet others, governments have played an enforcing role by mandating voluntary and community service - in some cases, such as Canada, at the same time playing an enabling role by building capacity within the voluntary sector.
In the literature, we can find many calls for action by government. At the international level, the Universal Declaration on Volunteering adopted by IAVE (2001a) calls on government:
'to ensure the rights of all people to volunteer, to remove any legal barriers to participation, to engage volunteers in its work, and to provide resources for NGOs to promote and support the effective mobilization and management of volunteers.'
It also calls on all sectors 'to join together to create strong, visible, and effective local and national "Volunteer centres" as the primary leadership organisations for volunteering'.
lAVE's Draft Global Agenda for Action (2001b), produced at the same conference, lists 75 different actions by government under the five primary objectives articulated for the International Year of Volunteers 2001: recognition, promotion, facilitation, networking and participation. Sharon Capeling-Alakija, executive coordinator of the United Nations Volunteers speaking at an Inter-Parliamentary Union conference in Cuba in April 2001, outlined five key challenges that face governments as they seek to foster and strengthen volunteer action and build social capital:
- to frame volunteerism as something to be taken into account in national development strategies to reach out to vulnerable populations
- to build an infrastructure for voluntary action
- to support research, and
- to encourage volunteerism without compromising the spirit of volunteerism, which might include incentives for volunteerism, including tax concessions
She cautioned that governments must avoid the temptation to control volunteering, and concluded that:
'In many cases, the most important thing that governments can do is to get out of the way, that is, to eliminate legislative, policy and organisational barriers, so that more people can come forward and actively participate in their communities.'_______
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Excerpted from "The values and basic principles of volunteering: complacency or caution?" by Jimmy Kearney in Volunteering and the Test of Time, edited by Justin Davis Smith and Michael Locke, Institute for Volunteering Research (London: UK), 2008. Available in the Energize Online Bookstore at http://www.energizeinc.com/store/5-229-E-1