2.2 Administration and governance of youth volunteering
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In Austria, there is no separate governance system for youth volunteering. Youth volunteering takes place within the legal and administrative framework for volunteering in general, which is regulated by the Volunteering Act 2012 (Freiwilligengesetz 2012) and also includes the Voluntary Social Year, the Voluntary Environmental Protection Year, the Memorial Service and the Peace Service and Social Service Abroad, which addresses young people.
At the federal level, the Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection is responsible for volunteering in Austria. The dedicated online platform ‘Volunteer web’(“Freiwilligenweb”) provides comprehensive information for volunteers as well as for volunteer organisations. In accordance with the Austrian Youth Strategy, which pursues youth participation and engagement as one of its four pillars, the Federal Chancellery supports extracurricular child and youth work, in particular through the Federal Youth Promotion Act (Bundes-Jugendförderungsgesetz). This helps to create a sustainable infrastructure for youth volunteering and youth engagement. In order to also recognise knowledge acquired in a non-formal/informal way, the Federal Chancellery supports with the initiative aufZAQ. Furthermore, the Austrian National Youth Council (BJV) promotes youth volunteering at national level, in particular through its membership in the Voluntary Council.
Although the federal government sets the framework conditions for voluntary engagement, Austria’s provinces have their own structures to accompany and promote voluntary engagement. This primarily concerns financial support, which in many cases makes the existence of voluntary organisations possible in the first place. In support, numerous platforms in the provinces serve as a source of information and exchange. The responsible youth departments of the federal provinces also help to determine and promote voluntary engagement of young people regionally.
At the regional level, the volunteer centres (Freiwilligenzentren) in Austria act as contact points for volunteering. In addition to local initiatives, they focus on comprehensive facilitation and support services for volunteers as well as for organisations that offer volunteering. Organisationally, these volunteer centres are affiliated to supporting institutions or are run by municipalities or private associations. Despite this affiliation, they strive to act as a neutral information hub. To support their work, the volunteer centres have founded an umbrella organisation – Interest Group of Volunteer Centres Austria (IGFÖ) (Interessensgemeinschaft der Freiwilligenzentren Österreichs). Together, they develop and address quality criteria and goals for implementation in the Austrian volunteer centres and represent general interests at the political level (see chapter 2.6 Quality assurance). Furthermore, the IGFÖ is represented as a member of the Austrian Voluntary Council and is also well networked throughout Europe. As one of about 60 other European volunteer organisations, the IGFÖ is part of the European Volunteer Centre CEV.
As a cross-sectoral interface between the state and civil society, the Voluntary Council (see below on cross-sectoral cooperation) advises the Ministry of Social Affairs on improving the framework conditions for volunteering throughout Austria.
Youth volunteering in Austria often takes place in the non-governmental sector. In this context, various organisations and projects offer voluntary activities in the field of emergency aid, culture, environment, religion, social work, politics, education and sports, etc. When looking at the organisational structure of volunteering, one finds that Austrian federalism also runs through the third sector. Thus, volunteer organisations operating nationwide often have extensive freedom of decision-making in the individual provinces or regions, while umbrella organisations formally exercise little influence (e.g. Austrian Red Cross).
In general, the promotion of youth volunteering in Austria is subject to numerous institutions and organisations at federal, provincial, regional and municipal level. For example, the OeAD as the National Agency for Education and Internationalisation promotes youth volunteering in the form of international volunteering, but also local engagement through solidarity projects. In order to obtain information and assistance on all relevant agendas in the field of youth volunteering at home and abroad, the youth information centres in the respective federal provinces, the ‘Youth Portal’ (“Jugendportal”) of the Austrian Federal Youth Network (BÖJI) as well as the nationwide network for open youth work (boja) play a central role.
The cooperation of the main actors responsible for youth volunteering depicted above is critical to enhance youth volunteering in Austria. In an institutionalised form, this takes place within the Austrian Council for Voluntary Work.
Austrian Council for Voluntary Work (Österreichischer Freiwilligenrat)
As Austria's most important cross-sectoral cooperation in the field of volunteering, the Voluntary Council has been active since 2003. Legally anchored (see Volunteering Act 2012, Section 5), it is located in the Ministry of Social Affairs as an advisory body to inform, connect, represent interests and continuously improve the framework conditions for volunteering in Austria. It thus functions as an "institutionalised dialogue forum" between civil society and the state. For a period of five years, the Council includes representatives of the federal government, the provinces, the cities and municipalities, the social partners, the political parties as well as representatives from all important areas of voluntary engagement, such as voluntary welfare; non-profit and social services; families, women; education, children's and youth work; culture; environmental, nature and animal protection; migration, volunteer centres, etc. This composition of the Austrian Voluntary Council therefore reflects the relevant groups of people in the field of volunteering and ensures their participation and involvement. To this end, the Council regularly prepares a report on the situation and development of volunteering in Austria.