TESTIMONY of Madame la Ministre Jeannette Bougrab

French Secretary of State in charge of youth policies and community life. Conducted the 2011 European Year of Volunteering within this EU Member States

Photo Jeannette Bougrab

As Secretary of State in charge of Youth policies and Community Life, Madame la Ministre Jeannette Bougrab was in charge of promoting the 2011 European Year of Volunteering in France. Here is her testimony:

The European Commission designated 2011 as “The European Year of Volunteering”- as the French Secretary of State, in charge, notably, of community life, how did you welcome this initiative?

With enthusiasm of course! 2010 was dedicated to the fight against poverty and social exclusion. What could have been more logical than to dedicate 2011 to volunteering? The 2011 European Year of Volunteering was for the Ministry of Community Life the occasion to highlight, throughout the entire French territory, the engagement of millions of French volunteers who daily serve their fellow citizens, most of the time in the shadow, with the utmost discretion. And yet, what would our social life be without them? Thus, the 2011 European Year of Volunteering aims, above all, at putting the volunteers and their work in the spotlight.

What decisions were made and which events were organized in France during the 2011 European year of Volunteering?

On February the 7th, in Seine Saint Denis, I launched, in France, the European Year of Volunteering, which has been marked by many events ever since: conferences, celebration weekends, awareness campaigns for young people, forums, etc.

The 2011 EYV will close in France on the 5th of December, on the occasion of the International Volunteer Day.

In the context of the 2011 European Year of Volunteering, 470 local projects and 190 regional and national projects were approved in France; they are all available and included in an online database that can be found in our renewed Internet website: association.gouv.fr

Moreover, a portfolio of competences has been realized by a reflection group emanating from the associative world itself. This portfolio aims at highlighting the engagement and competences of the volunteers, and wishes to help the committed citizens in identifying themselves their strengths and skills, the ones they have acquired by taking part in voluntary activities.

Thus, this tool aims at stressing the level of qualification of the volunteers and wishes to help each French volunteer in describing his or her engagement: from now on, and thanks to this initiative, French volunteer will not have to solely rely on the description of their association to describe their activity, they will also be able to detail their skills and competences. This will notably be helpful in the case of a recruitment process. This portfolio of competences is available online since October the 21st 2011.

Do you believe that volunteering could benefit from more promotion, particularly among the youth? Have you made any decisions in that direction?

One of the greatest challenges of the associative world is its own renewal. Today, half of the associations’ managers are retired people. And many are concerned about the future. Will the torch be passed on?

Therefore, in order to facilitate active exercise of citizenship among the youth, the French adopted last July the so-called associative pre-majority. From now on and as early as age 16, young people will be able to create an association or to manage it by themselves.

It’s also in this context that we created the Civic Service. Thought and desired by President Nicolas Sarkzoy, the Civic Service was voted almost by consensus by the national representatives. The Civic Service allows young people, from 16 to 25 years old, to take part in an association for several months in order to carry out tasks of general interest. Most of the young people involved in missions provided by the Civic Service subsequently manifest a desire to carry on being involved as a volunteer.

The time-honored literature shows that volunteering helps young people feeling involved in their community. It also helps them develop new skills and can even help them in finding a first job. From your point of view, what are the advantages of volunteering, particularly for the youth?

It’s evident that the engagement of the youth in the associative world, particularly the engagement in Civic Service, will develop considerable capacities and competences among youth. Nevertheless, a study published in 2010 and commissioned by the Students for the Town Foundation Association (AFEV), shows that employers do not always understand the associative engagement. Often ignored, it could even have a negative impact.

As a result, to make sure that such engagement is more valued and more understood, since my designation, I have been signing Civic Service valuation charters with important French firms. Charters have already been signed with AXA, Casino and Orange on October the 20th; in a near future, the Société Générale and EDF-GDF will also sign such charter. By signing, these groups commit themselves to raise awareness among their human resources departments to the competencies developed by young people in their engagement as a volunteer.

At each visit on the field, I also encourage local politicians to raise the awareness of their small and medium-sized enterprises concerning the benefits brought by volunteering to the youth.

I hope that these valuation charters will have even more consequences than the Civic Service since they contribute to the recognition and enhancement of civic engagement and volunteering as a whole.

Independently from your governmental functions and your general professional activities, did you have the opportunity to get involved in an organization as a volunteer? In which organization did you get involved?

I was a volunteer for SOS Racism throughout high-school.

I believe, like the President of the French Republic, that engagement is a prerequisite for a successful and significant life. Today, as a Secretary of State for Youth and Community Life, my mission is to support, to carry, and to enhance the commitment of my fellow citizens. This is my daily commitment!