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New European development project highlight the efforts of volunteers in the fight against unemployment

Unemployment is increasing all over Europe. New, untraditional solutions to the problem must be found. VERSO (Volunteers for European Employment) is a new pan-European development and research project funded by the European Regional Development Fund. The project is intended to illuminate how volunteerism can help regional authorities in their efforts to combat unemployment and  improve the quality of life for millions of unemployed Europeans. Universities and regional authorities from eight different European countries are involved in the project, which will continue until 2014. VERSO will bring politicians and researchers from its European partner institutions together for an inaugural conference in Middelfart, Denmark from 30 May until 1 June 2012.

'Even though there are regional differences, unemployment is growing all over Europe, and it si clear that the problems can't be solved within the framework of the traditional systems. All over Europe, there is a need for innovation,' explains Associate Professor Niels Rosendal Jensen (Aarhus University) on the background for the VERSO project.

Innovation is something the Municipality of Middelfart has had positive experiences with. Local job centres here make use of untraditional methods, for example volunteer mentors. As Mayor Steen Dahlstrøm explains, 

'We are already positively surprised at how good our mentors are at keeping young people enrolled in school - the volunteer mentors have the desire and the resources to put in an extraordinary effort which benefits our young citizens and improves their chances of finding a job after graduation. In Middelfart, we have a tradition of collaborating with local businesses and volunteers on new initiatives and projects. For example, our job centre has been recognised with an award for excellence, because with the help of our good cooperation with businesses and volunteer mentors, we have success in helping the unemployed find work. We are looking forward to sharing our experiences when we host the next conference in the project in May. We are also looking forward to learning from other good European examples over the next three years of the project.'

Need for fruitful cooperation between civil society volunteers and government

Dr Rosendal Jensen points out that the job creation efforts of the Municipality of Middelfart are a good example of the kinds of valuable experience being accumulated all over Europe in creating fruitful cooperation between regional governments and civil society volunteers in the fight against unemployment. The challenge is to locate good practices and determine how best to transfer them from one local context to another.

'The cooperation between research institutions and regional political authorities in the VERSO project makes it possible to perform comparative analyses and cost-benefit calculations on different initatives across Europe. Regional governments have an interest in independent research-based knowledge about what works in the area of anti-unemployment policies, and how successful practices can be transferred from one national context to another.'

VERSO will develop a best practice catalogue to be used by the participating regions, and the project will ultimately result in a range of research-based policy recommendations in 2014. These recommendations will identify effective forms of volunteerism, indicate how they can be transferred to contexts across Europe. VERSO (Volunteers for European Employment) is a pan-European development and knowledge-sharing project funded by the European Regional Development Fund, INTERREG IVC, which provides support for network-building and knowledge exchange between European regions.

'Local governments in Europe face special challenges in the fight against unemployment, and they are focussing on how to create a new dynamism in their region through engaging the resources of civil society and from volunteerism in collaboration with the public sector,' concludes Dr Rosendal Jensen.

Read more about VERSO on the project website:

Contact information

Aarhus University:
Associate Professor  Niels Rosendal Jensen, tel. (+45) 8716 3709

The Municipality of Middelfart:
Mayor Steen Dahlstrøm, tel. (+45) 8888 5009

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Revised 2012.05.03