apathy or action volonteurope conference oonagh

OONAGH AITKEN, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF VOLUNTEERING MATTERS

We’ve just closed the 25th annual Volonteurope conference here in Nantes, France.  Our conference this year was all about young people, but it turned out also to be very topical and wide-ranging in the themes and issues covered.

It coincided with the launch, also by young people, of a cross political party campaign called UnDivided which is calling for the best possible  Brexit for young people.  We know that those young people who voted in the referendum, voted overwhelmingly against leaving the EU.  And that most older people voted for leaving.  At the conference we recognised that this could cause some intergenerational tension, but concluded that these had been around from time immemorial, and so perhaps we shouldn’t dwell too much on them.  As Volonteurope and as Volunteering Matters, we’re delighted to give our support to the campaign.

Much more important to the young volunteers and activists who attended the conference was their involvement in social action and volunteering, and how that could be a pathway to empowerment, confidence, employability and a feeling of inclusion.

We had one short intervention to set the scene; Valentin Depouey-Sterdyniak, Secretary General of Young European Federalists, talked passionately about his involvement in volunteering and student activism. He challenged the young people present to get involved in their own communities, associations, clubs etc. around whatever their personal interests are.  Then young volunteers ran a series of workshops about the things that concern them. These included LGBT rights, discrimination and homophobia, sexual and reproductive rights, homelessness, environment and well-being, the refugee crisis, domestic violence.

I was really proud of Tonia and her two volunteers from the WASSUP project in Ipswich who led the workshop on domestic violence.  Following the workshops there were visits for the participants to voluntary organisations in Nantes which reflected the workshop themes.

The second day of the conference saw the launch of the Volonteurope report on the topic of young people’s engagement. You will soon be able to read the final report on our website. Please distribute this report, continue the debate and look at ways that the recommendations in the report can be implemented.

In my concluding remarks, I said that I was left with three things from the conference.  First the engagement and enthusiasm of young volunteers across all the topics: all of them doing high social impact work that requires empathy, understanding and commitment.  Second, the strong sense from the young people that volunteering and social action can empower young people, give them confidence and ensure their voices are heard.  Third, the need for better dialogue and engagement with young people where they are, and more understanding of how young people want to engage. This might not be in traditional ways, but through social media or around causes as well as action on the ground.

Final message from the conference for all the participants of all ages:

Multiply Your Social and Volunteering Actions and Be The Change You Want To See!