In enhancing civic engagement on an ongoing basis, das Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend (the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth) sees itself as a partner of civic society supporting the millions of volunteers, clubs, associations, businesses and private foundations.
The Ministry's civic engagement policy is largely based on the "Civic Engagement Strategy", which was launched in 2016. The Engagement Strategy can be seen as a framework that defines guidelines for a coordinated civic engagement policy. According to the Strategy the Ministry's priorities with regard to civic engagement rely on a participatory and dialogue-oriented approach with its partners, tri-sectoral cooperation as well as on strengthening and pursuing a culture of recognition and appreciation for the millions of volunteers in Germany.
The Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth organizes den Deutschen EngagementTag (the German Civic Engagement Day) in order to offer a widely recognized platform for discussion, knowledge transfer and networking as well as to strengthen cooperation with the civic engagement sector. The Civic Engagement Day takes place around the "Internationaler Tag der freiwilligen Helfer für die wirtschaftliche und soziale Entwicklung" (International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development) at the beginning of December of each year. In cooperation with the Bundesnetzwerk für Bürgerschaftliches Engagement (National Network for Civic Engagement, BBE), the Ministry organizes an annual "Woche des Bürgerschaftlichen Engagements" (Civic Engagement Week) to inform the public about the many and varied services performed by over 30 million volunteers in Germany. By awarding the annual "Deutscher Engagementpreis" (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.
Development of Civic Engagement in Germany: The Engagement Reports
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 as well as with private foundations and businesses that provide a service to society. The German Survey on Volunteering has now for two decades provided the basis for drawing up a report on the current state of affairs and on developments affecting volunteering in Germany. On request of the german parliament, the Bundesregierung (Federal Government) submits a scientific report on the development of civic engagement in every legislative period, which is drafted by an independent expert commission and supplemented by a comment from the Federal Government. The Third Engagement Report 2020 focuses on "The Future of Civil Society: Young Engagement in the Digital Age." The Fourth Engagement Report will be published in 2025.
German Foundation for Civic Engagement and Volunteer Work
Die Deutsche Stiftung für Engagement und Ehrenamt (the German Foundation for Civic Engagement and Volunteer Work) was the central outcome of the Kommission "Gleichwertige Lebensverhältnisse" (Commission on Equivalent Living Conditions). From 2020 onwards, it is to contribute to establishing nationwide preconditions for more civic engagement and voluntary work. Apart from offering its own services, the foundation is also able to provide financial support to existing civic engagement and voluntary work structures and to create structures where there are none or where they are not yet available in sufficient numbers. In its role as a national point of contact for actively engaged associations and for citizens’ initiatives, the foundation will be pooling relevant information. This will make it easier for actively engaged citizens to put tried and tested concepts into practice. Digitalisation is another of the foundation's key areas of work.
Network programme "Actively Engaged City"
Since 2015, the network programme "Engagierte Stadt" (Actively Engaged City) has been funding civic engagement and participation in 50 selected cities and municipalities in Germany. The funding aims at fostering community partnerships with joint responsibilities which support civic engagement on a local level and create reliable structures for this. The programme enables exploring new forms of strategic cooperation between civil society, politics, administration and industry, as equal partners. The Ministry is currently funding the programme together with the following foundations: Körber-Stiftung, Bertelsmann Stiftung and Deutsche Stiftung für Engagement und Ehrenamt. The network is being supported by further regional and federal state partners.
Federal programme "People support People"
With the programme "Menschen stärken Menschen" (People support People), the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth supports civic engagement, initially only for refugees. Due to the positive experience with the programme for refugees, the programme concept has been extended to new target groups. In addition to refugees, the programme also seeks to reach those people who suffer a lack of perspective for the future and who are difficult to reach through other offers. The programme's aim is to also integrate people from disadvantaging backgrounds into the community and give them the opportunity to participate more equally. Since the start of the programme in 2016, almost 200.000 mentoring relationships have been established.
Franco-German Civic Fund
Since April 2020, the Franco-German Civic Fund has been promoting and supporting town twinning and civic initiatives. With the Treaty of Aachen, which was ceremoniously signed in January 2019, Germany and France together sent a clear signal for the strengthening of cross-border civic engagement.
The Franco-German Civic Fund is intended to help connecting German and French civil society even closer and to strengthen and deepen intergenerational exchange between citizens of both countries in a united Europe. New ideas and innovative projects can thus gain low-threshold access to funding. The funding ranges from small projects and initiatives up to 5000 Euros to medium-sized projects and lighthouse projects over 50.000 Euros.
Federal programme "Live Democracy!"
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 supported by a federal programme launched by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth entitled "Demokratie leben!" ("Live Democracy!"). The programme specifically funds projects that seek to promote democracy, shape diversity and prevent extremism. The programme operates at various levels, supporting not only projects with a local focus but also projects with a regional and supraregional scope.
Federal programme "Local Partnerships for Democracy"
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, shape diversity and prevent extremism. 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, children and young people themselves can now establish a youth forum. Currently, the programme is funding 350 "partnerships for Democracy".
Democracy Centres at Federal State Level
"Live Democracy!" supports 16 Democracy Centres at the level of the Bundesländer (federal states). In each of the 16 federal states, the Democracy Centre ensures that a wide range of counselling and support services are networked to better support people in dealing with extremism and group-based hostility. In particular, these services cover mobile counselling, victims' counselling and exit counselling.
Competence Centres and Competence Networks
Approximately Fifty civil society organisations acting at national level as Kompetenzzentren und Kompetenznetzwerke (Competence Centres and Competence Networks) receive funding for their work in 14 focus areas, for example anti-Semitism, right-wing extremism, internet. This funding fosters the development of expertise and successful approaches in the specific thematic area.
A pillar of "Live Democracy!" involves the funding of pilot projects in different fields of action. These are - promoting democracy, shaping diversity and preventing extremism. The projects develop new, innovative approaches. These approaches are later to be applied to educational work within the context of child and youth welfare.
Engagement strategy of the federal government
The coalition agreement (December 2021) contains a passage according to which a new federal engagement strategy is to be developed together with civil society. The goals include better enabling of voluntary engagement, better and simpler framework conditions and strengthening the resilience of civil society. The "Deutsche Stiftung für Engagement und Ehrenamt" (German Foundation for Civic Engagement and Volunteer Work) will act as a hinge to civil society and centrally manage the participation process, which was launched at the end of 2022. The intention is to have the federal government's "new" engagement strategy approved by the cabinet by the end of 2024 if possible.
About 100.000 volunteers are annually active in the various voluntary services based on respective federal laws. The voluntary services are a special type of civic engagement and contribute considerably to social cohesion. Apart from this, they are a major instrument of non-formal and informal learning and orientation in life as well as for professional orientation.
The Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth financially supports different types of voluntary services: The Bundesfreiwilligendienst (Federal Volunteer Service, BFD), the Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr (Voluntary Social Year, FSJ), the Freiwilliges Ökologisches Jahr (Voluntary Ecological Year, FÖJ) and the Internationaler Jugendfreiwilligendienst (International Youth Voluntary Service, IJFD).
Within the BFD people of any age who have completed compulsory schooling and want to serve society can volunteer within social services, environmental services, become involved in sports, integration, culture and education, civil protection or disaster relief. The total number of BFD-volunteers in 2022 was approximately 36.200. 22 percent of them were older than 27 years.
While the BFD is open to people of any age who have completed compulsory schooling, FSJ and FÖJ are open to all people who have completed compulsory schooling and have not reached the age of 27. The total number of FSJ- and FÖJ-volunteers in 2022 was approximately 56.000.
People can volunteer within all types of services for periods between six and eighteen months, in special cases up to two years. Usually FSJ, FÖJ as well as BFD last twelve months. Volunteers receive pocket money, social insurance, training and guidance with the aim of teaching social, environmental, cultural and intercultural skills and building a sense of responsibility for the common good. They attend seminars on topics such as civic education, self-assertion, stress management or adventure-based learning.
Generally, volunteers have to accomplish a full-time service. Part-time volunteer placements of more than 20 hours are possible for all people aged 27 and older. Volunteers younger than 27 can perform part-time volunteer service for more than 20 hours a week as well if a legitimate interest exists. Legitimate interests are to care for a child or relative, health problems, educational and qualification courses or comparable serious reasons. Upon completing the volunteer service, volunteers receive a qualified reference.
The Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth also operates the International Youth Voluntary Service (IJFD) for young people aged 26 or younger wanting to volunteer abroad. Assignments usually involve social, environmental or peace and conflict resolution work. Within the scope of this service, the young volunteers can gather intercultural, socio-political and personal experience in a different cultural environment. Until 2020 approximately 3000 volunteers were annually funded in the International Youth Voluntary Service. For pandemic reasons the amount has been increased intensely and has reached an amount of approximately 2500 volunteers so far.
Foreign volunteers (incomers) are welcome to do voluntary service (BFD/FSJ/FÖJ) in Germany. Volunteers must possess a German national visa or residence permit entitling them to perform voluntary work in Germany. There is no need for a work permit for this kind of volunteer activity. Under the German Residency Act, volunteers from abroad can generally be granted a volunteer visa or residence permit if they fulfill the personal eligibility requirements (such as age), are in possession of an agreement with a place of assignment and can prove that they will be provided with adequate means of subsistence for the duration of their stay. For more information on how to obtain volunteer visas, please see the German Embassy or consular websites in the volunteers‘ country of residence.
International Youth Voluntary Service
The Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth also supports an Internationalen Jugendfreiwilligendienst (International Youth Voluntary Service, IJFD) for young people wanting to volunteer abroad. Within the scope of this service, the young volunteers can gather intercultural, socio-political and personal experience in a different cultural environment. The IJFD is meant to serve humanity, and also brings a wealth of experience to the volunteers personality.
The total number of volunteers in 2019 was approximately 58.000 in FSJ/FÖJ. In addition, around 3000 volunteers were funded in the International Youth Voluntary Service.
Foreign volunteers (incomers) are welcome to do voluntary service (BFD/FSJ/FÖJ) in Germany. Volunteers must possess a residence permit entitling them to work in Germany. There is no need for a work permit. Under the German Residency Act, volunteers from abroad can generally be granted such a residence permit specifically in order to participate in the volunteer services if they are in possession of an agreement with a place of assignment.
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 integrating 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" was launched in December 2015 and ran until December 2018. In addition to joining the Federal Volunteer Service, would-be volunteers can also opt to do a Voluntary Social Service Year or a Voluntary Environmental Service Year.
In the 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 and approximately 2800 in the Voluntary Environmental Service Year. In addition, just below 3400 volunteers were funded in the International Youth Voluntary Service. In the 2016 budget, almost 93.000 million euros were 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, 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. Assignments usually involve social, environmental or peace and conflict resolution work.