2.7 Social inclusion through volunteering
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Support to young volunteers
The Austrian Agency for Education and Internationalization (OeAD) has developed a national strategy for inclusion within the European Solidarity Corps (ESK) on the European Commission's integration and diversity strategy. The program, called 'Inclusion in the ESC' ("Inklusion im ESK"), aims to involve young people with fewer opportunities in volunteering projects. It offers various formats for organizations and companies and provides additional financial support to both organizations and volunteers to overcome barriers and ensure the participation of all young people in volunteering. In the following, the projects are presented below:
Short-term volunteer projects (Kurzzeit-Freiwilligenprojekte)
Within the framework of short-term volunteer projects, disadvantaged young people in particular have the opportunity to gain experience in an organisational environment during shorter assignments (between 2 weeks and 2 months) and to make an important contribution to the project. In the process, volunteers receive support services in the form of flat-rate travel allowances and pocket money to compensate for their expenses. Organisations can apply for financial support (lump sum) for project management and implementation (e.g. project preparation, transport costs, supervision, etc.) as well as for increased supervision and additional expenses for the inclusion of disadvantaged young people. Additional needs for the inclusion of disadvantaged young people (e.g. personal support, sign language interpreters, translation, etc.) can be applied for and fully funded in advance.
Volunteer team format (Freiwilligenteams)
The volunteer team format allows organizations and companies to involve a group of 10-40 young people in a project. The goal is to have a diverse mix of participants, including those with fewer opportunities, to lower the initial threshold for young people and have a positive impact on project outcomes. This program provides volunteers with support funds (lump sums) for travel expenses (depending on distance) as well as an allowance in the form of pocket money. Organization can receive allowances (lump sums) for project management and implementation (preparation, accommodation, on-site transportation costs, supervision, etc.) as well as for increased supervision and additional expenses for the inclusion of disadvantaged youth. Other additional costs related to the involvement of disadvantaged youth can be requested and fully funded in advance.
National volunteer projects (Nationale Projekte Österreich)
As a new format feature of the European Solidarity Corps, National volunteer projects offer young people with fewer opportunities to get involved in national project activities. This means that organizations, companies and communities where projects (short- and long-term assignments) are carried out by young people living in Austria are also based in the country. This format is intended to give all those the opportunity to engage in solidarity and gain initial experience for whom the hurdles of a stay abroad seem to high at the moment.
Solidarity projects (Solidaritätsprojekte)
The solidarity projects format offers organizations working with young people and developing a local project, the opportunity to engage with disadvantaged youth in the local community. Solidarity projects in Austria are supported by lump sums for project management costs as well as allowances for services of a coach. In the spirit of social inclusion, exceptional costs (e.g. personal assistance, sign language interpreters, translation etc.) will be covered fully.
As a rule, all formats offer additional subsidies to cover expenses for the inclusion of disadvantaged young people in addition to basic funding. In the context of voluntary services, this corresponds to a lump sum of €8 per day of deployment. Instead or in addition, so called “extraordinary costs” can be applied for in all project formats, which can be covered up to 100% on the basis of the actual costs incurred. This is intended to promote the inclusion of young people with fewer opportunities for participation on an equal footing. Further information on the individual formats and support allowances can be found on in the program manual.
Support Benefits for Young Volunteers in Regulated Volunteer Programs
Voluntary Social Year in Austria (Freiwilliges Sozialjahr im Inland)
During the Voluntary Social Year in Austria, young volunteers receive and extension of their family allowance until they reach the age of 24. They also receive pocket money (Taschengeld), which is set between 50% and 100% of the marginal earnings limit specified in the General Social Insurance Act. The specific amount of pocket money is determined by each institution within legal provisions. In addition to cash, some institutions may provide benefits in kind such as meals, accommodation, and work clothes. Social security coverage, including health, accident, and pension insurance, is provided, and participants receive benefits from health insurance in case of illness. Although participants are not entitled to unemployment insurance, their framework period is extended through the voluntary social year.
Social Service Abroad (Sozialdienst im Ausland), Peace Service Abroad (Friedensdienst im Ausland), and Memorial Service Abroad (Gedenkdienst im Ausland)
For volunteers participating in the Social Service Abroad, Peace Service Abroad, and Memorial Service Abroad, the family allowance is paid until they reach the age of 24. They also receive pocket money ranging from 10% to 100% of the marginal earnings limit defined in the General Social Security Act. However, benefits in kind such as accommodation, meals, and work clothes are not legally required and may vary based on the placement agencies' policies. Social insurance coverage, including health, accident, and pension insurance, is provided, and volunteers receive benefits from health insurance in case of illness. Although there is no unemployment insurance available for volunteers, the framework period can be extended through the Voluntary Social Year.
Voluntary Environmetal Protection Year (Freiwilliges Umweltschutzjahr, FUJ)
Participants in the Voluntary Environmental Protection Year receive a monthly pocket money of 240 euros since the FUJ year 2019/20. They are provided with at least two meals per day, either through direct meals on site, financial subsidies in the form of meal vouchers, or food provisions. Accommodation during the program or a monthly support of €95 can be offered, although these additional benefits are voluntary and not legally mandated (Spreitzer 2019:42).
The assignment location covers the costs of an Austrian Federal Railway advantage card (ÖBB Vorteilscard) and travel expenses from the place of residence to the assignment location, which can be agreed upon in various forms such as a youth network card, ÖBB Vorteilscard, or kilometre allowance. The sponsoring organization reimburses travel costs for course modules within Austria (Spreitzer 2019:42). Insurance premiums are paid for accident, health, pension, and liability insurance. The liability insurance covers damages to individuals and objects outside the assignment site, excluding electronic devices. However, internal damages at the operation site are the responsibility of the site itself (ibid.).
In Austria, there is no national policy at the highest level to strengthen and develop social cohesion and integration in areas where volunteering takes place. However, initiatives, programmes and platforms that promote community building at international, national, regional and municipal level are partly funded by the state.
- As an agency of the federal government, the OeAD has coordinated the Austrian EuroPeers (EuroPeers Österreich) network since 2020. The community of young people who have participated in the EU programmes 'European Solidarity Corps' (ESK) or 'Erasmus+Youth' (Erasmus+Jugend) at home and abroad passes on their experiences to other young people. By participating in national and international EuroPeers exchange meetings, the network contributes to the shaping of a solidary and democratic Europe. Different target groups are addressed. Disadvantaged young people are also to be reached and involved directly and immediately through the peer-to-peer approach.
- The European Solidarity Corps mobility programme offers young people in Europe a wide range of "solidarity and community-building" activities. In addition to individual volunteer placements at home and abroad (in EU Member States), the ESC also offers support for local group activities. So-called 'solidarity projects' (Solidaritätsprojekte) enable a group of people between the ages 18 and 30 to implement a project idea over a period of two to twelve months that has a positive impact on the young people's immediate region or place of residence. The project thus benefits other people and promotes a sense of community. This sense of community is also present at European level, as the young participants are part of a larger network - the European Solidarity Network EuSN. By sharing their experiences with other young people, the young volunteers stay connected to this network.
- In the individual provinces of Austria, there are numerous institutions and platforms for networking volunteer organisations and volunteers. Not only do they offer comprehensive information on volunteering, but they also contribute to exchange, networking and community building. The province of Upper Austria, for example, offers a platform for networking in the non-profit sector with the 'Volunteering Exchange' (Börse Ehrenamt). Such exchange and networking platforms also exist in other federal provinces.
- In an effort to work together to improve the voluntary sector and to promote the networking of existing structures of volunteer centres, agencies and associations, the volunteer centres in the federal provinces have also joined forces to form a community of interest (Interessensgemeinschaft Freiwilligenzentren Österreich - IGFÖ). As one of about 60 other European volunteer organisations, the IGFÖ is also part of the European network of volunteer centres CEV.
- In other respects, digital networks are also increasingly creating new opportunities to network and promote social inclusion. This can happen at the local level and in connection with real support services and meetings, but also with international communities.
Tackling societal challenges
The Voluntary Social Year and the Voluntary Environmental Protection Year, established under the Austrian Volunteer Act 2012 (FreiwG 2012), offer young people the opportunity to engage in social welfare and assistance projects for the common good. The Voluntary Social Year focuses on areas such as assistance for the elderly, refugees, the homeless, and emergency services, while the Voluntary Environmental Protection Year focuses on environmental protection, sustainable development, and organic farming.
Under the European Solidarity Corps (ESK) programs, managed by the Austrian National Agency for Education and Internationalisation (OeAD), young people aged 18 to 30 can participate in voluntary service within non-profit organizations in Europe and neighbouring regions. This includes various fields such as the environment, social affairs, refugee work, and support for individuals with disabilities. The European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps, previously known as EU Aid Volunteers, is also part of the ESC program, allowing young people aged 18 to 35 to volunteer in third countries involved in ongoing humanitarian aid operations. These initiatives provide opportunities for young volunteers to contribute to society and address societal challenges by improving the living conditions of those in need (see European Solidarity Corps Guide 2023:59).