Last week I was in Russia giving training on how volunteers can help deliver services. The conference was held about 300 miles south of Moscow and included NGOs from across the regions.
Formal volunteering as we would understandÂ it has little history in Russia and NGOs are regarded with some suspicion by the authorities. My brief was to assume no knowledge and just do a basic trawl of volunteer management.
As the day progressed however, it became clear that they very much knew their stuff as we went through the benefits of volunteering, the role of a volunteer policy, managing volunteers etc. For example they talked a lot about involving volunteers in developing projects, how they enable them toÂ feed into the decision-making process.
Some of the interesting discussions they had included
– if someone is paid an 'enabling allowance' [my term of what they were describing] is it volunteering?
– should a volunteer share the basic values and priniciples of the organisation? One of the NGOs had a volunteer who was a communist, which is obviously more pertinent there than it would be here.
There tended to be more emphasis on the role volunteering has in developing a civil society and how it can develop individuals. This may be due to the context they're working in and how the country is developing, or just simply this particular group of people.
Coming away from it, I was very impressed with the work they have already done with volunteers and it once again confirmed to me that the principles of volunteer management, that ultimately it's all about respect, remain the same regardless of where you are.
Naturally, I talked about the various networks that have grown up around volunteer managers and volunteer management, and the opportunitiesÂ that existÂ in Europe eg VolontEuropeÂ and hopefully they will grow their own network in due course.
Bearing in mind the particular environment they're working in and the challenges it gives themÂ I think there is a lot we could learn from our Russian colleagues.