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Where are young people?

The change in the age structure of volunteering has been noticed. The average age of volunteers is increasing and the number of young people involved in volunteer activities is decreasing. In their discussions people contemplate why young people are not interested and why they don´t want to get involved in volunteering. Is it really just a matter of their inactivity or is it possible that the non-governmental organizations in Finland don´t offer wide-ranging, young people inclusive, low-threshold activities?

The national youth service and interest organization, The Finnish Youth Co-operation Allianssi, has 125 national youth or educational organizations as members. Many of these are operated by volunteers and there are countless young people involved. As for me, I work in an active youth organization where young people voluntarily organize activities to other young people. They have incredibly many ideas, enthusiasm, and knowledge and skills to be involved in volunteering. In this activity, the participation of young people has intrinsic value and the more widely discussed young people´s inactivity doesn’t become apparent.

If the reason is not that young people are simply not interested, then what can we do? I think that the debate on the lack of young people in the Finnish volunteering field is distorted. Instead of looking at young people and reflecting on the lack of interest, perhaps there is a need to look in the mirror and think about what we ourselves have done to ensure that young people feel welcome in the action.

Finnish youth´s social knowledge and skills are among the best in the world for joining non-governmental organizations (ICCS 2016). Have they been offered an opportunity to get involved? What has your own organization done to make young people feel welcome in the action? Has anybody really asked young people to get involved?

There is a myriad of literature and practical tips (including “Nuorten osallistuminen järjestöissä 2017” – young people’s participation in organizations) for the inclusion of young people, so it is easy to get started in developing one’s own activities. There are few things that happen without doing anything, nor do young people find themselves in non-governmental organizations that have not actively sought to reach them.

I hope that in the future, the conversations of the changing age structure will focus on  our own activities and on considering how to make them  more participatory for young people. The world is changing very rapidly – and these changes in trends reflect also on  civic activities. In order for civic activities to be open to all age groups in the future, it is important to know how to assess your own actual inclusiveness and react quickly to changes. Young people are not unwilling to participate in volunteer activities. Not everyone has just been offered that opportunity.

Text: Maiju Tuomainen

In the academic year 2017-2018, the writer studied volunteer leadership at the HUMAK University of Applied Sciences.

Read more (in Finnish):

Jouko Mehtäläinen, Mikko Niilo-Rämä, Virva Nissinen: Nuorten yhteiskunnalliset tiedot, osallistuminen ja asenteet. Kansainvälisen ICCS 2016 -tutkimuksen päätulokset. Koulutuksen tutkimuslaitos 2017. 93 s.

Valtion nuorisoneuvosto ja Allianssi: Nuorten osallistuminen järjestöissä, 2017: 

Translation: Kati Merikoski

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