Civic Engagement Policy

A group of people hold each other's hands
Living in a society where people stand up for one another© Fotolia/william87

In cooperation with the National Network for Civic Engagement (BBE), the Ministry organizes an annual Civic Engagement Week to inform the public about the many and varied services performed by over 30 million volunteers in Germany. And with the award of the annual German Prize for Civic Engagement, the Ministry recognizes the outstanding achievements of volunteers from all around the country as a contribution to society that promotes social cohesion.

The Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth places particular importance on collaborative civic engagement policy, working with the world of sports and with private foundations and businesses that provide a service to society. On request of the German parliament, the Federal Government submits in every legislative period a scientific commitment report drafted by an independent expert committee and supplemented by a comment from the Federal Government. The "Second Engagement Report 2016" will focus on "Demographic Change and Civic Engagement: Civic Engagement and its Contribution to Local Development"

Attacks on democracy, freedom and the rule of law as well as ideologies of inequality are perennial challenges to the entire society. Day by day, many initiatives, associations and committed citizens throughout Germany are actively working towards their aim of a diverse, non-violent and democratic society. In this important work, they are being supported by a federal programme launched by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. Named "Live Democracy!", it specifically sponsors projects that seek to encourage democracy and prevent radicalisation. The programme operates on various levels, setting out to support projects with not only local, but also regional and supraregional missions.

The federal programme supports towns and cities, municipalities and rural districts throughout Germany in developing "partnerships for democracy" as structurally based local or regional alliances to promote democracy and diversity. These partnerships bring together decision-makers from local politics and administration and people active in all aspects of civil society. In order to strengthen children’s and youth’s civic engagement, a youth forum can be established by children and young people themselves. 234 local authorities were selected so far in three expression-of-interest processes to develop their own "partnership for democracy". Currently, a four expression-of-interest process is running, allowing for new "partnerships for democracy" to be developed.

In each of the 16 federal states, a Land Democracy Centre ensures that a wide spectrum of counselling and support services are networked to better support people in dealing with right-wing extremism and group-based hostility. In particular, these services cover mobile counselling, victims' counselling and exit counselling.

Non-government organisations acting on national level receive funding for their work against violence and hate and for democracy throughout Germany. This funding fosters the development of a nation-wide infrastructure allowing professional support to be provided by experts and further developing successful approaches.

A pillar of "Live Democracy!" involves the funding of model projects designed to target specific topics such as democracy promotion in rural areas, fighting against anti-semitism, islamophobia, antigypsyism, homophobia and transphobia. Another group of pilotprojects is aimed at preventing radicalisation.

In order to meet new challenges and take further target groups into account, the programme has been strategically developed in a new participative project. Thus, the programme will cover from 2017 on five new topic areas:

  • Engagement and diversity at the workplace
  • Fostering democracy in the field of education
  • Prevention of radicalisation in prison and during probation assistance
  • Fostering the civic engagement online – against online hate speech
  • Living together in the immigration society

When refugee numbers soared up in 2015, the so-called "welcoming culture" in Germany became famous. With the programme "Menschen stärken Menschen" that translates as "people support people", the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth seeks to strengthen this development and transform spontaneous engagement into long-term civic commitment. The programme´s aims are to broker mentoring relationships between refugees and people living in Germany and to win over mentors, host families and guardians for the group of unaccompanied refugee minors. In 2016 more than 25.000 mentoring relationships have been founded.

About 100,000 volunteers are active in the various voluntary services based on respective federal laws. An evaluation of the effects of voluntary services revealed that youth completing voluntary services cite as their prime motives to bridge waiting periods/gap years, personal development and vocational orientation. This highlights the character of voluntary services as a major instrument of non-formal and informal learning and orientation of life as well as for professional orientation.

At the Federal Volunteer Service (BFD), some 35,000 people of all ages – girls and boys, women and men, senior citizens – who want to serve society can volunteer to perform social services or environmental services, or become involved in sports, integration, culture and education, civil protection and disaster management. People can volunteer with the Federal Volunteer Service for periods of between six months and two years. Part-time volunteer placements are possible for people aged 27 and older. Volunteers receive pocket money, social insurance, training and attend seminars on topics such as civic education.

In 2016 up to 10,000 new Federal Volunteer Service places were added pertaining to refugee assistance in an effort to steer the structure and organisation of volunteering more clearly and for the longer term towards helping refugees. The “Federal Volunteer Service pertaining to Refugees” focuses on offering the refugees assistance and support in finding accommodation, food and other essential resources, in navigating German society and integrate into everyday life as well as with education and recreational activities. In addition to volunteers living in Germany, the additional BFD places are also open to persons entitled to be granted asylum or asylum-seekers who are expected to achieve lawful and long-term residence status in Germany. The Federal Volunteer Service pertaining to Refugees launched on 1 December 2015 and is scheduled to run until 31 December 2018. In addition to joining the Federal Volunteer Service, would-be volunteers can also opt to do a Voluntary Social Service Year (FSJ) or a Voluntary Environmental Service Year (FÖJ).

In the last funding year 2014/2015, funds were released for the mentoring and educational support of more than 53,000 young volunteers in the Voluntary Social Year (FSJ) and approximate 2,800 in the Voluntary Ecological Year (FÖJ). In addition, just below 3,400 volunteers were funded in the International Youth Voluntary Service. In the 2016 budget, almost 93.000 million Euros are available for youth voluntary services. Although no special or additional funds have been released for refugee work in the FSJ and FÖJ, individual operators are committed in this field and also specifically addressing young refugees.

The Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth also operates an International Youth Voluntary Service (IJFD) for young people wanting to volunteer abroad. Deployments usually involve social, environmental or peace and conflict resolution work.