The Power of Youth: How volunteering could transform the care economy into a caring one

My name is Ingrid Anillo and I am a member of OECD Youthwise. I believe that governments should work towards recognition of volunteering experiences and support paid opportunities in order to make them as inclusive as possible. Banner image: Shutterstock/Vic Hinterlang
The Power of Youth: How volunteering could transform the care economy into a caring one

The OECD's Power of Youth series showcases the perspectives and experiences of young people who are shaping the future. Exploring topics from gender equality and education to climate and careers, the series gives a voice to young advocates and activists who we met in different events, as well as members of Youthwise, the OECD's youth advisory board. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

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My name is Ingrid and I am originally from the enchanting university city of Tartu, Estonia. For the past four years I have been living in Brussels, but this year I decided to pack my bags and move to Istanbul. As a youth worker and education policy enthusiast, I have extensively used OECD data and publications to back up my advocacy efforts, so becoming a member of the OECD’s Youthwise advisory board and being able to lend my perspective as a young person has been a real delight for me.

During the first Youthwise meeting when I was asked to introduce myself, I briefly shared my interest in the care economy with the group. Though the term is used in a quite limited way to describe care work (such as taking care of children or the elderly), I like this term because it attaches caring and emotion to the often nondescript “economy”. It also reflects the OECD Better Life index, according to which “There is more to life than the cold numbers of GDP and economic statistics”. Ever since that first meeting, I’ve been pondering how caring can reshape our economy to benefit young people, especially in the context of a pandemic when people’s vulnerability is so clearly exposed.

Learn about the OECD's Better Life Index which compares well-being across countries based on 11 key indicators

As a youth worker, I know that for young people it can be hard to act alone. In my community, I see numerous young people who are dissatisfied with a myriad of things. Instead of complaining, they offer solutions or give examples of practices they saw in other countries that could work to solve their local issues. Still, they lack the resources to enact these changes. That is why I strongly believe that policies that encourage volunteering should be supported more across all OECD countries, to help them connect with each other and gain experience that will help make a difference.

From my perspective, volunteering is the embodiment of what a “caring” economy could look like. Volunteering provides young people with the possibility to meet new people and develop their networks, learn new skills and discover new career paths. On the other hand, the value that volunteers create in their communities is immeasurable—their labour makes an immense economic contribution and strengthens social support within communities.

Still, there are many things that I wish could change in the world of volunteering. As with much of young people’s work, as well as with care work, it is underpaid and undervalued. While volunteering should be open to everyone, many young people cannot afford to perform unpaid labour. At the same time, organisations like mine that rely heavily on volunteers would cease to exist if the burden fell entirely on us. For this reason, I believe that governments should work towards recognition of volunteering experiences and support paid opportunities in order to make them as inclusive as possible. As an added bonus, paid volunteering opportunities make it harder to justify unpaid internships, which can easily become a “labour trap” for young people.

Read the OECD policy paper Young people’s concerns during COVID-19: Results from risks that matter 2020 that provides cross-national information on young people’s concerns, perceived vulnerabilities and policy preferences.

There are already many paid volunteering programmes around the world, which are funded by government development aid agencies, international organisations or foundations. However, many of them are directly geared towards young people, meaning that there is an age cut-off. During the pandemic, many young people I work with mentioned feeling like the past two years slipped away from them. I even experienced this myself: I had planned to become a volunteer with France’s Service Civique ever since I finished school, yet two years into the pandemic I turned 26 and was no longer eligible. I am lucky enough to know about similar programmes that would allow me to participate for another five years, but I’ve met people who are NEETs (Not in Education, Employment, or Training), over 30 and only recently found out about EU-funded volunteer opportunities for which they no longer qualify. I believe everyone deserves a chance to figure out their next steps—regardless of their age—and having access to such programmes could help do just that.

I have also encountered push back along the way when advocating for the remuneration of volunteers. It comes from the fact that my view calls the purpose of volunteering into question: by nature, shouldn’t it be a selfless contribution of your time and resources for the greater good? I believe that volunteering, more importantly, is a stepping-stone to decent work for young people, and being compensated for being selfless is not a contradiction— in the care economy, we witness it happening every day.

Find out more about the OECD's Power of Youth project

Find out more about the OECD's Power of Youth project

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People Power  New Societal Contract Tackling COVID-19 Future of Education & Skills 

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