Guest blog by Dr. Haya Al-Dajani, Senior Lecturer at the University of East Anglia.
Young adults aged between 18 – 30 years make up approximately 35% of Jordan’s population. Within this age group, it is startling that less than 30% of young men and approximately 11% of young women only, are in employment. To improve these figures, various governmental and non-governmental organisations in Jordan have prioritised the desperate need to improve the youth’s employability skills, as well as the need to revamp the higher education experience. These measures are intended to ensure that graduates are better prepared for the competition and opportunities of employment within Jordan and abroad. But what about youth volunteerism? What opportunities are open to Jordan’s youth? And how can such opportunities contribute to their enhanced employability and increased civic engagement? How can youth volunteerism lead to a better future in Jordan?
The British Council in Jordan and the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) commissioned INTRAC to undertake a research project – Enabling Youth Volunteerism for a Better Future in Jordan – to consider these questions. Both organisations are well aware of the benefits of youth volunteerism for the individual, and the communities in which they volunteer. Indeed, this commissioned project was part of a wider UNV regional initiative aimed at harnessing the power and energy of Arab youth through volunteerism, and drawing on the inherent core values of self-help, solidarity and social cohesion.
This project took place between January and March 2015. The first step comprised a research study involving 3 focus group interviews, 14 individual stakeholder interviews and a youth volunteer survey with 130 participants. A validation event, attended by 60 delegates, followed to verify and confirm the results and recommendations obtained in the research study. Finally, a debate on the merits of the further institutionalisation of youth volunteering in Jordan was organised. Youth volunteers were the members of both the affirmative and opposition teams; the affirmative team won the debate.
Within this blog, I would like to share some of the thought-provoking results and look forward to your feedback and input about these.
Youth volunteerism is neither well-researched nor defined in Jordan. Many agreed that the term ‘youth volunteerism’ is used so loosely that it can apply to any youth activity, irrespective of its objectives, goals, processes or outcomes.
There was a general consensus amongst participants that the different youth volunteer initiatives and organisations working with youth volunteers, need to be better funded and connected. At present, the ‘disconnect’ is considerable, resulting in the duplication of efforts and activities, congestion of volunteer initiatives at certain times of the year, youth volunteer confusion, weariness amongst funding agencies, and a generally difficult environment where youth volunteerism is not reaching its full potential.
With regards to the potential of volunteering contributing to the youth’s enhanced employability, a mix of reactions and experiences were given. Within the non-profit sector, employers insisted on volunteering experience as a prerequisite for employment, and expected to see this on applicants’ Curriculum Vitaes (CVs). However, a majority of youth reported a lack of appreciation for volunteering experience by some potential or prospective non-NPO employers, leading the youth to removing their volunteering section from their CV.
Without fail, all participants in this study documented the accountability, confidence, maturity, pride, reliability and responsibility that come about from volunteering. Youth volunteers reported a ‘new found sense of aptitude and accomplishment’ that they acquired through volunteering. Within an enabling environment for volunteerism, the key is to ensure that all youth volunteering activities, initiatives and programmes result in this impact on the participating youth, and to support the youth in transferring these accomplishments to other aspects of their lives such as civic engagement, employment, family, and community participation.
Given the obvious benefits, this raises the question of whether youth volunteering should become compulsory so that all youth can benefit. Whilst‘compulsory volunteering’ was considered by the majority of those taking part in the research as an incompatible oxymoron, others felt that compulsory participation in volunteering is necessary as it provides access to a beneficial experience that may not be realised or explored by all youth if participation is voluntary. Compulsory participation could give an initial ‘taster’ from where an informed decision about further voluntary activity can be made. Indeed, some participants claimed that through compulsory participation, some youth are ‘transformed’ into model engaged volunteers.
Universities can also play a role in such initiatives, being an ideal place for youth to engage in extra-curricular volunteering programmes that complement their core curriculum as well as their professional skills.
To read the full research report, please visit the British Council (Jordan) website where the report will be available soon: http://www.britishcouncil.jo/en/programmes/society.
|Dr Haya Al-Dajani: Haya’s career encompassed a combination of academic and industry based appointments in the UK, USA and Jordan and currently she is a Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management and Associate Director for Enterprise, Engagement and External Relations at the Norwich Business School at the University of East Anglia, UK.
One of her key research areas is youth in the Arab World and the role of entrepreneurship education within higher education institutions. Haya has designed and delivered a range of business startup, development and growth programs for university students and graduates as well as growth programs for micro enterprises. Her flagship business growth program funded by the European Union was adopted by the UK National Specialist Contractors Council to enhance the growth potential of members’ micro enterprises.
 Brown, R., Constant, L., Glick, P., and Grant, A (2014), Youth in Jordan – Transitions from Education to Employment, California, RAND
 For more information about the UNV’s Arab Youth Volunteering for a Better Future programme, please visit http://www.unv.org/fileadmin/docdb/pdf/UNV_AYV4BF_Overview_4P.pdf.
Image credit: ‘Color up your life!’- ‘Ana mish muhared ana taleb’ initiative in Jordan. Photo by @UNVJordan