Sustainability in voluntary commitment – what does that actually mean? In the environmental commitment, it can mean helping Fridays for Future with the acquisition of funds so that the initiative is secured in the long term. Because “the active people cannot access most of the funding because they are not an association,” says Jenny Stiebitz, coordinator for young volunteers at the Oskar volunteer agency.
In the area of inclusion, acting sustainably can mean not excluding anyone. However, this is often not so easy to implement. The blind top athlete Jörg von de Fenn – mountaineer, inline skater and martial artist – is fit as a fiddle. Only now and then do volunteers help him with the shopping and he has a running companion.
Nevertheless, he encounters prejudices in everyday life: “Most of the time, people only talk to my companion, no matter what the topic is,” says the 53-year-old, who would like more direct communication: just speak to him personally.
Aspects such as these were the focus of the specialist conference “Strengthening sustainability through voluntary commitment” organized by the Paritätischer Wohlfahrtsverband Berlin. 50 committed people from various organizations and associations discussed what is sustainable about their commitment, how this could be made more effective in the long term and what is needed for this.
The all-day conference had set itself an ambitious goal: the 17 goals for sustainable development. With the 2030 Agenda, the United Nations have committed to 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for a better future. They include economic, ecological and social aspects: no poverty, high-quality education, fewer inequalities or sustainable consumption are some of them.
Sustainable commitment not only affects environmental protection, but also the social area and emergency aid – for example for refugees from Ukraine or neighborhood help during the pandemic. “Today it’s about this difference and diversity,” said Gabriele Schlimper, Managing Director of the parity.
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The specialist day was also a “warm-up” and prelude to the Berlin Volunteer Days in September. Since 2014, the days of action have been organized and journalistically accompanied by the Paritätischen together with the Tagesspiegel under the title Common Cause. In 2021, the diversity of commitment was evident in the form of 350 hands-on activities offered by 270 initiatives. Campaigns can also be registered again in 2022 (see box), this time the focus is on sustainability.
At the symposium, volunteers from GoNature, a subsidiary of Join Impact, to which GoVolunteer also belongs, showed how hands-on offers can look like.
“In 2021 we built a life tower in Hasenheide, which is a large insect hotel,” reported Charlotte Funk from GoNature. There was also a large garbage collection campaign in Mauerpark on World Cleanup Day together with the Friends of the Mauerpark association, the “wirBERLIN” organization and the ESMT Berlin university group.
“There were a lot of people – over 200 in all,” reports Funk. The “Partner Manager” from GoNature knows that networking can have a lasting effect on one’s own work: joint campaigns usually have a greater reach and more participants. It’s also important to keep going and sticking with it.
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State Secretary Ana-Maria Trasnea also pointed out the important role of “strong local networks” for a sustainable metropolis at the event: “We need forces from business, from social associations, but also from the city administration and the Senate. The interaction of urban political and civil society forces is important, especially in view of global challenges.
However, this interaction does not always work – especially in the area of urban development. The interest of many citizens in participation is great, especially when it comes to their immediate environment: construction projects, green spaces or traffic. “One often gets the impression that citizen participation is a big thing, but then a vote is hidden in the depths of the Internet,” said Bianca Janssen from the Aufbau Haus GmbH, which, together with other activists, founded the “Moritz
In the Kiezspinne district center in Lichtenberg at Schulze-Boysen-Strasse 38, the networks work well, reports project coordinator and social worker Aljoscha Held. For people fleeing Ukraine, the neighborhood spider was converted into the first point of contact. The neighborhood center puts them on to other advice centers as needed, and offers an application and language café.
What does Held take with him from the workshops? “Voluntary work is based on an intact relationship and trust between people.” It’s about identifying needs and showing at eye level that they are needed and are part of society.
Another example: Compagno e.V. brings companies “that work for the energy transition” into contact with refugees from Ukraine, puts together teams and accompanies the induction. Volunteers for this accompaniment are still being sought. “We are grateful for English-speaking people,” says Rudi Piwko (contact: email@example.com).
Sustainable commitment also means taking care of yourself, said Johannes Verch from the Alice Salomon University. “In the voluntary sector and in social work, many exploit themselves,” says Verch. It takes courage to choose projects or to leave them. “I recommend my students to take care of themselves early on – not only in their mid-50s and burnout.”
The 17 SDGs – are the goals even achievable for small initiatives and individuals? Jan Göldner, federal youth spokesman for NAJU, NABU’s youth organization, encouraged: “If you set out to bring sustainability into your institution, take a positive perspective.” It’s often just a small step, setting goals for concrete action to integrate. Being able to do something yourself is an incentive for many to get involved. Interested parties can simply try it out at the common cause.
With more than 30 partner organizations, other associations and companies, the Paritätische Wohlfahrtsverband Berlin and the Tagesspiegel will soon be organizing the Common Cause/Berlin Volunteer Days again. The aim of the project is to make voluntary commitment visible in the city and thus send a strong signal for diversity, democracy and sustainability. From September 9th to 18th, 2022, many hands-on activities will take place in all districts, which will welcome volunteers, such as gardening and clean-up activities, upcycling offers, walks to memorial sites or donations of clothing for people in need.
Whether indoors or outdoors, digitally or on site – every action is different and everyone can take part. On the website www.gemeinsamesache.berlin there are many campaigns to try out in summer, and more will be added by mid-September. Offer your own promotions? The form at Gemeinsache.berlin/aktion-anmelden. Information on social media: Facebook and Instagram @voluntary days, Twitter @voluntary day.