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EACEA National Policies Platform
Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina

2. Voluntary Activities

2.1 General context

Last update: 28 November 2023

Volunteerism has a long history in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), linked to strong community solidarity. Family members and neighbors supported those in need (e.g., to organize big social events such as weddings or funerals). This well-rooted custom is called “moba” and was particularly common in rural areas. Traditionally, religious institutions also encouraged volunteerism. The four primary religions represented in BiH (Islam, Orthodox, Catholicism and Judaism) formed “the basis for certain social norms such as mutual help and voluntary work for the benefit of the wider community”, and organized assistance to the most vulnerable. This tradition continues today, with volunteer activities organized by a wide range of civil society organizations.

After World War II, in the newly founded Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, religious groups lost their significance and volunteerism was overseen by the State. However, community volunteer opportunities continued to exist, particularly for youth, although they were unrecognized legally. State authorities organized and controlled unpaid work through several government associations, for example, the Socialist Union of the Working People of Yugoslavia (SSRNJ). Work was organized on multiple levels of state administration. Children and youth participated in mainly environmental activities through obligatory school programs; members of the Union of the Socialist Youth (SSO) participated in popular Youth Working Actions (Radne Akcije), which supported large-scale community works that involved construction and reconstruction. Youth participation was viewed as highly positive, although most so-called “volunteer” work was organized by the central government and lacked social or democratic involvement or community ownership. Understandably, since that time, volunteerism has been viewed as reactive not proactive, which, in part, explains why the BiH voluntary sector is underdeveloped. After the 1990s conflict and during successful implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement, civil society development and volunteerism focused on humanitarian aid for reconstruction and development. Since BiH local and entity governments have limited resources to provide social services using existing infrastructure, non-governmental and voluntary sectors assumed a major role in social services and community development activities.

From 1995 after the end of conflict in BiH, and together with the processes of civil society development and democratisation, volunteering has become more popular, especially amongst youth. According to the Socio-economic Perceptions of Young People in Bosnia and Herzegovina published by United Nations Development Programme BiH (UNDP BiH) in 2017, the 13.8% of young people took part in some of the voluntary activities in the last 12 month. This is a huge improvement compared to National Human Development Report - The Ties That Bind: Social Capital in Bosnia and Herzegovina published by the UNDP, where around 4, 5% of BiH citizens stated that they were doing or have done some kind of voluntary work in 2008. 

While 13.8% of respondents from BiH state that they were involved in volunteering activities, at the level of the European Union (EU) this percentage is almost twice as high. The information from the European Youth Flash Eurobarometer, a survey conducted in 2014, shows that 25% of young people from EU were involved in volunteering activities in the 12 preceding months.

In BiH, volunteer work is not a new concept; it has deep cultural roots.  However, a strategic and structured approach to volunteerism has yet to be developed, including a national framework with robust legal and institutional guidelines.

There is no National Law on volunteering that gives the definition of volunteerism and The Law on Volunteering in Republic of Srpska (RS) and Law on Volunteering in Federation BiH (FBiH) define volunteering as: organised activity in the interest and common benefit of the RS/FBiH that contributes to improvement of living quality, active citizens’ participation and development of more humanistic and more equal democratic society.