Grundtvig European Conference on Adult Volunteering

  1. Conference objectives, programme and further details of the programme
  2. Conference proceedings (presentations and conclusions)
  3. Extract of the evaluation report from the conference
  4. Raport z ewaluacji konferencji
  5. Photo gallery


(polska wersja językowa)

Adult volunteering was the topic of the conference organised by the Polish National Agency for the Grundtvig Programme. The conference was held in Warsaw on 23-26 November 2011 and attracted over 120 people from 32 countries - representatives of the European Commission, National Agencies and beneficiaries of the Grundtvig Programme. During the conference they discussed of volunteering, which creates many opportunities for adult learning and the role of the Grundtvig Programme in supporting and promoting adult volunteering. Precisely these days, the European Commission has announced - adding piquancy to the Grundtvig conference - details of the new European educational programme (for 2014-2020) - Erasmus for all.

Why adult volunteering?

Voluntary activities of young people are not surprising anymore. But adult volunteering, especially of seniors, still causes astonishment in many countries. Meanwhile, Europe is the house in which more and more adult and elderly people live. They want not only to develop own skills and competences but also to contribute to society while sharing their life and professional experience and knowledge. “Adult volunteering contributes to the growth of human and social capital, it is an effective pathway to employment and a major factor in social cohesion” – said Géraldine Libreau from the European Commission at the opening plenary session. Just before her speech, the conference was officially opened by Marcin Rolnik - LLP Director in Polish National Agency and Alan Smith - Grundtvig Coordinator at the European Commission. During the first plenary session, participants had also the pleasure to listen to the two opening speeches: by Stanisław Drzażdżewski, General Counsellor at the Ministry of National Education (Poland) and by Nick Ockenden - Director of the Institute for Volunteering Research (United Kingdom).

Good practices – good encouragement...

There is a tradition at the thematic Grundtvig conferences to present the examples of good practice from across Europe. Therefore, the conference started with the European Fair – exhibition of projects focused on adult volunteering. Dozens of projects from different European countries evidenced that the adult volunteers do not only learn but also share their knowledge and skills. Good practices are certainly an inspiration for new projects and the prism through which organisations evaluate their own ideas. “If not for information about these great projects, I'd not know whether my idea is really good” – said one of the Polish participants of the conference. “Besides, thanks to examples of good practice I am convinced that the results of the projects can be much deeper than it seems to me during preparatory phase of my project” - she added.

A meaningful part of the European Fair, which helped in getting to know each other better and in building good atmosphere, was a common tasting of specialties which were brought by representatives of various countries. Visiting a country table not only resulted in gathering a huge amount of material about the projects but also in “tasting of the environment” in which these projects have been implemented.

The examples of good practice have been discussed during the whole conference. During the opening session, Géraldine Libreau presented the European Commission's latest publication: “Adult Volunteering: Learning for Life” which shows the best examples of good practice in the area of Grundtvig projects focused on volunteering. Then, Kate Glynn, Volunteer Coordinator at The Manchester Museum, informed about the Senior Volunteering Project, implemented by the museum and about other activities involving adult volunteers, including people with disabilities. She presented a brief, touching film about the positive changes that have occurred in the lives of volunteers working at the museum. Examples of good practice were also shown by the experienced beneficiaries of the Grundtvig programme during each of the thematic workshops.

Thematic workshops

Three thematic workshops were held during the conference. Each one was led by the experts in the field of adult volunteering, who are beneficiaries of the Grundtvig programme, as well as by representatives of the National Agencies for this programme.

The first workshop on learning during preparatory phase to volunteering, was led by Izabella Csordás from the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest and Dennis Wacht from the National Agency in the Netherlands. During the workshop, participants discussed about what a person should learn while preparing to volunteering and what learn the sending and hosting organisation. Among the most important issues discussed were: recognition of skills, knowledge and preferences of the potential volunteer – so in order to best fit the character of the future work; understanding the nature of voluntary work, the volunteers’ role and responsibilities and learning on-the-job about the tasks; learning about the specificity of the host organisation and the region, including cultural and social context; getting to know the colleagues, "feeling" the atmosphere of place and values that are important to the organisation.

The second workshop on learning during volunteering and follow-up was led by Anita Prosser from the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, Carine De Volder from the Belgian organisation “Het Perspectief” and Maude Sire from the French National Agency. The participants of the workshop discussed not only about what kind of skills and knowledge have been acquired by the volunteers at work, but also how their attitudes to life, attitude to their own careers and to their social role have been changed. During the workshop participants also discussed how to recognize volunteers’ learning outcomes and how to certificate them. The participants stressed that it is extremely important to maintain the level of motivation, commitment and responsibilities of volunteers, naturally high in the beginning. Due to the fact that adult volunteers are also very often facilitators of learning of people, who are the beneficiaries of their work, they need appropriate conditions to share their knowledge and skills.

The third workshop, led by Esther Gelabert from BELIES Consulting in Spain, Martijn Pakker from the European Volunteer Centre in Belgium and Renilde Reynders from the Belgian (Flemish) National Agency, was dedicated to the European support for adult volunteering: the role of Grundtvig and other funding programmes. During the workshop the participants emphasized an important role of Grundtvig in creating a friendly atmosphere for adult volunteering, developing the awareness of local communities in which projects are implemented and creating learning opportunities for volunteers, especially on the level of personal development, and often - as a consequence – professional development. At this workshop, participants discussed in details recommended improvements to Grundtvig actions, which could contribute to better promote volunteering as a way of adult learning. The proposed improvements related in particular to Senior Volunteering Projects and included the following: opening of this action for all adults aged 30+; developing a simple tool for assessing the skills acquired through volunteering (identification of learning outcomes); introducing of the total lump sum approach (following the example of the Grundtvig Learning Partnerships); shortening the duration of projects up to one year and increasing the minimum number of volunteers to be sent.

The workshops, conducted using various active methods, allowed representatives of National Agencies and beneficiaries-experts to exchange ideas and experiences, and motivate each other to further work towards a better use of limited funds of Grundtvig programme for developing adult volunteering.

Meet each other in order to work better

A very important part of the conference was a networking and consultancy session for the beneficiaries of the Grundtvig programme, in which they could find partners and jointly develop new projects on various topics related to adult volunteering. During this hour and a half session, there were created frames for at least nine projects on topics related to: recognition of competences gained through volunteering, environment, social involvement of older people, intergenerational cooperation, etc. It is worth mentioning that the projects whose future partners can meet face to face at the stage of discussing the concepts of the project, have the best chance for successful implementation. In such circumstances partners can thoroughly discuss the ideas and plan concrete actions. “Our best projects were created during the contact seminars – said a beneficiary from Finland – so I’ve always looked for opportunities to meet the partners personally, before I write a new proposal. And after today’s session, I’m coming back to Finland with the almost completed proposal. What a great saving of time!”.

Adult volunteering - important and necessary

Alan Smith, the Grundtvig Coordinator, presented the conclusions and outcomes from the conference. He stressed that volunteering is an extremely valuable form of informal adult education which allows the volunteers to gain a lot of technical and organisational skills, but above all “soft skills”: sense of leadership and responsibility, teamwork, self-confidence, awareness of own capabilities, sense of solidarity between generations and with disadvantaged people, communication and intercultural skills, etc. In his speech, Alan Smith also specified recommendations for improvements in order to adult volunteering has been really successful. He stressed, inter alia, the need to strengthen awareness – of volunteers, as well as organisers and decision makers - that adult volunteering contains a very important dimension of learning. Certainly, the cooperation between the various actions of the Grundtvig programme is essential in order to promote and support volunteering in a more efficient way. Alan Smith also stated that several administrative issues should be solved, particularly those concerning the Senior Volunteering Projects (SVP) action, for example the minimum duration of mobility, the minimum number of volunteers, more flexible use of budget. Proposed amendments will increase the interest in this Grundtvig action, which is, among all Grundtvig actions, the most focused on volunteering.

Conclusions and suggestions proposed by Alan Smith were related to the current Grundtvig Programme, which operates within the framework of the Lifelong Learning Programme. According to the statement of the European Commission, publicly announced on 23 November 2011, from 2014 the structural changes regarding the future EU's education programme would come into force. Grundtvig is cease to exist as a separate program. It will be, as well as other LLP sectoral programmes, replaced by a new programme titled Erasmus for all. This does not mean, however, that such important matters as the opportunity of adult learning through volunteering cease to be important for the European Commission. This idea may be developed, e.g. through strategic partnerships.

Double farewell

The closing of the conference was a particularly solemn time. It was the last official conference of the current Grundtvig Programme Coordinator, the retiring Alan Smith, who was accepting thanks for the long-term cooperation, jokingly said: ”I finish work in Grundtvig, now it's time to be a volunteer”.

Participation in the official plenary sessions, in the workshops and in the foyer discussions, working on joint proposals and learning best practices, allowed the conference participants to assess how many important functions may perform volunteering in adult life. Participants spoke with one voice that they felt more inspired and motivated. The findings and experiences from the conference would have a direct, positive impact on their professional work and personal commitment to volunteering. The words of Mahatma Gandhi, quoted at one of the workshops have engraved deeply in the hearts of the participants: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever”.

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