When referring to solidarity, digitalisation and community development, there is a European initiative that puts all these themes together: the European Solidarity Corps. Created with the aim of helping local communities and of giving young people the possibility to experience solidarity while gaining useful skills for their future, this initiative has become always more important within the European Union, attracting many NGOs and young people to participate. It raised awareness about different topics and helped to shape an idea of “European solidarity”. Considering the rising issues within the European Union, like, most recently, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ESC, thanks to digitalisation, is bound to become always more popular within EU youth.
What it is?
The European Solidarity Corps is an initiative of the EU launched in 2016 by the former President of the Commission Jean-Claude Juncker as an answer to a crisis that many European countries were experiencing. The ESC launched its operations in 2018 with the aim of promoting solidarity projects that benefit local communities and people around Europe while also creating opportunities for young people. The ESC is in fact aimed at addressing people from 18 to 30 years old (up to 35 for humanitarian activities) that will have the opportunity to work in nonprofitorganisations all over Europe as volunteers. There are two major project types: Individual Volunteering and Volunteering Teams. The first one is a long-term and full time position that lasts from 2 to 12 months, in which the volunteer has to take part in the day-to-day work of the organisation or also suggest and pursue a personal project that could positively impact the local community they will be working in and for. The second project type, the Volunteering Teams, is for groups of 10 to 40 participants that volunteer between 2 weeks to 2 months. This project tries to foster the inclusion of young people within the European Union.
What is unique about the European Solidarity Corps’ initiative is that the volunteers give their positive impact to a larger community, while in return experience not only a personal level of growth, but also a professional one. Another aim of the ESC is to help young and inexperienced people enter the labor market. This can be achieved by the different kinds of skills they will acquire or the new languages they will learn as they volunteer. What can be defined as the learning outcome of this experience will be registered in the so called Youthpass, a document released by the EU that represents a formal recognition of the personal, educational, social, civic and professional skills acquired by the volunteer.
Last April, the new programme European Solidarity Corps 2021-2027 have been launched, with a budget of more than 138 million euros just for the first year. With this new programme the Commission wishes to diversify its initiatives by focusing more, among other things, on social inclusion and diversity, environmentally friendly practices and digital transition, as well as the participation of young people in democratic and civic action. Because of the particular period and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of programmes will be addressing the subject of health.
To fully understand the ESC initiative’s current impact, we must look at its 2018-2019 annual report. According to the data, by the end of 2019 nearly 250.000 young people registered for the solidarity project. While at the same time more than 2300 organisations submitted their proposal for projects to work within the European Solidarity Corps.
A major success for the ESC initiative is the network it has built. Both centralised and decentralised working activities helped build the European Solidarity Corps’ brand, which slowly has become the unique and major gateway for EU solidarity activities. The types of activities have been very wide; there are some who organise training and seminars to share the EU initiatives information among the organisations and the possible participants, while others are pursued with the aim of raising popular awareness about a specific issue. Some of the activities are focused on community building networks, Quality Label, strategic dissemination and evidence-based analysis of results and impact of the programme. The existence of networks and platforms increases the initiative’s dissemination and therefore public awareness and works as a multiplier to reach more people interested in joining the Corps. All the networks and activities are working together to create what is called a self-sustaining “community of communities” that will continue to be carried by new volunteers and hosting organisations themselves. The major supporter of this is the European Solidarity Network, which is a community established in 2019 with the aim of improving the experience of ESC participants.
With the new 2021-2027 programme this initiative will create the possibility for many other young people and organisations to participate and to continue building this European solidarity “structure” that affects the singular national communities at different levels and help to make them feel more part of a wider community, the one of the European Union.