EUROPEAN PAPERS ON THE NEW WELFARE

Generation30 The Present and Future of Young People in the Long-life Society

5.2 Volunteerism: Adding social meaning to the Fourth Pillar

There are different options to maximise the phenomenon of ageing societies. One possibility is to establish flexible and gradual mechanisms for retirement (part-time work and the Fourth Pillar). Another possibility is to set up programs that allow and encourage retirees to continue contributing to society through volunteer work. Since volunteerism offers the opportunity to remain active with a different nature and level of obligations, it adapts well to the different characteristics and situations of senior citizens. The improvement in the quality of life beyond 60 provides an important opportunity for strengthened social and global cohesion, which should be maximised. Thus, among the possible forms of volunteerism (charity, expanding State, etc.) the one relevant for our discussion is volunteerism in terms of ‘expanding civil society’. In this form, voluntary engagement moves from taking care of the individual to social transformation.
One advantage of the Fourth Pillar is that employees can gradually and flexibly retire from productive life. At the same time, the State is still partly or fully responsible for social security. The employer, aware of the advantages of retaining senior staff, will often wish to assign new tasks and responsibilities to them (e.g., training). This and other features may be translated into or combined with establishing a social service for senior workers. While maintaining the advantages of the Fourth Pillar, the value-added of a voluntary component has multiple facets. The employer-employee relationship is enriched by a new and more explicit linkage with the community. This association is especially desirable in societies trying to formulate more client-oriented responses by both the public and private sectors. It is also in line with decentralisation and bringing corporations services closer to the people.
Secondly, the voluntary component adds more diversity to the new functions assigned to workers beyond 60 that are not limited to training and advisory services. Volunteerism opens a wide range of activities that involve networking, creative brainstorming, partnerships, outreach actions, international cooperation, etc. On the other hand, there will be cases where employees prefer not to continue working — not even on a part-time basis — in the same company for multiple reasons (burnt out, desire to change environment and expand social network, different physical conditions, desire to reside in a different place close to relatives, etc.), or instances where employers cannot provide part-time jobs. In all these scenarios governments can favour the implementation of a senior social service in collaboration with corporations, foundations, NGOs, etc. that are interested in these benefits from volunteers.
Private companies can also benefit from framing part-time work as senior voluntary service, adding a social element to it in order to establish strategic partnerships with governmental agencies or other organisations. In fact, the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility is currently receiving great attention and experiencing important developments. The senior voluntary service may serve well to the retirees, the company or employer by improving its image in the community; and to the community through outreach activities17.
Governments may be particularly interested in this formula where there is a specific need of human resources. For instance and from a social perspective, these volunteer opportunities include programs towards the social integration of immigrants, support of unaccompanied children, preservation of natural spaces, protection and promotion of cultural heritage, complementary education for children whose parents work and cannot pay for domestic aid, etc. The purpose should then be threefold:
1. to recover the traditional aspects of cross generational exchange, based on mentoring and advice of elders;
2. to institutionalise this cross generational exchange; and
3. to adjust it to a new social system and social structure that aspires to be productive in a sustainable way.
A senior social service as complement to the Fourth Pillar would still be a win-win-win scenario18, since the State continues to ensure pensions but obtains a specific service in return for a longer duration and a service that is more public-private oriented. At the same time, the government fulfils its duty to promote an active and therefore healthy environment for people beyond age 60 and even 70. The voluntary formula would proffer an option that can be combined or added as a second phase after retirement or gradual retirement. In principle senior citizens’ social service should be compulsory but its duration and conditions adjusted on a case-by-case basis. It shares some of the philosophy behind the concept of compulsory social service for 18 year-old men in substitution of military service that still exists in some countries. However, senior citizens’ social service would be focused on the personal contribution and experience of each participant. In any case, the opportunities of this model are obviously in its implementation and the potential to create partnerships among institutions.
In sum, adding a voluntary and social component to the Fourth Pillar would create new opportunities for senior citizens who would like to optimise their knowledge and also want the chance to do something new and, in many cases, more enriching. Furthermore, voluntary occupation could facilitate the interaction with other senior citizens with different experiences and favour the creation of networks and associations. The emphasis should not be on the obligations of senior citizens but rather on their rights and social responsibilities through valuable contributions.

Interestingly, older citizens have traditionally been the beneficiaries of the youths’ voluntary activity, but have not volunteered themselves. The International Year of Volunteers (IYV 2001) provided a platform to advocate pro-volunteer policies at national and the inter-governmental levels. On 5 December 2001 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution “Recommendations on Support for Volunteering” (A/RES/56/38). Although the IYV created a favourable environment to recognise the importance of volunteerism among senior citizens (among other groups), specific strategies focused on senior citizens did not gained shape as compared to volunteerism among the youth. The Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, 2002, recognised voluntary work as a means of empowering older people ‘to fully and effectively participate in the political and social lives of their society and also for the growth and maintenance of personal well-being.’ The Strategy of the League of Arab States for Social Work in the Arab States 2000 encouraged volunteer action and called on the 22 member states to ensure civic participation of all population groups, especially the elderly, youth and women. The Council of the European Union put the emphasis on youth volunteerism and approved Resolution 14759/01 on the Added Value of Voluntary Activity for Young People, encouraging member states to take measures to remove legal and administrative obstacles to youth voluntary activity19.

17 The National Retiree Volunteer Coalition (NRVC) considers corporate volunteerism a “win-win-win” scenario, because employers gain a new resource and retirees become real assets that enable the company to build goodwill, increase visibility and generate loyalty. The company also may garner a reputation for innovation and progressive policies. Retirees put a lifetime of skills to good use: Seniors experience a sense of purpose and responsibility. They also can polish leadership skills, maintain positive relations with their former employers and remain active. The community meets its needs—with an infusion of retiree time and talent, communities get a fresh perspective on problem solving. Communities can also broaden their scope, planning ahead for future goals, cf. www.voa.org/tier3_cd.cfm?content_item_id=746&folder_id=421.
18 The positive cost-benefits relation for the State is obvious and the results in the long term can be significant from a social perspective, especially if special programs are undertaken with a European approach in the spirit of the Charter (Article 25), see above.
19 The Assembly had urged the member states in 2000 to ratify the European Convention on the Promotion of a Transnational Long-term Voluntary Service for Young People, to use up-to-date technology and prepare the code of ethics for young volunteers, setting out rights and duties.


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