The Citizen Service Network is an autonomous non-profit organization created in late 2007. It runs its activities in complete political, philosophical and regional independence. It operates at three levels:
- As a reference organization for Citizen Service, the Network coordinates the different Belgian organizations providing this type of programmes. It also reflects with them upon the consistency of the conceptual and programmatic framework that the Network strives to guarantee. The Network brings these organizations together within a working group consisting of several members and at least one head of each individual programme. They meet on a regular basis to reflect upon the aforementioned framework and to define it while remaining as faithful as possible to the identity and the particularities of the Citizen Service concept.
- As a field operator, the Network offers the Citizen Service programme. It is therefore one field operator among others (such as Solidarcité, Coup de Pouce or Asmae).
- As a lobbying organization, the Citizen Service Network runs promotional and communication activities towards the political world. It strives to impress upon the different levels of government the importance of establishing an institutional framework for this social project. The Citizen Service Network is working towards one fundamental goal: the creation of a law granting a status to all young people aged 18 to 25 who take part in the Citizen Service programme in Belgium.
The Network aims to make the Citizen Service accessible to all young people aged 18 to 25 in order to stimulate their personal growth and promote their integration into society as responsible and active citizens with a critical mind and a sense of solidarity. To fulfill its mission, the Network carries out several activities that fall into five categories:
- Enlargement: the Network federates an increasing number of associations and organizations of public utility and mobilizes them in order to get their active support (qualifying members or supporting members).
- Mobilization: the Network lobbies public authorities and politicians in order to obtain a legal framework for the Citizen Service (among other things, it holds senate hearings, informs institutions and policy makers about the Citizen Service, ...). It also impresses upon the civilians the importance of societal issues underlying the creation of a Citizen Service (solidarity, social cohesion, participatory citizenship ...) by organizing conferences, calling for signatures, ...
- Operationalization: since 2011, the Citizen Service Network has launched several Citizen Service pilot projects involving the Walloon Region, the Brussels Region and the Flemish Region. Since 2013, the Citizen Service has been covering the entire country.
- Research & Publication: the Citizen Service Network leads a research committee, organizes work meetings and seminars, and carries out a prospective study about the place of the Citizen Service in the Belgian non-profit and institutional landscape. The Network also publishes articles in specialist journals.
- Communication: the Network communicates to the widest possible audience about the Citizen Service's projects and its impacts on society (through its website, brochures, press conferences, audiovisual reports, media campaigns, radio ads, newspaper articles, …).
In 2012, the Citizen Service Network created a European network gathering NGOs offering similar programmes (ARCI-SC in Italy, Unis-Cité in France, Service National de la Jeunesse in Luxembourg, ...).
The Citizen Service is a six month programme, structured in four days of mission (28 hours a week, from Monday to Thursday) and one day of training a week (7 hours a week, on Fridays). It targets all young people aged 18 to 25 regardless of their skills, qualifications or curriculum vitae. During their Citizen Service, the young people have a volunteer status and they receive an allowance of 10 euros a day and up to 100 euros a month to cover their travel expenses, on top of the unemployment benefits or any other source of income they may already receive (Centers for Social Action, child allowance, housing assistance benefits, ...).
The Citizen Service Networks coordinates the programme, is responsible for the overall organization and the administrative follow-up, oversees the training of tutors and supervisors from the host organizations, and provides young people undertaking a Citizen Service with most of their training sessions.
During their Citizen Service, the young people involved will devote 70% of their time to their main mission, 10% to additional missions and community exchanges, and the remaining 20% will be spent attending training sessions, sharing with others, taking part in international work camps, defining their plans for the future and assessing their experience.
The host organizations play an active part in the citizen service experience: they welcome young people into their organization four days a week and offer them to carry out a mission useful to the community; they follow up with the young volunteers for support and guidance during their mission; they train them in their missions through the lens of citizenship.
The host organizations (non-profit organizations, public services) work in the fields of social care, culture, education, the environment, and sports.
The methods used by tutors and team leaders are part of an educational project promoting:
- A participative approach through the young person's involvement in missions of public utility.
- A series of general and targeted training sessions (including personal time for young people to grow and plan their future).
- An immersion in a professional working environment and a work team.
- A tailor-made individual support (coaching) at the Network's headquarters, and guidance from a tutor in the host organization.
- An opportunity for young people to learn from their peers through sharing their thoughts and experiences, and to work in pairs (making two young volunteers work together on a single mission where they complement each other).
- An educational method aimed at stimulating the young person's reflexivity by alternating experiential engagement and reflexive training.
- The validation and acknowledgement of the young person's commitment through "rites" of passage marking symbolic moments an places (residential integration week, drafting a common charter, closing ceremony at the federal Parliament, ...).
The Citizen Service gives young people from all backgrounds time to grow in maturity, socialize and define life projects. It enables them to acquire social, professional and civic skills through experience, to learn about how to live together, to assimilate the codes of citizenship, and to get a better knowledge of the democratic institutions. The fundamental stake at the core of this programme is to create meaning and connections so that young people are fully able to envision their place in society and to enter the labour market. The programme is based on equal opportunities of access (no selection, reintegration of the young people dropping out), and is striving to achieve a social and cultural melting pot.
In a secure environment where they are free to experiment and feel validated, young people in Citizen Service learn to know themselves better, to interact with others better and to define the foundations of their life project. The alternation of action and training, individually or as part of a group or a work team, develops their ability to reflect on their experiences and contributes to the acquisition of expertise, knowledge, know-how and soft skills. This experience also greatly contributes to social and cultural intermingling by bringing together young people from different social, cultural and geographic backgrounds who will engage with a variety of beneficiaries (the elderly, disabled people, children, ...) and contribute to a better social cohesion.
The Citizen Service pursues the following operational goals:
- Build up young people's self-confidence and self-esteem.
- Enable them to get a clearer idea of their plans for the future.
- Foster their spirit of initiative by making them take responsabilities and take part in various projects.
- Give them a space where they can experiment living together through participation and commitment.
- Develop their critical thinking through a better understanding of societal challenges.
- Get a better knowledge of their civic and political rights and duties .
- Get a better knowledge of societal needs and the different forms of solidarity addressing them, so that they can define the way they want to get involved in actions of solidarity.
- Enable people from different socio-cultural backgrounds to meet, exchange ideas and forge links.
- Recognize and value their commitment and the responsibilities they take.
- Promote the integration of young people in precarious situations into peer groups, thereby stimulating their inclusion into society at large.