What We Know About Volunteering in Georgia

[This post originally appeared in investor.ge]

By Nino Zubashvili

Following the June 13, 2015 flood in Tbilisi, hundreds of volunteers helped to clean the disaster-affected zones of the city, which stirred the hope that volunteerism is on the rise in Georgia. In the past, studies on volunteering in Georgia conducted by non-governmental organizations (such as Helping Hand and the Civil Society Institute) claimed that volunteerism had not taken root in Georgian society, and CRRC-Georgia surveys have consistently shown a mismatch between attitudes and actions regarding volunteering in Georgia. Nonetheless, a closer look at the level of volunteering in Georgia, comparing it to Europe, and Georgian society’s attitudes towards the importance of volunteering show fertile grounds for volunteerism in Georgia.

The mismatch

CRRC-Georgia’s 2013 Caucasus Barometer survey findings show that 68% of Georgians find it important for a good citizen to do volunteer work. In contrast, only 19% of Georgians reported volunteering during the past six months before the survey was carried out in fall of 2013 – a clear gap between actions and attitudes. Interestingly, while the share of the population highlighting the importance of volunteerism for good citizenship increased between 2011 and 2012, the share of Georgians who actually volunteered did not change much. Notably, volunteering is still not considered as important as following traditions, voting in elections or supporting people who are worse off. 

Despite the existing mismatch, if we compare Georgia to other European states, the level of volunteering is not particularly low. A study on volunteering in the European Union carried out in 2010 by the British consultancy GHK Holdings Limited showed that the highest rates of volunteering hovered around 40%, but only in a few states (Austria, Netherlands, the UK and Sweden). In fact, European volunteering rates were largely comparable to those in Georgia, ranging from 10%-19%, and European states like Italy and Greece actually had even lower rates (less than 10%). 

Who volunteers, and who thinks it is important to volunteer?

When thinking about the prospects for the development of volunteerism in Georgia, it is important to know who tends to volunteer, which in turn would allow policy makers, NGOs and social entrepreneurs to understand where to best direct programs aimed at promoting volunteerism. The 2013 Caucasus Barometer survey findings show some differences in volunteering between socio-demographic groups. The elderly (aged 56 and older) are slightly less active (14% reported volunteering) than 18-35 and 36-55 year olds (20% and 22%, respectively), but this lower activity level could probably be explained by the infirmities of age. Interestingly, males tend to volunteer more than females (25% and 14%, respectively) and inhabitants of rural areas are slightly more actively engaged in volunteering (24%) than inhabitants of the capital (14%) and other urban areas (15%). In contrast to the European states studied in the above-mentioned GHK study, where the level of education tends to be connected with the level of volunteering, in Georgia an individual’s level of education does not seem to matter with regard to involvement in volunteering. 

Like actual volunteering activity, attitudes towards the importance of volunteering do not change much by level of education, nor do they change by respondent’s age or gender. Settlement type however, is a differentiating factor and fewer Tbilisians think that volunteering is important for a good citizen (60%), compared to other urban and rural dwellers (68% and 72%, respectively). This is all the more striking when we breakdown by age groups within settlement type. Even though the majority of volunteers following the 2015 floods were clearly young, in Tbilisi, young people were the least likely age-settlement group to think that volunteering was important for a good citizen. 

The level of volunteering that followed the Tbilisi flood and Georgian society’s agreement that volunteering is important show that there is potential in the country for the level of volunteering to increase. Policy makers, civic society and social entrepreneurs alike should consider ways to work off of the obvious spirit of volunteerism embodied by the cleanup efforts and the already supportive attitudes towards volunteerism in Georgia. 

Interested in more data about volunteerism? Check the upcoming Caucasus Barometer 2015 data that will be available by the end of the year or take a look at the 2014 Volunteering and Civic Participation in Georgia survey at caucasusbarometer.org