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Slovenia has a long tradition of voluntary work. In particular, volunteering is the basis of operation for fire brigade societies, societies of retired people, friends of youth societies, mountaineering and sports societies, the Red Cross, Caritas, self-help organisations and numerous other humanitarian, cultural and sports organisations. Voluntary activities are deeply rooted in our society, in particular, they are predominantly used in solving the most difficult social problems and unveiling the problems of individuals and groups where state institutions have not yet been involved, or have ceased to be. Voluntary work is predominantly carried out in non-governmental organisations, such as societies, private institutions, foundations, but also in some public institutions (health, social security, education).
The history of volunteering in Slovenia goes back to the 18th and 19th centuries, when voluntary organisations emerged in the domain of culture and education. The Church, in particular the Catholic Church, has played an important role in the development of charities and humanitarian aid. Before the Second World War, other types of voluntary organisations were also established by craftsmen who organised themselves by sector - production, finance and insurance. Estimates suggest that prior to WWII there were roughly 7,000 civil society organisations (including voluntary organisations) in existence.
However, the creation of the Socialistic Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (1943-1991) marked an important change in the development of grassroots organisations and of a voluntary sector. Many voluntary organisations were either forbidden by the State or were placed under State control. During this period, volunteering survived in various areas of activity such as humanitarian aid (for example, the fire service or the Red Cross) and in local tourism, culture and sports. The voluntary work at this time included traditional activities organised by the central administration and primarily performed by young people volunteering for sports organisations, fire brigades, and organisations involved in the protection against natural disasters.
In the 1970s a process of decentralisation began with the adoption of the new Associations Act in 1974, which marked the development of modern non-governmental organisations in Slovenia. As a result, the number of NGOs and volunteers has significantly increased from the mid-1970s onwards in what can be described as a bottom-up approach. However, despite some rejuvenation of the sector during this time, the insufficient support from the socialist state and the general public meant that voluntary organisations remained under-developed. After the 1980s, new social movements emerged (promoting peace, environmental, human rights, spiritual and other movements), which in turn helped the development of the NGO sector.
Following the collapse of the socialist bloc and the process of economic transition, the importance of volunteering and the third sector began to increase significantly. This was facilitated by interventions by various national advocacy non-governmental organisations, as well as by international NGOs - for example, the Soros Foundation, which enabled the establishment of NGOs in the fields of human rights, the protection of minorities, women’s rights, and ecology at national level. The process of accession to the European Union has also helped to encourage Slovenia to fully align with the European standards of dialogue and partnership with the civil society.
Volunteering Act (Zakon o prostovoljstvu), adopted on 3 February 2011 by the National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia and amended on 21 October 2015, defines volunteering as a socially beneficial unpaid activity of individuals, who, through their work, knowledge and experience contribute to the quality of life of individuals and social groups, and to the development of a solidary, humane and equal society. Volunteering strengthens mutual solidarity of people, promote the development of human skills and lifelong learning, ensuring social cohesion and cooperation in solving the problems of individuals and society.
Volunteering Act defines organised volunteering as well as voluntary service. Organized volunteering has to be in accordance with the provisions of this Act should be exercised within the framework of voluntary organizations, as defined by the first paragraph of Article 9 of this Act, and the individual work performed regularly and at least 24 hours per year. Voluntary Service is organized volunteering by a volunteer performed at least 20 hours per week over a period of at least six months without interruption.
Youth volunteering is not defined in the Slovenian legislation, apart from the Act on Public Interest in the Youth Sector where youth volunteering is defined as one of the areas where youth sector is involved. Therefore, volunteering represents a vital part of the youth field and is related to many other areas, important for young people, mainly youth participation and non-formal learning. Youth participation within youth organisations, other civil society organisations, schools, etc. mainly consists of voluntary engagement. Such activities can also be characterised as non-formal learning, as they include the gaining of competence and work experience outside the framework of formal education.