Solidarity and Volunteering: A View from Mexico

Gustavo Verduzco


The central objective of this chapter is to offer new information about volunteer activities in Mexico in an international arena, as it is possible now with this book. Data presented for this country many years ago were based on a few indicators used to determine volunteer activity (Salamon and collaborators, Mexico, 1999). Those data were very limited but in those days that was the only alternative. This time, our information comes from a national survey using a new methodology whose main traits I will present. Before this, however, I will start with some thoughts regarding the conception of volunteer activity in Mexico, as this is an issue over which there is not a common agreement. After the presentation of the data together with some other comments, I will finish with some concluding remarks that may be useful for future research, especially if we want to compare similar data among the different countries.

Voluntary actions and “Volunteerism” has been a research issue in countries such as Europe, the United States, and Canada for a long time. One main reason is that in these places, “Volunteerism” exists as an institution, giving some cohesion to organizations where volunteer activity is practiced. In France, it is called “Benevolat.” However, in Mexico and other Latin American countries, the issue of “Volunteer activity” is relatively new, and its knowledge is still very limited even among academics. An important characteristic to highlight is that Mexicans rarely refer to volunteering in their day-to-day talk. What they mention instead is the word “colab- oracion” (collaboration), which has a similar meaning. It is more common to say, “people ‘collaborate’ with others to accomplish actions in favor of a cause or in favor of other people.” Very seldom do people refer to these kind of actions as

G. Verduzco (*)

Colegio de Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

J. Butcher, C.J. Einolf (eds.), Perspectives on Volunteering, Nonprofit and Civil Society Studies, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-39899-0_10

“volunteer activity” or as “voluntary actions .” However, the use of other words in Mexico is not a mere semantic and trivial difference, but it shows in part what the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu refers to when he talks about “habitus:” a cultural form that gives content to one or more actions that have been built in the social interactions among people (Bourdieu, Chamboredon, & Passeron, 2008). In Mexico, when a person asks to collaborate on a particular activity, he or she means to accomplish one or more actions jointly in favor of, or to benefit, other people or a cause with no interest of his or her own. However, when making these assertions I do not want to monopolize the meaning of these words as if it was the only one; rather I want to emphasize that we seldom use the terms “voluntary work” or “voluntary activities,” even if we mean such types of action.

The previous remarks are also related to the development of the different issues of research in the varied sociocultural environments that exist in many countries. However, since in Mexico and in Latin America those issues are not only new but, more importantly, the issues have come to us with specific and concrete content which is not always the same as in the places of origin. For these reasons, we discovered that it was of paramount importance to develop a new methodology that could represent the specific circumstances under which this type of activity takes place in Mexico. Our purpose has been to focus our research on voluntary activities, defined as they have been in other places, as those actions accomplished in favor of other people or a cause without pay, without compulsion, and not to favor an immediate family member.

Volunteer activity has traditionally been understood—particularly in Europe, the United States, and other countries—as undertaken in civil society organizations . However, in Mexico and other countries in Latin America, these actions take place in a variety of environments spanning formal and informal organizations, a variety of groups and communities, as well as individually. In this regard, we have explicitly attempted to capture a broad set of voluntary actions because, based on findings gathered on field experiences, we had found that Mexicans volunteered in various contexts thus, it was crucial to capture this.

In the past, we have attempted to collect quality information on voluntary activities with little success. As we mentioned, we found that most people in this country do not recognize the term “voluntary activity.” When we asked: “Have you performed some voluntary activity?” Most people responded “No,” even if they had done it. Failure to recognize voluntary actions was worse when the wording was, “Have you performed any voluntary activity in favor of an organization?” In this case, even fewer people answered “Yes,” even if they had.[1] After these attempts, we discovered that it was crucial to begin the questionnaire by providing examples of voluntary activities as they typically take place in Mexico, and then asking the interviewee if he or she had performed any of these. Before applying the final version of the questionnaire we had made several test modules to make sure our research objectives were met. We prompted the respondent with a set of 23 actions such as caring for the sick or disabled, participating in civic or political support, or activities in settings including the respondent’s church, school, or neighborhood.

Once we provided these initial examples for the interviewee, we asked the respondent if he or she had carried out those kinds of voluntary activities, and if so, how frequently and for how long each time. In addition, for each activity with a positive answer we asked if it had been performed willingly (without compulsion), without pay, and to benefit those outside of their immediate family. This was the concrete way in which we operationalized the definition of “voluntary action” to collect information .

In what follows, I will present first a set of descriptive data on the characteristics of those who volunteer in Mexico, the fields in which they have worked, as well as some other socioeconomic traits. Further, I will comment about these actions with respect to what has been commented for other countries. One objective of this is to reveal the similarities and differences in actions that are thought to be equal in the different countries. This will help us think of the importance of, as well as the limits to, comparisons between countries and cultures.

  • [1] The ENAFI (National Survey on Philanthropy and Civil Society) collected information using thewording mentioned in the text and the results were: “Yes” (22 % in 2005; 19 % in 2008 and 18 %in 2013).
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