For SVI, taking part in an associative project is an act of citizenship and a desire to change the world around us. Volunteering and the associative world are the pillars of democracy: there can be no true democracy without an independent associative sector. And without volunteers, there can be no associations. That is why volunteering must be open to all, without discrimination.
Who are our volunteers?
Every year, over 900 young people take part in our projects abroad (sending volunteers abroad) or in Belgium (hosting foreign volunteers). There are two categories of volunteers who go abroad: “individuals” who travel independently to join an international group with whom they will work together on a multilateral project (several nationalities and associations); and “groups” of between 5 and 30 young people who spend a year preparing to go abroad together on a bilateral project (two nationalities and associations).
Young people going out in groups often come from youth movements, youth centers, clubs, or student associations. These groups are generally mixed and made up mostly of minors (aged 16-18) accompanied by older leaders (aged 20-22).
The average age of our individual volunteers is generally higher: approximately 23. In terms of gender parity, the SVI members’ distribution is approximately 60% of women and 40% of men.
Even though we work mainly with young adults going off in individual, our association is also open to minors aged 16-17 who can go off on their own, but only under extremely strict conditions and for certain highly targeted destinations that meet high safety and supervision criteria. Demand from this age group is small but growing and requires SVI to develop specific in-house educational tools and collaborations with organizations specializing in working with this age group. Currently, because of these self-imposed constraints, we send very few minors abroad.
Furthermore, sharing the conviction that dialogue between generations is a source of mutual enrichment, SVI responds to the few requests coming from an older public and families with children. In 2013, SVI began to set up specific support for families with children. Although this audience is currently still very much in the minority, we are seeing a growing interest for our activities. We think it is important for our association to be able to meet this demand. We are preparing for this and hope to be able to offer specific activities and supervision in the coming years.
Where do they come from?
Geographically, SVI focuses mainly on young French-speaking Europeans (Belgium, France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Canadians…). For SVI, Europe must also be experienced at the associative level. Furthermore, since 2014, a group of former volunteers has created SVI France, and since 2016 we have had a permanent office in Lille (Nord Pas-de-Calais).
What are their motivations?
Our “long-term” volunteers (from 1 to 12 months) are often young people who embark on a period of voluntary work at a key moment in their lives, in most cases at the end of their studies or a course of study.
By analyzing the primary motivations expressed during group training sessions, SVI has identified seven main groups among the majority of interested participants:
- those who have an interest in humanitarian issues and/or in development cooperation,
- those who want to experience collective life with other young people,
- those who want to embrace other cultures (locals and other volunteers on the project),
- those who want to travel differently or without their parents,
- those who want to practice another language (in addition to the local language, English is the language of communication almost everywhere),
- those who want to think about the future of their studies,
- those who are questioning their career choice or want to take a step back.