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EACEA National Policies Platform


2. Voluntary Activities

2.1 General context

Last update: 28 November 2023
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  1. Historical developments
  2. Main concepts

Historical developments

Volunteering as an activity has a long history in Estonia. However, only since the turn of the millennium, has volunteering been approached in an organized way.

In Estonia, the first steps towards obtaining an evidence-based overview of volunteering were based on studies of individuals volunteering in the context of NGOs and civil society. The First National Forum of Volunteers gathered on April 25, 2003, to discuss the problems of communication between individual volunteers and organizations. It was organized by the Peipsi Center for Transboundary Cooperation, an NGO established in 1993, Tartu Volunteering Center, an NGO established in 2000 and Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations, NENO, established in 1991. 

The first and last national strategy on volunteering – Estonian National Development Plan for Volunteering 2007-2010 (Eesti vabatahtliku tegevuse arengukava aastateks 2007-2010) – was adopted in 2006. It followed the Concept of Development of Civil Society in Estonia which was adopted in 2002 by Estonian Parliament Riigikogu

Since the very beginning, the Ministry of Interior has played an important role in the process of institutionalization of volunteering and civil society, as a partner to voluntary organizations and civil society. 

Main concepts

In Estonia, there is no legal definition of volunteering in general.

There are two state-level strategies covering the field of volunteering: the Cohesive Estonia Strategy 2030 (implemented jointly by the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and the Youth Sector Development Plan 2021-2035 (implemented by the Ministry of Education and Research). There’s no definition of volunteering in both strategy.

The Cohesive Estonia Strategy 2030 (Sidus Eesti 2030) addresses volunteering in general, not specifically towards youth (although youth volunteering is also mentioned). The goal „Community Estonia“ has a metrics of the participation rate in volunteering (source: a survey on participation in volunteering) and the main key policies are:

  • To increase the social participation of older people, young people, and residents with other languages. For this:
    • increase the readiness of non-governmental organizations to engage residents with other languages, older people and young people as volunteers;
  • To encourage private persons and companies to donate. For this:
    • promote the ability of non-governmental organizations to collect donations, incl. to offer support and advice to non-governmental organizations;
    • spread participation in volunteering and donation campaigns as a form of building teamwork both in the public and private sectors.
  • To create favorable conditions for the engagement of volunteers and donations. For this:
    • reduce the costs, risks and other obstacles related to the engagement of volunteers – insurance of volunteers, secondment within the country, etc.

Youth Sector Development Plan 2021-2035 (Noortevaldkonna arengukava 2021-2035) followed the Youth Field Development Plan 2014-2020 brings out volunteering:

  • youth volunteering is a way to encourage youth entrepreneurship, creativity, and ideas;
  • youth volunteering is a way to empower young people to be active citizens, to participate and contribute meaningfully to the community;
  • the share of young people participating in voluntary activities is one indicator for the development plan's strategic goal no 2 (the starting and goal levels are to be defined yet);
  • creating youth volunteering possibilities is a way to ensure quality youth work that is available equally in different regions.

Volunteering has been described on the level of laws also, for example in the rescue and probation services. 

Volunteering is generally understood as the commitment of time, energy or skills, out of one´s free will and without getting paid. Volunteers help others or undertake activities mainly for the public benefit and the benefit of society. Helping one´s family members is not considered to be a voluntary activity. 

A similar definition of voluntary activity in Estonia is provided in ILO report: “activity voluntarily is undertaken without pay to help someone other than members of your household or relatives". It can be any kind of help to individuals directly or through organizations or associations, also self-initiative joint action for improving the environment of your neighborhood or community or activity for the benefit of the society.