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2012 - June

Press release: Combatting unemployment through volunteerism

The message of last week's European conference on volunteerism in Middelfart, Denmark was 'It's time to think outside the box.' Mentors helping the unemployed find an internship and encouraging the young to complete their educations: these are just a few of the proven strategies the Municipality of Middelfart shared with Europe, when participants from the eight EU countries in the project VERSO - Volunteers for European Employment met in Middelfart from 30 May to 1 June 2012. The Danish comedian, social activist and former Member of Parliament Jacob Haugaard opened the conference.

Think out of the box …

Unemployment has been growing throughout Europe, and new, innovate solutions are necessary if the problem is to be solved. VERSO is a new European development project about volunteerism in the fight against unemployment. Middelfart had some good answers to share with participants during the three-day confernece, which was opened by the Danish comedian Jacob Haugaard on 30 May at the Comwell Conference Center in Middelfart.

The Mayor of Middelfart Steen Dahlstrøm explains: ´We have to think outside the box if we are going to solve Europe's unemployment problem. And that's something Jacob Haugaard knows how to do. Again and again, he has proven that a different approach to things will get you far - and he also has a lot of experience with volunteer social work through the Danish Muscular Dystrophy Foundation (Muskelsvindfonden) and the concerts which are held to benefit the foundation.'

Middelfart has created new paths to increased employment.  For example, the municipal job centre uses voluntary mentors to provide support for people seeking work or trying to get an education. '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. That's why Middelfart is the muncipality in the Region of Southern Denmark with the largest number of graduates of youth education programmes,' explains Mayor Dahlstrøm.

Especially the field trips to local projects made an impression among the participants from the other European regions.

Chief  Executive Penny Brown from East Riding of Yorkshire Council, UK explains:  “Exciting! The UK is excited to be a partner in this international project. Verso provides a unique opportunity to share knowledge and expertise about excellent practices that has been developed in our respective countries”

Also Councillor Deles Sandor of the Municipality of Zalaegerszeg, Hungary is ready for new ideas after the conference: “I am confidential that Hungary has a lot to offer to the verso project and I look forward to learning from the best practices among the partners on connecting voluntarism and employment”

Need for collaboration between civil society volunteers and political authorities

The VERSO 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. Four universities and  eight regional authorities from eight different European countries are involved in the project, which will continue until 2014.  From Denmark, the Municipality of Middelfart and Aarhus University are partners in the project.

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

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 initiatives 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 and indicate how they might 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:  www.versonet.eu www.versonet.eu

Contact information

Aarhus University

Associate Professor Niels Rosendal Jensen, tel.  + 45 8716 3709 / + 45 2933 2656

Mail: nrj@dpu.dk

The Municipality of Middelfart

Mayor Steen Dahlstrøm Tel. + 45 8888 5009 / + 45 4015 1858

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Revised 2012.06.08