Armenia is a post-communist country where volunteering, hampered by communist experience, is in the process of revitalization. Armenia stands out in the region of South Caucasus as the country with highest and growing levels of volunteering. Increased levels of volunteering are most likely due to higher involvement in informal volunteering: the survey that measures formal volunteering shows no increase, whereas the survey that asks a general question that could pertain to both formal and informal volunteering shows higher numbers of self-reported volunteering for 2013 as compared to 2011 and 2012. It is also interesting to note that volunteering is more widespread in Armenia than in Georgia, although Georgia is more democratic. Clearly, volunteering is not directly related to political opportunities.
The reasons behind Armenia being different from its neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia need further investigation. It is plausible that a number of existing programs that provide young Diaspora Armenians with a possibility to volunteer in Armenia for several months increases the overall positive image of volunteering and serve as inspiring examples for the local Armenians to become involved as well. It remains to be seen if an increase in voluntary activities in Armenia in 2013 was a temporary hike due to political activism, or if this is a trend signaling that volunteering is on the rise, as our qualitative study participants believe. In terms of the region, levels of volunteering vary significantly between the three countries, rendering the communist legacy argument irrelevant. Our prediction of young generation having a different attitude toward volunteering due to lack of exposure to soviet institutions was wrong. There is no difference in levels of self-reported volunteering among various age cohorts, except that those above 64 volunteer less. This is true for all three South Caucasus countries.
One of the limitations of the study is that, for the lack of better data, we use cross-sectional survey data in an attempt to identify differences between age cohorts, in essence conflating age and generation. Our findings that the young generation is not more actively engaged in volunteering does refute an expectation of ‘youth activism driven by a different mindset.’ It does not tell us, however, whether youth are relatively passive because they still possess the ‘old communist passive’ mindset that they inherited from their parents, or because they are simply less active at this stage of their life, being young, less settled into their communities and so on, and they will become more active in their middle age. A proper analysis of generational change would require longitudinal data that would allow us to compare today’s 18-24 year olds with how much today’s 25-31 year olds volunteered 7 years ago, when they were 18-24.
Our secondary data analysis shows Armenia as the country with highest and increasing levels of volunteering compared with its two South Caucasus neighbors. This finding is corroborated by our qualitative study: older participants who were able to reflect on changes in volunteering culture in Armenia mention that volunteering is on the rise and is on demand by organizations. However, our secondary data suggests that this increase is not due to more involvement of the young people, thus disproving our hypothesized weakening of communist legacy through generational change. The participants of the qualitative study however often point to the youth as the most active and engaged social group and see it as a new stage of development of Armenian civil society. These seemingly contradictory factors can perhaps be reconciled. It is possible that the youth involved with NGOs are indeed more active, but that youth activism is not a nationwide phenomenon that a survey would capture .
Altruism and improved career expectations are the two main reasons for volunteering, as both our quantitative and qualitative data show. Those who choose not to get involved in formal volunteering explain their decision by lack of time, lack of interest, belief that it would be useless, or health problems.
Career-related factors are among the most pronounced elements of the qualitative discourse on motivations behind volunteering. Both volunteers and NGO leaders stress the importance of volunteering as a means to improve future career possibilities. NGO leaders, however, believe that those are the main driving factors behind volunteering, whereas volunteers stress the altruistic motives as equally important. It is also interesting to note that although both groups of respondents consider career-related skills development as an important motivator for volunteering, NGO leaders are reluctant to provide volunteers with opportunities to develop such skills; tasks performed by volunteers are rarely more sophisticated that photocopying or tracking RSVPs for an event organized by the NGO. Volunteers seem to be content with the situation, as their accounts of their volunteering experience at NGOs are overwhelmingly positive. Thus, a somewhat paradoxical picture emerges; NGO leaders acknowledge the value of volunteering for their organizations, and see themselves and their organizations as important settings for the development of volunteers’ abilities, but they are reluctant to tap into volunteers’ potential beyond small-scale administrative duties. Despite that, volunteers value the opportunity to be involved in voluntary work and consider it to be of great value.
Volunteering is neither a new phenomenon in Armenia, nor it is radically different from the concept of volunteering prevalent in the Northern scholarship. The Northern concepts of volunteering and motivations behind voluntary actions ‘travel’ quite well to our region and can be applied to analyze Armenian reality. We can see that the motivational factors, such as altruism on one hand and career-oriented calculations on the other hand, often discussed in the Northern academic literature (e.g., see Clary & Snyder, 1999; Wilson, 2000) are voiced by the Armenian volunteers when describing their reasons for becoming socially involved. An interesting finding, worth further elaboration, is that the altruism is more important for survey participants, whereas career-related factors are more highlighted by our qualitative study participants.