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Volunteering

Volunteering in Bulgaria

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In searching for a suitable definition of the term volunteering, I realize that there are different definitions that are valid and depend on the internal motivations and why we decide to help. I remember my first days at the free legal aid center where, as a junior lawyer, I was learning how to communicate with people with disadvantages who seemed to look away after receiving legal advice in understandable and accessible language.

Although my motivations at the time were related to skill development, the experience I gained was invaluable because it was the first time I understood what diversity was in the true sense of the word. My experience went from the legal center, to a home for single mothers, as well as supporting refugees, talking to adults, but the most important thing I achieved was that I enriched my perspective, became empathetic to people’s pain and happiness, and mad acquaintances  with the most unique people in the world.

Only 10% of Bulgarians participate regularly in voluntary activities

According to European Parliament data from 2016, only 10% of Bulgarians regularly participate in volunteer activities, most often supporting civil organizations and their cause related to environmental protection, work with refugees, home repairs for families and people in need, modernization of children’s hospitals, etc. The needs are different and many, raising the question of whether increasing individual financial donations actually achieve the same effect as volunteering.

Financial support is extremely important, but in order to achieve the necessary impact, it must be tied to voluntary work that actually contributes to both the beneficiaries and the participants themselves.

Volunteering is key to uniting society, based on values of solidarity, trust and seeking solutions to significant problems, leading to the activation of civil society. Volunteering also brings economic value, contributing between 5-8% to gross domestic product (GDP). Building and creating partnerships between representatives from the private sector and civil society organizations can serve as a means of enrichment and offer effective solutions and resources.

The lack of regulatory framework

The low rate of involvement in volunteering can be explained by the lack of regulatory framework, as well as the lack of traditions in Eastern Europe. In Bulgaria, the issue of the regulation of voluntary work is becoming more and more relevant due to the current consultations related to the Law on Volunteering.

The need for a change in legislation also partly explains the low commitment of people who prefer to make a material donation instead of taking time off work or risking their health, especially in cases related to pandemics or crisis situations such as floods or earthquakes.

Part of the issues that the new bill seeks to settle are related to the types of volunteering and their regulation, protection of volunteers, payment of expenses and tax deductions, commitments of the state and employers. According to a 2019 UNECE report, volunteerism can play an important role in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, so participants in the process need to recognize their cause and be supported in addressing the problem they are seeking a solution for.

Is volunteering appreciated enough in our country?

Focusing even on the 10% percent of volunteers in Bulgaria and their work, it can be established that their activity is not in vain, and the impact of their activity is significant and this can serve as motivation for more people. Examples of our solidarity are many and should be counted: raising funds for hospital care, caring for bees, pets and animals; cleaning rivers, planting forests; repair and modernization of children’s hospitals; invaluable work of doctors and medical workers, and volunteers during Covid-19; supporting families in flooded areas and building homes; welcoming refugees and opening our homes; sending volunteers to earthquake zones and dangerous places; sending generators, medicine, clothing and supplies to the endlessly needy.

Evidence of our kindness and empathy is visible, but often people offering their labor and time go unappreciated and often travel at their own expense and risk. Have we thought about it, do we understand the price they risk paying? There are a lot of questions, and the uncertainty and need for support grows every day.

Even companies through various initiatives encourage and support volunteerism, observing a more structured reporting practice related to ESG and corporate donations. The options companies offer range from volunteer work to payroll donation or joining collaborative activities such as TimeHeroes’ initiative “Volunteering is Value”.

Volunteering is a selfless need to help and donate that needs your support to grow and reach more people!

The article was prepared in partnership with ESG Lab and is part of the “Sustainable Lifestyle” information campaign. The author is Olya Peneva, Business and Human Rights Expert, ESG Help Desk Manager, ESG Lab at the Faculty of Economics of the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”.

You can find more about the campaign HERE

Read more:

Human rights in the social aspect of ESG

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