Volunteering, an activity undertaken by an individual of their own free will without financial consideration, is a key building block in forming civil society and a tool for social integration that counterbalances inequality. Social integration is the degree to which individuals are considered full members of society and are accepted by their peers as such. As shown in the report Volunteering in Armenia: Key Issues and Challenges, volunteering isn’t that widespread in Armenia and has several legislative flaws. Moreover, the Republic of Armenia does not view volunteering within the context of social cohesion but focuses on the advantages to the volunteer.
Volunteering and Deficient Legislation
Volunteering is regulated through different laws and legislative acts, including the Labor Code of Armenia (Article 102), RA Law on NGOs (Articles 17, 18), RA Law on Charities (Articles 3, 7, 9, 14, 15), RA Law on The Status of Rescue Forces and Rescue Workers (Articles 1, 12), and several others. The objective and aims of these laws and legislative acts are to separately resolve different, individual issues.
Moreover, there are discrepancies throughout these regulations. Current regulations do not consider volunteering within the context of social inclusion. They do protect neither the rights of the volunteer nor the host organization. They also fail to stipulate the responsibilities of the host organization. The existing regulations do not include mechanisms for fostering volunteering. They are also silent on the age of volunteers. In consequence, risks based on age are not eliminated or reduced. The existing regulations also fail to fully define the different types of volunteering. There is no definition of volunteering provided in any current regulations. Meanwhile, a bill proposed in 2017 included only three types of volunteering: short-term, medium-term and long-term. Current regulations also do not define spontaneous volunteering during natural disasters and emergency situations as a separate subtype of volunteering and the mechanisms required to regulate it.
Several countries view volunteering as the most important link between receiving an education and entering the job market. International experience shows that volunteering can become a principal tool for reducing unemployment among youth. On a legislative level, Armenia does not consider volunteering in this context. It also does not view volunteering as a prospect for creating economic and social value.
There is a need for programs that promote volunteering and raise awareness about it.
The Driving Force in Volunteering
By combining the results of different surveys, the following motives to volunteer can be identified:
Personal or family involvement
Learning new skills
Doing work for the good of society
Using skills and knowledge
Sense of responsibility
Volunteers are classified into six different types. They are:
Classic volunteers: Their main aim is to carry out valuable work that is beneficial for society. They are usually older, not active in the labor market and involved in volunteer work with great enthusiasm.
Devoted volunteers: They spend a lot of time volunteering and collaborate with many volunteer organizations.
Involved volunteers: They spend limited time volunteering at institutions in which they have relatives or acquaintances.
Volunteers pursuing personal gratification: They seldom claim that helping others is their main motivation.
Humanitarian volunteers: They claim their cornerstone motivation to be helping those around them.
Gainful volunteers: They stand out as highly educated, comparably young volunteers. They are new in the volunteering world. Their motivation comes from areas not specific to volunteers; they wish to gain experience in a given field or they ended up in the field by chance.
There are three age groups in volunteering:
Young age group: The reasons for volunteering in this age group are multifaceted. Initially, romanticism and having an interesting time is what makes them want to volunteer. They also mention changing the world, being helpful, changing a boring daily routine, interacting with other people and doing interesting work as reasons to volunteer. Later on, volunteering is observed as a tool for self-awareness. Volunteering is also viewed as an investment in the future. These volunteers state that volunteering does help them find work and gain professional promotions, even if that profession is yet to be determined. This age group understands the importance of their work and does desire to serve the public interest.
Middle age group: Volunteers in this age group are mainly involved in professional fields. The experience and skills they gain from volunteering helps them earn promotions in their career. In turn, they become more organized and feel more confident. One of the motives they specify for volunteering is the humanitarian factor. A clear striving for personal excellence is evident among this volunteer age group. They accept issues as challenges. If addressed properly, the issues they face can make them more skillful and experienced. They believe specific steps need to be taken to spread the idea of volunteering and to get more volunteers involved in their field.
Mature/Older age group: The main motivation for this group can be equally divided between humanitarian and more pragmatic factors, with work satisfaction as the main motive. Other age groups try to gain experience and skills through volunteering, while the oldest age group tries to maintain their knowledge and skills through volunteering. As a result, volunteering in a professional field is an important precondition for volunteering in this age group. Compared to the other age groups, this group has specific concerns regarding volunteering - mainly feeling unappreciated, the absence of a volunteering culture and the consequences of not having a law on volunteering.
It’s noteworthy that there is also a fourth group, which includes those who have never done volunteer work before. This group may still respect the idea of volunteering but never participated personally due to different circumstances. There are also those within this group that criticize the phenomenon itself, which can be a way to justify their own “inactivity.” The main reasons given for not volunteering included time limitations, the lack of a supportive environment (never witnessed it at home, never did it at school), public opinion (negative perceptions of unpaid jobs) or a perception of masculinity that is incompatible with volunteer work.
According to the report, the ideal volunteer is selfless and does unpaid work in his or her professional field only. Anything outside this definition is considered as radical, political activism or self-interest. Data analysis shows that motives for volunteering include humanitarian and accountability factors.
It’s noteworthy that conditions that motivate volunteer work include serious incentives mainly expressed through prospects of gaining experience, skills and knowledge. In certain cases, these are what determine the decision to do unpaid work. Nevertheless, the desire to carry out humanitarian work for the public good is the essential condition that ensures the continuation of involvement in volunteer work.
Volunteers can be classified by type in the following groups:
Classic volunteer: Middle and older age groups tend to fit in this definition best because their main aim is to pursue valuable work for the public good. This requires putting in a lot of time.
Devoted volunteer: The mature age group tends to fit this definition best. They collaborate with numerous volunteer organizations, often initiating volunteer work themselves.
Involved volunteers: This type of volunteering has not yet developed in Armenia.
Those who seek self-satisfaction can be found in all age groups. All age groups fit into the humanitarian volunteer definition as well. Gainful volunteering is more prevalent in the youngest age group. Many people in this age group volunteer to get mandatory paperwork or to enhance their resumes.
Waiting for Changes
Based on the Volunteering in Armenia: Key Issues and Challenges report, recommendations for fostering volunteering in Armenia focus on publicizing projects and carrying out practical steps, creating conditions to encourage field-specific volunteering and the creation of a unified database of volunteers.
Moreover, one comprehensive law is needed to regulate the volunteering sector and establish its main concepts, including establishing minimum volunteering ages (dependent on the type of volunteer work), clear compensation mechanisms for damages incurred during volunteer work, etc. Volunteering should also be viewed as the most important link between receiving an education and entering the job market.
Taking into consideration that certain types of volunteering require a comparably stricter approach that may hinder other types of volunteering, regulations in a given volunteering field should include the rights and responsibilities of the volunteer and host organization, and which bodies are responsible for regulating that field.
Read the White Paper
Ashot Sargsyan, the co-author of EVN Report's White Paper "Volunteering in Armenia: Key Issues and Challenges" speaks about the potential of volunteerism as a community building tool, a force capable of bringing about change and sustaining developmental goals when the country is short of manpower. Sargsyan also speaks about the need to promote volunteerism and establish regulations that will protect the volunteer and acknowledge his/her input.
White Papers on EVN Report
This project is funded by the UK Government's Conflict, Stability and Security Fund.
The opinions expressed are those of the authors' and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the UK Government.