Promoting volunteerism in Georgia
04 July 2005
by Mikheil Kechaqmadze
Volunteerism is essential to the process of building democracy in Georgia, a country experiencing substantial political, social and economic change, to ensure the equal participation of every member of the society in the transitional period. Every citizen must find a place and role during this decisive period for Georgia and become actively involved in the process of establishing a prosperous country with a developed civil and democratic society.
Every citizen of Georgian society should feel a burning desire in their hearts to serve the homeland and make it a better place to live. Georgians as citizens of an emerging democratic society can serve as a positive model for many post-soviet countries. I believe this could be achieved by promoting volunteerism in Georgia. Volunteerism can give the Georgian society a unique opportunity to intensify the rebuilding process by mobilizing the human and material resources.
Georgian experience with volunteerism
Volunteerism in Georgia lacks clear vision and its presence in society remains low. In general there are far fewer people involved in volunteerism than in developed democratic countries. Volunteer work does not receive much social acknowledgement and prestige. There is a low level of awareness about volunteers and volunteerism in the country.
The members of local society and organizations have a simplified understanding of volunteering and especially with regards to the policy for such activity. The policy on volunteering is generally simplified by them in an article of statute or regulation. Though many Georgian NGOs have included promoting volunteerism as one of their goals, in reality they carry out few if any volunteer activities. They do not run formal volunteer programs, instead recruiting volunteers from time to time based on their one-time needs. Furthermore, as they do not employ volunteer managers to coordinate volunteer management and recognition programs, these episodic volunteers do not receive the satisfaction for the time and efforts they give to the organizations resulting in a lot of frustration and reducing interest in volunteering.
Georgian businesses do not run the community involvement programs. They do not consider " giving back" to the community an important thing to do. The private companies lack the understanding and inspiration about the need to provide charitable support to voluntary organizations. Nor do they provide financial assistance or grants to develop social and community development programs, which would utilize volunteers as a part of the implementation strategy.
Recommendations to policy-makers in Georgia
The state government should develop a national policy on volunteerism and incorporate it with the national development goals. The policy should create a broad vision on volunteerism and define it as a national priority. It should also create the tools and mechanisms for a supportive environment insuring the sustainability of the process of promoting volunteerism in the country. The Parliament of Georgia should pass the legislation on volunteerism defining the concept of volunteerism/community service, determining the nature of relations between volunteer recruiting organizations and volunteers and regulating the methods of management of volunteer programs. The Ministry of Education should include a teaching of volunteerism/community service into the state education system. The government should establish a close cooperation with businesses to support the local volunteer organizations and initiatives.
The Georgian civic organizations should start with introducing into their work a complex approach consisting of modern methods for volunteering promotion and volunteer management. These methods have proved successful in the western countries and should be taken as the model for future activities and should be adopted to the particular cultural aspects of the country. The organizations should carry out the activities that will contribute to forming a broader, modern vision of volunteerism among the general public. One of these activities will be to conduct the regular information campaigns to raise the awareness of the public about the importance, aims, tasks and benefits of volunteerism. This should promote individual volunteerism as well as that carried out within the framework of volunteer organizations. The civic organizations should start working with the representatives of the national government on the need to develop, approve and implement the legislature on volunteerism, as it would be an important instrument for supporting the volunteer sector and for defining its legal status. On a local level, the civic organizations and the local authorities can initiate the joint community service projects aimed at addressing the problems the local communities are facing. It is very important for the organizations to introduce the various modern practices of volunteer management - defining the organizations' volunteer policy, recruiting volunteers, implementing volunteer projects/activities, evaluating and recognizing the volunteers' work. The civic organizations should establish close contacts with the educational establishments to develop the course on volunteer management and introduce it into the curriculum.
As the practice of developing countries shows the civic organizations working with young people have the immense, positive effects on their lives and greatly contribute to transforming them into active members of the society. The organizations should establish youth departments, employ the youth volunteer coordinators with the professional knowledge and management skills, and offer the youth the broad spectrum of volunteer opportunities.
The significant importance is the establishment of regular contacts and cooperation with the international volunteer organizations - UNV, IAVE, AVA, Peace Corps, etc- that will give the local organizations an invaluable opportunity to gain and introduce into their work the rich knowledge and experience these international organizations have accumulated during the decades of existence.
The civic organizations from different parts of Georgia should also establish the regional networks based on the geographical locations. Membership in such regional networks will give these organizations the opportunity to unite their resources, define general policy of promoting volunteerism in the region, implement joint projects, carry out the exchange programs, etc.
The corporations and companies should start the corporate volunteerism programs. These programs will give the companies and the community a much better opportunity to establish mutually beneficial relations. The companies should establish the institutional infrastructure for their employees and give them an opportunity to participate in the volunteer projects.
Today Georgia is in a unique position to start benefiting from its own citizens by actively involving them in the process of transforming the homelands into a much better place to live. But this objective could only be achieved if all major players of the process of promoting volunteerism - local organizations, state governments, companies, international organizations - join their efforts and establish a close cooperation to design an effective strategy for promoting this noble cause of humankind in the country.
This article is an extract from a policy brief prepared by Mikheil Kechaqmadze during a stay in the United States for the Contemporary Issues Fellowship Program, funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, US Department of State.