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The concept of volunteering traditionally includes both voluntary work and voluntary activities, which are a type of civic activity and a way to engage in civil society. This also applies to youth volunteering. The field of civil society organisations is very heterogeneous in Finland, and young people volunteer in several active roles in these organisations.
It is traditionally thought in Finland that the welfare state rather than the non-formal sector, should guarantee services. Thus, it is often claimed that voluntary activities should not replace public services. However, volunteering is on the policy agenda and its significance for many different sectors, including sport and youth sector, is recognised. Youth volunteering is seen as a way of learning citizenship skills, encouraging participation and gaining a sense of community.
Public authorities do not organise youth volunteering in Finland, but they do support it in many ways. One of the most important public actors in Finland is the Ministry of Education and Culture, which supports and funds youth organisations. Many of these organisations have a long history and therefore their position in the field of youth policy and youth work, and in society generally is extremely important.
At the national level, the Youth Act promotes the social inclusion of young people and provides them with opportunities. Voluntary activities can support these goals and improve the quality of one’s own life. Especially, if a young person is not employed, nor in education, voluntary activities can offer meaningful experiences and develop skills.
Some changes have been made in the area of volunteering related to the Government Programmes. Previous executive director of the Citizen Forum, Leo Stranius, wrote on June 3rd 2019 in the Forum’s Webarena that 'the significance of the civic society is clearly acknowledged in the Government programme for the years 2019-2023.' According to Stranius, several proposals by Citizen Forum’s 48 non-governmental organisations have been well taken into account in the actual government programme. Among these were several proposals regarding volunteering and young people. According to Stranius, the following suggested goals have been recognised in the government programme:
- Updating the democracy policy with the goal of promoting volunteering.
- Including volunteering in the activity model for the unemployed.
- Improving communication with young people by implementing new tools.
- Recognising and acknowledging the skills gained and learned from volunteering, by improving cooperation between schools and organisations.
- Reaffirming democracy and human rights education in schools, having ministerial activities within student organisations; updating democratic policies to recognise youth participation.
Stranius concludes, that ‘With this government programme, we have a good chance of making Finland the best place in the world to volunteer.'
According to the earlier Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’ Government Programme 2015-2019, strict regulation might pose an obstacle for voluntary activities. Thus, the Government aims to decrease the regulations of Finnish society in order to improve the operational environment of volunteering. The ten-year goal of the government is to increase a sense of community and to make it easier to become involved in voluntary activities by removing the obstacles standing in the way of volunteering.
There is no legal definition of volunteering in Finland and a wide range of different definitions are used. As mentioned above, the concept of volunteering includes both voluntary work and voluntary activities.
Finland’s youth sector has adopted the Council Recommendation on the Mobility of Young Volunteers of 2008. According to the recommendation, voluntary activities are open to all young people, undertaken by their own free will in the general interest for a sustained period within a clear framework, that is either unpaid or with a token payment and/or reimbursement of expenses. As the recommendation emphasises, voluntary activities provide an informal educational and learning experience through which young people may develop their professional and social skills, and competences. Thereby, these activities enhance their employability and active citizenship, while benefiting local communities and fostering social cohesion.
The key words that appear in most definitions of volunteering are: ‘unpaid activity’, ‘for the benefit of others’, and ‘act of free will’. In other words, voluntary activities are understood to be a non-paid activity carried out for the public good that is based on civic participation.
Sometimes organised volunteering is differentiated from informal activities like neighbour help, but it has become increasingly more common to describe volunteering as an activity that encompasses both. Around two-thirds of volunteers take part in organised volunteering through voluntary organisations, whereas the remaining third volunteer through informal channels.