Immigrants’ participation in the voluntary sector

Last updated: 2/4/2022

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Characteristics and scope

Why is participation in the voluntary sector important?

NGOs are arenas for participation that create trust and a sense of belonging, while at the same time helping to solve important societal tasks.

Volunteering can function as a school for democracy. The participants gain experience in democratic rules through regular activities. In addition, the organisations also act as social policy actors that influence national political processes. If some community groups participate to a lesser extent in a local community over a long period, this may have consequences for trust and the sense of belonging to the local community. In turn, this can have an adverse effect on participation in other areas, such as working life and education and exacerbate social inequality.

Involvement in NGOs is very popular in the Scandinavian countries. In Norway, this applies to more than 60 per cent of the population. Therefore, Norway stands out from other European countries. The Norwegian authorities actively facilitate voluntary and organisational work and have done so for a long time.

Another important characteristic of Scandinavian countries is that they are trust-based, i.e., the population has a high degree of trust in the country’s authorities and institutions as well as in most people. Organisational life in local communities serves as arenas for building trust and networks between people. Together, trust and networks form what is called social capital, and enhance a society’s preconditions for solving collective challenges. This saves society the expense of having systems to make sure that people do what they say or will do. Research documents a positive correlation between a country’s level of social capital and various social conditions, such as economic development, health, lower crime rate and the quality of the public authorities. There is broad consensus in the social sciences that social trust and social networks are resources that provide individuals with opportunities for upward social mobility.

Compared with the rest of the population, immigrants have less trust in people in general. However, immigrants who have lived in Norway for a long time have higher generalised trust than those who have only lived in Norway for a few years. Trust in the political system, the judiciary and the police is higher among immigrants than among the general population.

Social capital can mainly be generated in three ways:

  • Through face-to-face meetings between individuals in both formal and informal arenas.
  • Through encounters the individuals have with public institutions.
  • Through the NGOs’ strong position, visibility and ability to make a difference.

There is a documented correlation between increasing social inequalities and failing social capital. Countries with well-developed welfare schemes are better equipped to retain a high degree of social capital.

The voluntary sector and integration

Initiatives under the auspices of NGOs provide an important supplement to the authorities’ integration work. NGOs offer various activities and serve as meeting places between new and old residents. Social networks are built and a sense of belonging is created while providing valuable expertise and knowledge about Norwegian society. This can help to lower barriers among the immigrant population for social participation and thus contribute to better integration.

Good recruitment of immigrants into volunteering, as volunteers, members and board members, also contributes to better representation and increased diversity in important parts of the machinery of society. This gives immigrants an increased sense of belonging and trust in Norwegian society. Such participation can also provide access to important social networks that in turn make it easier to enter the labour market.

Not least, it is important to prevent exclusion, that children and young people from immigrant backgrounds are included and participate in voluntary activities and organisational life.

Do immigrants participate in the voluntary sector to a lesser extent?

Immigrants participate to a lesser extent in voluntary work than the rest of the population. However, education and income levels, language skills and how long they have lived in Norway have, statistically speaking, are important for the level of participation. Immigrants that have a low score in these factors are less likely to participate in NGOs. When adjusting these factors, the researchers found that participation is at the same level as the rest of the population.

The researchers found that the number of immigrants who are involved in voluntary work varies with their country of origin. People with backgrounds from Poland, in particular, have low participation rates. Women, people with little education, elderly and those who have poor Norwegian language skills are also less likely to participate as volunteers.

When it comes to children of immigrants and their organisational participation, the research suggests that there are greater differences among young people from immigrant backgrounds than in the majority population. However, it also depends on from which part of the world the parents have immigrated. Young people with parents from Eastern Europe and Asia have lower participation rates than other young people, while young people from Africa participate at least as often as young people without an immigrant background.

Just like the typical volunteer in Norway, the typical immigrant volunteer is also a highly educated person with a high level of income and a broad social network. However, the typical immigrant volunteer is also involved in several types of organisations and spends more hours volunteering. The immigrant volunteers are younger, and the older they get, the less they participate. Previous studies have shown that immigrants participate to a greater extent in informal voluntary activities, such as voluntary work in a housing cooperative. Becoming members of a board or having formal membership in organisations is less common. Norwegian-born children of immigrants, on the other hand, are just as involved in voluntary work as the rest of the population in the same age group.

Immigrants are more motivated and purposeful in their voluntary work than the rest of the population. Sport is the most popular type of organisation among immigrants and the rest of the population. In the past, voluntary involvement in religious organisations was the most popular among immigrants. Overall, they are still more active in this type of organisation than the rest of the population.

People from immigrant backgrounds can experience several obstacles in their everyday lives. They are more likely to respond that they lack social networks to become involved in voluntary participation. Compared with the rest of the population, immigrants are also twice as likely to be affected by loneliness. They are more likely to lack someone close to them in whom they can confide.

In a study on immigrants in rural areas, the researchers found that social networks are of great importance. Immigrants who state that they have Norwegian friends are much more likely to have a job. Therefore, it can be argued that social contact in various informal arenas contributes to confidence and can make it easier to enter the labour market.

An analysis has been conducted to examine the relationship between voluntary work and trust, voluntary work and political participation, as well as voluntary work and unpaid social work amount immigrants. The researchers who have conducted this analysis found a correlation between these variables.

Immigrant organisations

An immigrant organisation can be defined as an organisation whose members have either immigrated themselves or have parents who have immigrated to Norway from countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Immigrant organisations may have different purposes but most of them have been established to safeguard and enhance ethnic and religious identity and a sense of belonging. Therefore, the recruitment of members is usually based on a common country or cultural background.

Research on the voluntary sector often distinguishes between two perspectives of the organisations. The first is a representative perspective where the organisations operate as channels of democratic influence. The other is an integration perspective where the organisations create meeting places and social communities. In this way, immigrant organisations can contribute to new citizens becoming part of the wider society.

Some studies have shown that many immigrant organisations tend to be internally oriented with few outward connections. They contribute little to what is known as bridging social capital.

However, there is strong social integration within the groups in these organisations. In this way, they contribute to what is often called bonding social capital and have a value, perhaps especially for new arrivals. Many of the organisations focus on being guides in society at large and, for example, they can provide guidance to parents who are new to the country.

Measures and possible solutions

What are the most important prerequisites and barriers for immigrants to participate more in the local community?

The most important way into volunteering is through loose networks, i.e., acquaintances and not through friends and family. Some immigrants lack the necessary resources to join traditional associations while the traditional associations lack the necessary resources to include new groups. In the long term, a lack of meeting places for people from different backgrounds may undermine trust between the inhabitants of a community and thus their identity and sense of belonging to the place where they live.

Studies of multicultural communities show that successful results are related to the local authorities facilitating and coordinating cross-sectoral cooperation between different actors. In the literature, this is called linking social capital.

Local authorities that focus on targeted competence development, long-term projects and funding can help traditional associations by including new groups. At the same time, they can help formalise immigrant networks. To ensure a good foundation in the community, the initiatives must also be developed through the various existing networks.

Knowledge needs

It is extremely difficult to conduct statistically generalisable surveys in the immigrant population because the response rate is usually low. The respondents are usually those with the most resources, which means that information about and from those who fall outside is lost. This can be counteracted by conducting more resource-intensive surveys, both qualitative and quantitative.

We have some general knowledge about immigrants’ participation in the local communities and we can say something about the factors that inhibit and promote participation. It is also necessary to follow the trend over time and how immigration affects the social capital in Norway. Relevant topics in this context are:

  • Levels and extent of immigrants’ participation in local communities.
  • The role of volunteers in the integration of new arrivals, both immigrant organisations and diversity in the traditional organisations.
  • What support measures and organisational structures are appropriate to make the immigrant organisations sustainable over time?
  • What role do the organisations play in a national and transnational context?

What is happening in the field?

In October 2018, the Government presented an integration strategy the main objective of which was to increase immigrants participation in the labour market and society. One of the four priority areas is “everyday integration”. The objective of everyday integration is for immigrants to experience an increased sense of belonging and participation in society. Everyday integration is about the meetings that occur between people in small and large communities.

The Government’s integration strategy states that voluntary organisations are an important arena for everyday integration. From a perspective of democracy, participation in associations is good both for society and the individual. Civil society is strengthened and systemic trust and interpersonal trust are enhanced. Together, this helps to maintain a high degree of social capital and well-functioning democratic institutions.

The efforts that people make in everyday life to include immigrants and refugees are crucial for good integration. In June 2021, the Government presented the strategy “Everyday Integration - Strategy for Strengthening the Role of Civil Society in the Field of Integration 2021-2024”.

The strategy provides direction for the role of civil society in the integration work in the years ahead and is based, among other things, on input from organisations, individuals, municipalities and county authorities across the country. The strategy aims to contribute to ensuring that children, young people and adults from immigrant backgrounds participate in civil society to a greater extent. Furthermore, it will promote and support the efforts of civil society in integration and contribute to better cooperation and improved framework conditions for organisations.

Reference List

Note: Most references are only available in Norwegian.

  1. See, among others:
    • Wollebæk, D. and Selle, P. (2002): “Det nye organisasjonssamfunnet. Demokrati i omforming”. Fagbokforlaget.
    • Lorentzen, H. (2004): “Fellesskapets fundament. Sivilsamfunnet og individualismen”. Pax forlag. ISBN: 9788253026633.
    • Hagelund, A. and Loga, J. (2009): “Frivillighet, innvandring og integrasjon. En kunnskapsoversikt”. Available from: http://hdl.handle.net/11250/177672 (Retrieved 6 February 2020).
    • NOU 2011:14 Bedre integrering. Mål strategier og tiltak. Available from: https://www.regjeringen.no/no/dokumenter/nou-2011-14/id647388/ (Retrieved 6 February 2020).
  2. Fladmoe, A., Sivesind and Arnesen, S. (2018): “Oppdaterte tall om frivillig innsats i Norge, 1998–2017”. Available from: http://hdl.handle.net/11250/2557786 (Retrieved 6 February 2020)
  3. Meld. St. 10 (2018–2019): Frivilligheita – sterk, sjølvstendig, mangfaldig. The Ministry of Culture 2018. Available from: https://www.regjeringen.no/no/dokumenter/meld.-st.-10-20182019/id2621384/ (Retrieved 6 February 2020).
  4. Putnam, R.D. (2000): “Bowling Alone. The Collapse and Revival of American Community”. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-0304-6.
  5. Coleman (1988) i Saltkjel, T. and Malmberg-Heimonen, I. (2013): “Social inequalities, social trust and civic participation, the case of Norway”. European Journal of Social Work, Volume 17, 2014 – Issue 1, pp. 118-134.
  6. Torsvik, G. (2000): “Social capital and economic development. A plea for the Mechanisms”. Sage Journals, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp. 451–467.
  7. See, among others:
    • Wollebæk, D. and Segaard, S.B. (ed.) (2011): “Sosial kapital i Norge”. Cappelen Damm. ISBN: 9788202345297.
    • Doh, S. (2013): “Social Capital, Economic Development, and the Quality of Government: How Interaction Between Social Capital and the Economic Development Affects the Quality of Government”, Public Administration, Volume 92, Issue 1, pp. 104-124.
    • Rothstein, B. (2002): “Sweden: Social Capital in the Social Democratic State.” i Putnam, R.D. (ed.) (2002): “Democracies in Flux: The Evolution of Social Capital in Contemporary Society”. Oxford University Press. ISBN: 9780195150896.
  8. In the technical literature, trust in “people in general” is known as generalised trust.
  9. Vrålstad, S. and Wiggen, K. S. (ed.) (2016): “Levekår blant innvandrere i Norge 2016” Report 2017/13 SSB. Available from: https://www.ssb.no/sosiale-forhold-og-kriminalitet/artikler-og-publikasjoner/levekar-blant-innvandrere-i-norge-2016 (Retrieved 6 February 2020).
  10. The face-to-face approach can be found in Putnam, R.D. (2000): “Bowling Alone. The Collapse and Revival of American Community”. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-0304-6. In Rothstein, B. and Stolle (2008): “The state and Social Capital: An Institutional Theory of Generalized Trust” Comparative Politics, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp. 441-459, argues that social capital is generated in the encounters with fair and impartial street-level bureaucracies. A third approach focuses on the role and position of society, see Wollebæk, D. and Selle, P. (2015): “The Complex Relationship Between Civil Society and Trust”. Available from: http://www.italiansociologicalreview.com/ojs/index.php?journal=ISR&page=article&op=view&path%5B%5D=110 (Retrieved 6 February 2020)
  11. See, among others:
  12. In this text, immigrants are confined to people who have immigrated to Norway from countries in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. The largest immigrant groups In Norway have backgrounds from countries in these continents.
  13. It is difficult to find good data on voluntary participation among immigrants, especially when it comes to the trend over time. Immigrants often have a lower response rate in surveys, but researchers still find some kind of pattern.
  14. Eimhjellen, I. S. and Segaard, S. B. (2010): “Etniske minoriteter og frivillige organisasjoner”. Report 2010:8 Centre for Research on Civil Society and the Voluntary Sector. Available from: https://www.regjeringen.no/no/dokumenter/etniske-minoriteter-og-frivillige-organi/id625308/ (Retrieved 6 February 2020).
  15. Eimhjellen, Ivar; Espegren, Astrid; Nærland, Torgeir Uberg (2021): “Sivilsamfunn og integrering. En kunnskapsoppsummering”. Report 2021:3 Centre for Research on Civil Society and the Voluntary Sector. Available from: https://samfunnsforskning.brage.unit.no/samfunnsforskning-xmlui/bitstream/handle/11250/2737651/Sivilsamfunn%2bog%2bintegrering.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y
  16. Ibid.
  17. A lot of voluntary work among Norwegian-born children with immigrant parents, SSB 2019, Available from: https://www.ssb.no/kultur-og-fritid/artikler-og-publikasjoner/mye-frivillig-innsats-blant-norskfodte-med-innvandrerforeldre (Retrieved 6 February 2020)
  18. Eimhjellen, I. S. (2016): “Innvandrarar si deltaking i norsk frivilligliv. Nye tal og metodiske utfordringar”. Report 2016:3 Centre for Research on Civil Society and the Voluntary Sector. Available from: https://www.regjeringen.no/no/dokumenter/rapport-innvandrarar-si-deltaking-i-norsk-frivilligliv/id2484857/ (Retrieved 6 February 2020).
  19. See, among others:
  20. Eimhjellen, I. S. and Segaard, S. B. (2010): “Etniske minoriteter og frivillige organisasjoner”. Report 2010:8 Centre for Research on Civil Society and the Voluntary Sector. Available from: https://www.regjeringen.no/no/dokumenter/etniske-minoriteter-og-frivillige-organi/id625308/ (Retrieved 6 February 2020).
  21. Vrålstad, S. and Wiggen, K. S. (ed.) (2016): “Levekår blant innvandrere i Norge 2016” Report 2017/13 SSB. Available from: https://www.ssb.no/sosiale-forhold-og-kriminalitet/artikler-og-publikasjoner/levekar-blant-innvandrere-i-norge-2016 (Retrieved 6 February 2020).
  22. Søholt, S., Tronstad, K. R. and Vesttby, G. (2015): “Sysselsetting av innvandrere – regionale muligheter og barrierer for inkludering”. NIBR report 2015:20. Available from: http://www.hioa.no/Om-OsloMet/Senter-for-velferds-og-arbeidslivsforskning/NIBR/Publikasjoner/Publikasjoner-norsk/Sysselsetting-av-innvandrere-regionale-muligheter-og-barrierer-for-inkludering (Retrieved 6 February 2020).
  23. Eimhjellen, I. S., Bentsen, H. L. og Wollebæk, D. (2020): “Sivilsamfunnsdeltaking blant innvandrarar i Noreg”. Report 2020:2 Centre for Research on Civil Society and the Voluntary Sector. Available from: http://hdl.handle.net/11250/2636124 (Retrieved 6 February 2020)
  24. From IMDi’s Circular 11/2018: A local, voluntary member-based immigrant organisation is an organisation domiciled in a municipality where its members are immigrants and Norwegian-born persons with two immigrant parents with backgrounds from countries outside the Nordic countries, Switzerland, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Domiciled means that the registered address (the National Population Register) of the organisation is in the municipality.
    See also:
  25. See, among others:
    • Enjolras, B. and Wollebæk, D. (2010): “Frivillige organisasjoner, sosial utjevning og inkludering” Report 2010:2 Centre for Research on Civil Society and the Voluntary Sector. Available from: http://hdl.handle.net/11250/177670 (Retrieved 6 February 2020)
    • Ødegård, G., Loga, J., Steen-Johansen, K. and Ravneberg B. (2014): “Fellesskap og forskjellighet”. Abstrakt forlag. ISBN: 9788279353553
  26. See, among others:
  27. Putnam, R.D. (2000): “Bowling Alone. The Collapse and Revival of American Community”. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-0304-6.
  28. See, among others:
    • Lidén, H. (2001): “Innvandreroganisasjoner – integrering eller marginalisering?” in Henriksen, L. S. and Ibsen, B. (2001): “Frivillighedens udfordringer – nordisk forskning om frivilligt arbeide og frivillige organisationer”.
    • Rogstad, J. (2007): “Demokratisk fellesskap. Politisk inkludering og etnisk mobilisering”.
    • Enjolras, B. and Wollebæk, D. (2010): “Frivillige organisasjoner, sosial utjevning og inkludering” Report 2010:2 Centre for Research on Civil Society and the Voluntary Sector.
    • Ødegård. G. (2010): “Foreningsliv i et flerkulturelt lokalsamfunn. En studie om integrasjon og sosial kapital”. Report 2010:6 Centre for Research on Civil Society and the Voluntary Sector.
    • Ødegård, G., Loga, J., Steen-Johansen, K. and Ravneberg B. (2014): “Fellesskap og forskjellighet”. Abstrakt forlag. ISBN: 9788279353553
  29. Putnam, R.D. (2000): “Bowling Alone. The Collapse and Revival of American Community”. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-0304-6.
  30. Bråten, B., Jahreie, J. and Lillevik, R. (2017): “Innvandrerorganisasjoners rolle i integrering. Sett gjennom en statlig tilskuddsordning”. Fafo report: 2017:14. Available from: https://www.fafo.no/index.php/zoo-publikasjoner/fafo-rapporter/item/innvandrerorganisasjoners-integreringsrolle (Retrieved 6 February 2020).
  31. See a table of the most important barriers and measures in: Kunnskapsoversikt. The minority population’s participation in NGOs. What do we know?. Centre for Research on Civil Society and the Voluntary Sector.
  32. Ibid. And Wollebæk, D., Sætrang, S. and Fladmoe, A. (2015): “Betingelser for frivillig innsats – motivasjon og kontekst”. Report 2015:1 Centre for Research on Civil Society and the Voluntary Sector. http://hdl.handle.net/11250/2442819 (Retrieved 18 February 2020)
  33. Ødegård, G., Loga, J., Steen-Johansen, K. and Ravneberg B. (2014): “Fellesskap og forskjellighet”. Abstrakt forlag. ISBN: 9788279353553
  34. Ødegård, G., Loga, J., Steen-Johansen, K. and Ravneberg B. (2014): “Fellesskap og forskjellighet”. Abstrakt forlag. ISBN: 9788279353553
  35. See, among others:
    • Eimhjellen, I. S. (2016): “Innvandrarar si deltaking i norsk frivilligliv. Nye tal og metodiske utfordringar”. Report 2016:3 Centre for Research on Civil Society and the Voluntary Sector. Available from: https://www.regjeringen.no/no/dokumenter/rapport-innvandrarar-si-deltaking-i-norsk-frivilligliv/id2484857/ (Retrieved 6 February 2020).
    • Careja, R. and Bevelander, P. (2018): “Using population registers for migration and integration research: examples from Denmark and Sweden”. I Comparative Migration Studies (2018) 6:19.
    • Careja, R. and Andreß, H. J. (2018): “In search of a frame: Challenges and opportunities for sampling immigrant minorities”. I Comparative Migration Studies (2018) 6:37.
  36. Knowledge overview. The minority population’s participation in NGOs. What do we know?. Centre for Research on Civil Society and the Voluntary Sector.
  37. The Ministry of Education and Research (2018): Integration through knowledge – The Government’s Integration Strategy 2019–2022. Available from: https://www.regjeringen.no/no/dokumenter/integrering-gjennom-kunnskap/id2617246/ (Retrieved 18 February 2020)
  38. Ibid.
  39. The Ministry of Education and Research (2021): Everyday integration - Strategy for enhancing the role of civil society in the field of integration 2021-2024. Available from: https://www.regjeringen.no/contentassets/b6ae799c27fb4455a1e5c6d8d06f6c7d/hverdagsintegrering.pdf