Toolkit of GOOD PRACTICES on Citizen Participation!


Volunteer centre


Country: Croatia

Context

LDA Sisak opened the Volunteer Centre Sisak in 2011 within its Volunteer Program that aims to develop voluntarism as an engine for socio-economic development and social cohesion at the local level. The funding for opening the Volunteer Centre was secured through EU funds, IPA Cross-border program Croatia-Bosnia and Herzegovina. LDA Sisak followed the methodology of the Youth Communication Centre Banja Luka from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Main obstacles and problems we found in recognition and validation of volunteering as a tool for socio-economic development and inclusion of vulnerable and marginalized groups are: 1) low awareness and understanding of voluntary contribution to social and community development within local communities and organizations (governmental and non-governmental); 2) social institutions and organizations providing social services do not have enough capacities (staff, resources, programs, experts) for meeting citizens’ growing social needs; 3) unemployment is growing in all age groups of citizens but especially in the groups of young high qualified persons; 4) mobility – high priority in the EU – is becoming unreachable to large number of people even within their own country; 5) growing number of people in Sisak is ready and willing to get involved in voluntary programs but the number of voluntary programs available is not proportional; and 6) welfare institutions are lacking knowledge, skills and resources for organizing, qualitative monitoring and further development of voluntary programs that directly impact socially marginalized and vulnerable beneficiaries of their services. Declaratively volunteering is recognized as a desirable value and an important instrument for community development and social cohesion and therefore volunteer centers are key social infrastructure with a mandate for development of local volunteering and all benefits that it brings to a local community.

Measure

Volunteer Centre Sisak (VCS) is a local volunteers' centre intended for volunteer programs for the development and implementation in Sisak area. VCS is working on community development through volunteering, connecting people who want to work with institutions and organizations that need volunteers. Volunteering can be long-term or short-term, depending on each program.

 Moreover VCS:
· In cooperation with public institutions and non-governmental organizations creates and implements the quality of local programs based on identifying the needs of the local community and potential beneficiaries of the programs.
· Recruits volunteers and keeps a database, provides preparation of volunteers if needed, organizes training, supervision, monitoring and program implementation evaluation and secures legal volunteers' engagement. 
· Builds capacities of public institutions and non-governmental organizations in order to set up a high-quality and effective volunteers' management. Promotes and develops volunteering as such, in cooperation with public institutions and non-governmental organizations, and works on local volunteer policy development together with local authorities.

The main objective is to contribute to the development and influence of high-quality volunteering for social-economic development and social cohesion in Sisak through specific actions:
1.     Local stakeholders’ capacity building for development of voluntary programs in accordance to their needs
2.     Public campaign and advocacy activities for awareness raising on volunteering benefits
3.     Providing opportunities to citizens to be engaged in voluntary programs that fit their interest but also respond to the needs of the most vulnerable society groups at the same time.

Target Group

Volunteer programs organizers - public institutions, local/regional authorities and civil society organizations; all non-profit bodies that are entitled to engage volunteers in accordance to the Law on Volunteering
· Volunteers - citizens who can provide volunteer services based on the Law on Volunteering
· Local/regional authorities - providing political support to the Volunteer Centre and jointly developing policies, strategies and plans for further volunteering development at all community levels
· Beneficiaries of volunteer programs - different groups of citizens in social, cultural, ecological, sports and similar areas of local life. Most beneficiaries are members of socially marginalized and vulnerable groups and/or members of groups at risk of social exclusion
· Media - especially local media that are a great tool for informing the local community on volunteering opportunities and for campaigning and advocacy activities
· Local community - all citizens; raising awareness on benefits of volunteering and promoting volunteering as a positive social value.

Methodology

The focus is on local networking development and building a sustainable local volunteering infrastructure.

The methodology is divided in three main components:
1.     Supporting partnership development at the local level between civil society organizations and social, welfare and educational public institutions, as also development and sustainable functioning of local volunteering infrastructure (local volunteer centers);
2.     Supporting the networking among civil society organizations and social, welfare and educational public institutions through networking activities;
3.     Raising awareness of citizens within the local community on importance of volunteering towards quality cooperation and networking.

Volunteer Centre Sisak is providing the following services to the local community:
Informing - volunteer programs organizers and volunteers on legal framework, instruments for recruiting volunteers, volunteering opportunities and all other data regarding volunteering.
Training - volunteer programs organizers on volunteers’ management and volunteer program creation.
Networking - of volunteer programs organizers in the Sisak area.
Recruiting - volunteers according to particular requests of the volunteer programs organizers (searching database).
Connecting - volunteers with volunteer programs organizers.
Consulting – for volunteer programs organizers and volunteers (particularities of each program, help in developing contracts with volunteers and other administrative instruments).
Issuing – volunteering information leaflets to volunteer programs organizers.

Stakeholders

All stakeholders in a community who are entitled to engage volunteers by the Law on Volunteering; in Croatia they are non-profit institutions and CSOs including local/regional government.
The town of Sisak had and still has an important role in providing political support to the Volunteer Centre, especially in the current process of the development of the Local voluntary policy of Sisak. Moreover, the town of Sisak has started to provide small financial support to the centre in the past two years.
Public institutions and CSOs are networking more thanks to common voluntary programs.
Local citizens are very important stakeholders since they are the ones who actually contribute to the achievement of the objectives.
The Croatian Network of Volunteer Centres developed a set of standards for volunteer centers operating and made a great effort for the recognition of volunteering and of the role of the centers at the national level. LDA Sisak is a member of the network involved in national campaigns and processes at the local level.

Assessment

The objective is set on a long run and foresees permanent and diverse activities. LDA Sisak set up Volunteer Centre Sisak in 2011, and in only 4 years there have already been great achievements in the sense of the impact on the target groups and of the recognition of the Volunteer Centre in the community but at the national level as well. The process in not over and there are much more efforts and human resources needed to meet the growing needs of the community. Following the snowball effect, we are discovering new perspectives of work on a daily basis.

Impact

Volunteer programs organizers – representatives of 15 institutions/organizations received training in volunteers’ management; over 20 institutions/organizations organizing voluntary programs are receiving ongoing support
· Volunteers – more voluntary programs offered in the community; 145 registered in database of the Volunteer Centre Sisak whereof over 80 engaged in different voluntary programs for 14,884 hours
· Local/regional authorities – growing awareness on importance of volunteering for community development; getting more involved in different events/activities/campaigns that promote solidarity and volunteering
· Beneficiaries of volunteer programs – quality of life improved; 5,427 direct beneficiaries
· Media – regularly include topics on volunteering in their program; more educated on what volunteering is
· Local community – slightly more aware of volunteering benefits; positive attitude.

Swot

1. Strengths:

Knowledge, skills, methodology and tools for operating as a volunteer center:
-          Only volunteer centre in Sisak
-          Volunteer Centre Sisak as strategic direction in the LDA Sisak Strategy (sustainability)
-          Developed network of associates within local community
-          Community accepts, understands and recognizes the work of the Volunteer Centre
-          Existing premises for work
-          Recognized as valuable partner and co-operator in voluntary sector – knowledge in project drafting and fundraising
-          Membership in networks (Croatian Network of Volunteer Centres, South East European Youth Network)

2. Weaknesses:

 -          Not sufficient funds for hiring full-time Coordinator of the volunteer centre and adequate promotion of the centre in wider community 
-          More human resources needed

3. Opportunities:

-          Providing training on volunteering to different groups of citizens
-          Providing training on volunteer management to social partners
-          Community and main stakeholders beginning to understand our work and providing support the Volunteer Centre’s work
-          Citizens’ change of awareness on values promoted by volunteering occurred
-          Local voluntary policy (if adopted) used for developing strategic and action plans for local development of volunteering
-          Memberships in networks (Croatian Network of Volunteer Centres, South East European Youth Network)

 4. Threats:
 -          Some of the relevant stakeholders do not understand the role of volunteer centre (mistaking the role of the centre for a single voluntary program)
-          Left without any financial resources (projects do not get grants)
-          Potential blocking of local voluntary policy adoption
-          Social partners do not want to get educated on volunteer management

Social partners do not want to get educated on volunteer management

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