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Volunteer Now’s Chief Executive Shares Experience with Russian Colleagues

18 November 2013

On 5 November I travelled to Russia to speak at the 10th All Russian Conference on Volunteerism.

The conference theme was Strategy for Volunteering Development in Russia – 2020 Road Map. The conference was organised by the Russian Centre for the Development of Volunteering. Galina Bodrenkova, the President of the organisation had invited me to present at the conference and to facilitate a one day workshop prior to the conference for volunteer centres from across Russia, this included one of the organisations involved in recruiting volunteers for the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games to be held in Sochi in February 2014.

Russia visit
Wendy Osborne with organisers of the 2014 Winter Olympics

At the time of my visit there was a debate going on about whether Russia needed a Federal Law to support volunteering and individuals were very keen to find out what was the legal basis for volunteering in the UK. There is of course no volunteer law in the UK it is rooted in the concept of democracy and the rights of the individual to freedom of association. Various pieces of legislation can impact on volunteering and the key one is employment law, good practice in volunteer involvement clearly identifies the need to maintain the distinction between volunteers and employees. Volunteer Now’s information sheet Volunteers and the Law sets out the necessary information and guidelines. However it is clear that for a number of European countries where voluntary action has not been the societal norm that if volunteering is not covered within a legislative framework then there may be a concern as to whether it can take place. One of the conference workshops considered the theme of legislation and I was glad to note that in the conference feedback it was obvious that people did not want specific Federal legislation for volunteering and felt there was enough scope within existing Russian law to support volunteer involvement.

Russia visit
10th All Russian Conference in Volunteerism

Russia is interested in establishing a support framework for volunteering and my presentation allowed me to reference Northern Ireland’s Volunteering Strategy, there was a great deal of interest in the document and a number of Government officials went home carrying a copy under their arm. We may yet see strands of our own policy document replicated within the Russian 2020 Road Map for volunteering!

The pre conference workshop allowed me to explore in detail the challenges faced by the relatively new volunteer sector. The emergence of volunteering is intrinsically linked with the emergence of Russian civil society. In this environment we see clearly that there is no civil society without volunteers. At the moment it appears that volunteers in Russia are predominantly young people and that one of the challenges is not only to increase the number of volunteers but also the diversity.  Other key challenges are the need for co-ordination with an emphasis on the development of a strong volunteering infrastructure to support promotion, provide standards of practice and access to training; an increasing demand for volunteers and a lack of appropriate funding support. These are not unfamiliar challenges and there was therefore much common ground between myself and my Russian colleagues even though we spoke a different language.

It was a privilege to spend time sharing Volunteer Now’s experience and expertise and learning from an emerging volunteering sector within the largest country in the world.

~ Wendy Osborne OBE
Chief Executive, Volunteer Now