Buenos Aires Times | Social volunteering at highest level since 2001 crisis

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There is a classic phrase historically used to characterise us as a society: “We Argentines show solidarity.” But is that complacent cliché really true or nothing more than wishful thinking? 

A recent survey of 1,000 Argentines aged over 16 nationwide has revealed an interesting trend nationwide – last year a historic record of 36 percent of those consulted answered: “Yes” when asked if they had done any volunteer tasks in the last 12 months.

“We have been investigating this theme since 1997,and we have seen in recent years a trend for more people to affirm that they have dedicated part of their free time to working for some non-profit organisation without receiving any remuneration in exchange,” said Constanza Cilley, the director of Voices consultancy firm and the coordinator of this investigation.

“We have followed this historic trend and what we have found is that when economic crises become more severe in Argentina, the number of people joining in some type of voluntary work also goes up,” she explained. “When the general economic situation improves, these contributions diminish, returning to the ‘natural’ figures for social collaboration.”

According to Cilley, in normal times, two out of every 10 persons say they volunteer but when a crisis sharpens, the figure rises. This was seen clearly in the tough years following Argentina’s 2001 economic crisis when participation rose to 32 percent of the population. Since then, levels had dropped to the norm of 20 percent. 

Since 2015, numbers have been rising again, reaching the historic peak of 36 percent last year, said the study’s lead author.

According to the report, Argentina places 46th for “volunteer activities” in a ranking of 69 countries worldwide.

 

Details

Dissecting the survey, some striking elements appear. For example, according to Cilley, “at the gender level there is no significant difference between men and women when it comes to helping out.” Another interesting item from the data is that traditionally in Argentina volunteer work is an activity associated with people of intermediate age: 31 percent versus 17 percent among youth and 20 percent among those aged over 50.

“The good thing we have been seeing in recent years is the growth of volunteering among younger people – 54 percent in the 18-24 age-group affirm having carried out some volunteer activity in the 12 months preceding the survey,” said the expert. 

Furthermore, volunteering activity is especially solid inland with figures of around 26 percent in the provinces and 15 percent in Buenos Aires. 

So what are the main factors drawing people to volunteer work and what are their experiences? The three most frequently chosen responses to the former question were: knowing and becoming aware of people’s problems; following the values and examples set by their parents; and having or having had contact with relatives or friends who have or have had serious economic problems.

This final reason is notable for Cilley.: “We have data indicating that Argentines are extremely inclined towards solidarity with their family, friends and inner circle but find trusting other social groups extremely difficult.” 

Indeed, one of the survey’s questions goes into the possibility of trusting people and over 80 percent maintained that “you have to be very careful when dealing with other people.” In other words, “this is a clear symptom of a strong crisis of confidence, not only the already historic one regarding the institutions but also extending to the interpersonal level,” said the expert.

Finally, another question looked into the causes which most draw people into volunteering for tasks of solidarity. The most common reasons are “poverty, hunger and the homeless.” In the second instance, everything related to issues of health and prevention. Ecological topics only appear in third place. In this sense, one element with increasing pull in recent times, especially in big cities, is everything linked to the rescue and shelter of animals. But basically when it comes to helping out, Argentines prioritise social causes. 

 

The culture of donating money

Another public opinion study by the same consultancy firm studied attitudes towards donating money to non-governmental organisations. It showed that national confidence in NGOs is divided – only four out of every 10 Argentines trust these organisations, while five out of every 10 mistrust them.

Today 22 percent of Argentines give money to civil society organisations (CSOs) with 13 percent donating monthly. Although a slight rise in the percentage of people donating money to CSOs has been detected, it continues to be a minority practice. Most donors express satisfaction with their experience of donation but a significant minority (three out of every 10) consider that donating money is only for rich people. A low profile is important since seven out of every 10 share the opinion that those who donate money should not comment on it. This idea coexists with others who support transmitting their charity so that other people become aware of what they are doing, especially among the young, giving privilege to a contagious effect.

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