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Editorial: Volunteering elections

The Parliament election takes place in about a month. The parties and the candidates are already campaigning intensively, mostly with the aid of volunteers. In Finland, all the parties think that an open and functioning society is one of the prerequisites of democracy. That is a good thing.

About half of Finnish citizens have been working as volunteers during the last year, and 42 percent during the last four weeks. On average, volunteer work is done for approximately 15 hours per month. Women and young people work the most, measured in hours. The amount of volunteer work by elderly people and men has declined compared to year 2015. This is seen in the report which Kansalaisareena (Citizen Forum), Kirkkohallitus (Church Council) and Opintokeskus Sivis (National Adult Education Institute) ordered from Taloustutkimus in spring of 2018. For the report, 1000 Finns over 15 years of age were interviewed through home visits.

Volunteering is important because it increases welfare and opportunities for influence for both individuals and the whole society, and nurtures mutual trust. The economic value of volunteering can be calculated as approximately 2,5 billion euros in Finland each year.

From an international perspective the situation in Finland is good. Only four percent of people in the world live in countries where the status of civil society can be seen as open and transparent. Finland is one of these countries (Civicus 2017). This does not mean that we do not have any threats. New demands are constantly set to the financing of non-governmental organizations. Financing is project-based and the financer defines the functions and programs receiving aid. There is a threat that the services of our welfare society will be outsourced to the third sector. Some want to narrow down the basic rights of citizens by changing the Assembly Act. All this threatens the autonomy of the civil society.

When elections are executed mostly with the help of volunteers, it would be important in the coming elections to discuss which direction the civil society and the field of volunteering should be developed.

Kansalaisareena has identified many major development paths that have an impact on volunteering. Such paths are, for example, longing and searching for meaningfulness, growth of inequality between population groups, change in democracy and the diversity of ways to participate, change in demographics, multiculturalism and urbanization, challenges created by climate change, use of natural resources and environmental questions, changes in economy, business life and labor, and technological development and digitalization.

In future volunteering the interfaces between private, public, third and fourth sectors will become more indistinct. More and more volunteering will be done in municipalities and the public sector. Companies fulfill their social responsibility by letting their employees volunteer during working hours and thus acquire new know-how and meaning to their job. On the other hand, also companies want to do volunteer work, for example volunteering at festivals and events. It is possible to cooperate on a large front and with unexpected combinations. Pop-up activity is pop and as people self-organize, many traditional ways to volunteer will change. A growing part of volunteering is already short-term, not committed to associations or organizations or merely taking place on the internet.

In civil action people are more connected to meanings and phenomena than organizations. Typical of the activity is momentariness, informal networks and self-organization of people. Experimental and agile development has emerged beside the traditional design and organizing methods.

Kansalaisareena suggests that the following items are added to the government program:

  • Updating the democracy policy with the goal of promoting volunteering
  • Including volunteering in the activation model of unemployment benefits
  • Increasing recognition and acknowledgement of the skills gained from volunteering in education

Furthermore, Kansalaisareena considers it important that the prerequisites for operation in the civil society are strengthened and the autonomy of the operations of organizations is secured. Also, taxation procedures related to volunteering should be made uniform and more streamlined. Kansalaisareena believes that tax exemption should include all volunteering. Additionally, the vitality of non-governmental organizations should be supported with a renewal of the subsidy system and by removing unnecessary regulations.

Leo Stranius
Executive Director of Kansalaisareena

Translation: Merja Tahkokallio

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