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The European North-South Divide

The European North-South Divide

By Christian Paolo Tintori

“Volunteering? Why Are You Doing It?”

As a young individual residing in Southern Europe, I have heard this question, regarding what I do, far too often: “It is interesting, but how much do you get paid?” It is generally accompanied by a patronizing smile. Being familiar with the culture of my region, I always expected this question whenever I talked about my volunteering activities.

In Southern Europe, young people generally do not consider volunteering as a formal professional activity. It is what people resort to when they cannot find a remunerated job to fill a gap in their resume. Hence, they dodge the much-dreaded question, “What have you been doing until now?” during job interviews.

But here is the thing: I do have a remunerated career. This leads to the next question, “Then why are you doing it?”


Volunteers teaching young kids | Photo Courtesy: Projects Abroad

A North-South Divide

I have spent many years working with my peers in Northern Europe and America. I find that they are much more open to voluntary work. After all these years, I believe that I have found an explanation for the little consideration for these activities in Southern Europe.

In Northern regions, volunteering is highly revered by society. Universities and employers consider it to be a valuable experience. A volunteer is not alienated as someone who is trying to compensate for a lack of professional opportunities. Instead, he is looked on as a respectable individual who chose to put his spare time to good use.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]A volunteer is not alienated as someone who is trying to compensate for a lack of professional opportunities. Instead, he is looked on as a respectable individual who chose to put his spare time to good use.[/su_pullquote]

In Southern Europe, however, we have been raised with a very specific mindset: get a degree, find a job, think about yourself, then and only then, think about others. In a world that is so fast-paced, long-term plans are a luxury that most cannot afford in a crisis-ridden peripheral region.

At this point, I could argue in favor of the benefits for personal development that come with contributing to your community. Instead, I adopt a more pragmatic approach. The fact is that young people often overlook the short and long-term professional benefits of volunteering.

Latent Opportunities?

My personal experience has taught me that there is more than meets the eye when it comes to voluntary work.

While employers give little importance to these experiences in Southern Europe, they love hearing about them in Northern regions. In these latitudes, the cultural fit is very important. Companies want to hire well-rounded individuals. They want to hear your story and know what you can bring to their environment. They very often run their own corporate volunteering programs and, therefore, are open to like-minded individuals. Only discussing your academic profile, especially for young graduates, will only get you so far in a job interview.

Networking opportunities are also invaluable. I joined the Global Shapers Community, a community of the World Economic Forum dedicated to young individuals, last February. It was a step I took to contribute to my community. In addition to helping others, I had the opportunity to interact with many brilliant people. Although I was not looking for a job, I was presented with two remunerated work opportunities in less than four months. This was a result of the network I built.

Furthermore, many non-profit organisations operate with flat structures. This gives you the chance, as a young person, to propose and run your own projects. Not only will this help sharpen your professional skills, but potential employers will value the fact that you occupied positions of responsibility early on.

A Personal Choice

There is a lot of debate surrounding the question of how to get young people more involved in voluntary work in many developed countries. In some Northern nations, voluntary work is de facto required for college admission. Other educational jurisdictions have made it part of their curriculum, but this approach gave birth to an oxymoron: compulsory volunteering. There are perhaps alternative ways to encourage young folks to embrace such activities, one of them being sharing personal experiences about a world that seems so arcane and distant from the traditional professional world.

Of course, this is my very own experience. I am not suggesting to take it as a manual for career development. It is up to you to make the best of each opportunity. But even if you do not manage to generate synergies between your volunteering activities and your remunerated career, at least you can go to sleep at night knowing that you made the life of other people slightly better.

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Christian Paolo Tintori is an entrepreneur, financier, business developer and philanthropist. He  is a member of the Global Shapers Community of the World Economic Forum.

Feature Image Source: VisualHunt

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