VERSO

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VERSO Final Conference in Hungary 24-25 September 2014

After close to three years of intensive collaboration, confe-rences and study trips in eight European countries, VERSO has crossed the finishing line. The final VERSO conference was held in Zalaegerszeg, Hungary on 23-25 September 2014. The objective of the final conference was to summarise the lessons learned and finalise the political recommendations for the public authorities. The conference was part of the European Open Days.

At the final conference the good practice catalogue along with the results and the policy recommendations of the project were presented, discussed and approved by the public authorities, the knowledge partners and the members of the project political board.

The eight public authorities discussed the process and methodology that had been used when drafting their implementation plans, and pointed out that the differences between the participating partners and the regions they represented in terms of social and economic characteristics do not prevent the ideas of the VERSO project from being transferred between various regions of Europe. Every partner agreed that the adjustment of the practice to suit their respective social, economic and legislative environments is self-evident and necessary for the success of this transfer.

The role of the project political board

One of the novelties of the VERSO project has been the establishment of the project political board, comprising regional politicians and representatives of NGOs from the participating countries of Europe. From the start the members of the project political board have participated in the study trips and conferences of the VERSO project and been responsible for converting the results of VERSO into political recommendations, ensuring that they are also politically embedded in the participating regions and presented to politicians at EU level. At the final meeting the members of the project political board concluded their policy recommendations, agreeing on a common text addressing every government and public authority, and aiming to involve civic society in their effort to combat the problem of unemployment through volunteerism.

By committing to the support and promotion of volunteerism, they benefit from the human capital investment, accomplish social cohesion, and offer a different perspective for the enhancement of employability.

In the framework of the conference, Dr. Christian Kjeldsen from Aarhus University presented the results of the final project evaluation, highlighting the importance of the process and the conclusions drawn from the observations made by the participants. The evaluation confirmed the positive aspects of the project methodology as well as identifying the weaknesses, contributing to the learning process for the improvement of every project implemented.

On behalf of the hosts, Dr. Katalin Solt, Vice Rector of the Budapest Business School, greeted the audience. She was followed by Mr. Zoltán Balaicz, Vice Mayor of Zalaegerszeg. The Hungarian speakers described the national perspective of the relationship between volunteering and employment. The project political board presented the political recommendations and the implementation of policies.

VERSO GOOD PRACTICE CATALOGUE

Professor Niels Rosendal Jensen from Aarhus University focused on how vo-lunteers across the European regions deliver services to unemployed people by drawing on their knowledge of the dynamics and demands of the job market. Volunteers provide unemployed young people and vulnerable individuals with new opportunities, new social spaces, new networks, improved self-confidence and improved skills, all of which improves their social inclusion and employability.

Professor Jensen presented the final version of the good practice catalogue concluding that the three-year period of systematic exchanges of experiences at the political and social levels, the visiting and discussion of the selected cases in the regions and muni-cipalities, have increased the partner’s understanding of similarities as well as differences of voluntary practices across Europe, taking into consideration historical, cultural and legislative circumstances. Four common parameters were extracted from the cases, providing mutual inspiration for the partners in detecting new solutions in the battle against European unemployment. The VERSO project has successfully contributed to this cause.

STUDY TRIP

During the study trip the participants were informed about the good practices implemented in the area. During the presentation at OTP Bank, the participants learned about the volunteer activities organised with regard to corporate social responsibility. They also met young volunteers in Göcseji Museum, who described their experiences and their excitement about participating in the practice offered by the museum. The VERSO partners also had the opportunity to perform voluntary work guided by volunteers of the Open-Air Museum.

VERSO PRESS CONFERENCE

A press conference took place in Hungarian in order to inform the local media about the project’s results. Vice Rector Dr. Katalin Solt represented Budapest Business School. Project political board member Dénes Sándor participated on behalf of the Municipality of Zalaegerszeg. Dr. Dávid Takács, regional project manager of BBS Zalaegerszeg College of Business Administration, and Bert Bouwmeester, Mayor of Coevorden in the Netherlands, also contributed to the press conference.

Dr. Dávid Takács talked about the cost-benefit analysis of the good practices described by the public authority partners. The regional project manager pointed out that the good practices actually enrich not just the volunteers and the direct beneficiaries but indirectly also the local community and society as a whole.

Dr. Katalin Solt shared some more details of the research with the journalists. Cost-benefit analysis has not yet been used very often to evaluate volunteer work. As a result, the college had to design a pioneer approach since they had to create the framework for and the methods of the analysis.

Mr. Bouwmeester emphasised the importance of volunteerism and civil society. He held these factors to be preconditions for a real democratic society. In other words, politicians are also responsible for promoting volunteerism.

LESSONS LEARNED

The main conclusion of the political briefing session, the lectures and the final conference is that VERSO has proved to be a successful project. The international partners learned a great deal from each other. It turned out that they share similar values, although the demographic, political, economic and cultural circumstances and methods differ from region to region. The VERSO project has shown that volunteering is a real and significant tool in coping with unemployment. The project’s political recommendations will hopefully pave the way for the development of volunteering.

Different regions and countries have different traditions and strengths with regard to volunteering. While volunteerism has just started to blossom in some regions, it has long traditions, mechanisms and techniques in others. This is the reason why it is difficult to compare the volunteer practices of different regions. Nevertheless, this kind of variety serves as a precondition for a competitive Europe and good quality of life for its citizens.

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Revised 2014.12.04