Athens 2004 Olympics participants could be directed to EU sports-related or social volunteering activities with their permission, says volunteer manager Olga Kikou in an interview with EURACTIV.
In an exclusive interview with EURACTIV, the Manager for Volunteer Selection and Orientation Training Olga Kikou explains how the volunteer programme for the Athens 2004 Olympics is being conducted and points out some of the potential benefits for the EU. Greek organisers are carrying out the selection process internally. This is the first time that a Summer Olympics volunteer programme has made full use of an internet application system. This is an important year for sport and education in the EU as it is the European Year of Education through Sport (EYES). In this context, the European Commission and the organising committee for the Olympic Games in Athens are responsible for the Olympic champions of education initiative.
What are the potential benefits of the volunteer programme for the EU?
There are two aspects that I would like to highlight. First, we have a pool of 160,000 people who have stated an interest in participating in the volunteer programme. After the Games, the possibility exists of directing these people (with their permission) to other volunteer activities in sports-related areas or in social volunteering. There are agencies, like the European Voluntary Service, under the umbrella of the European Commission, which support the work of local organizations throughout the EU and our volunteer applicants could potentially be a valuable source for such organizations.
The second aspect has to do with the implications for developing volunteer projects through all the experience gained on various organizational and managerial levels of such a complex and vast volunteer programme.
Of course, this is all subject to Greek and EC legislation and provided there is mutual interest from both sides.
What did you think has worked particularly well and what has worked particularly badly in terms of the methodology you have used?
First of all, different recruitment actions need to be well planned from the beginning. Timing is also important, as you need to be careful not to recruit people too early and keep them waiting, or recruit them at the last minute and not have time to organise all stages effectively. We have also learnt a lot in terms of recruiting through the media advertising campaign. Our selection process was organized internally and although it has been a much more complex and demanding task, we have certainly ensured better results. Training is equally important. And of course, one needs to find ways to keep volunteers interested. All our experiences will be recorded and evaluated in detail after the Games.
What would you like to highlight in terms of the demographic make-up of the volunteers?
I would say that Greece accounts for around 65 per cent of the approximately 160,000 applications. Other than Greece, the top five countries in terms of numbers (to the nearest thousand) are US – 10,000, Spain – 6,800, Germany – 5,170, UK – 4,800 and Australia – 4,450.
55 per cent of volunteers are women (52 per cent in Sydney) with 45 per cent being men. In terms of education, 45 per cent have finished high school, 28 per cent are university graduates and 11 per cent are postgraduates.
Generally, in the Athens Games we have younger volunteers participating than in Sydney. I think this may be because older people in Greece choose to spend more time with their families and are kept busy within their family units – eg looking after grandchildren, etc. In that sense, they do not have as much free time as they are more interested in pre-existing social networks which are more familiar to them.
EURACTIV sees that, of 27 April 2004, there has been a total of 158,546 applications going for 45,000 volunteer positions. How does this compare with previous Olympics, how many applications do you expect to receive for the positions and what do you do with the candidates that you have to reject and with their data? Is there a closing date for applications for the volunteer programme?
The Volunteer Applicat ion Forms we have received have exceeded expectations, especially the high number of applications from International Volunteers. This is the first time in the history of the Olympic Games that there has been such a high number of applications. In Sydney the number recorded was around 75,000 and generally speaking in previous Games slightly lower.
It is also the first time that a volunteer programme of this magnitude has taken place. And, of course, this effort requires excellent organization and management behind the scenes.
Unfortunately, there will be a great number of volunteer candidates who will not participate, due to the limited number of positions on one hand and the overwhelming interest on the other. To those applicants, letters will be sent out, thanking them for their support and for their wish to contribute to the success of the Athens Games. Their data will not be transmitted to other organizations without their permission, as the Volunteer Application Form explicitly states that the data is only to be used for the purposes of the Athens Volunteer Programme.
The closing date for submission of Volunteer Application Forms is the first of May. Meanwhile, we expect to have received around 160,000 applications by that date.
How does the Athens volunteer programme differ from the Sydney programme? Is this the first time that there has been a volunteer participation certificate? What does the certificate say and does it relate to the specific area the volunteer has worked in? What is its value to potential employers?
We have started our Program earlier than Sydney did. In addition, it is far more extensive. For example, the Volunteer Selection team consists of far more people than in Sydney. We have planned the programme in a more extensive way so that we could reach potential applicants from different sectors of the population and in all corners of Greece. Although, we had not been so active in recruiting foreign volunteers we have, of course, gladly accepted their applications. Our main focus has been Greece where we have also invested in an advertising campaign.
In terms of the selection process, unlike Sydney, we didn’t outsource the project but have decided to do the selection of volunteers internally. In that way we have been able to control the results more effectively, to see how things are progressing from day to day and take the necessary actions, if required, in good time.
With regard to the volunteer participation certificate, it is in the final stages of development. Volunteers who will participate will receive a personal certificate thanking them for their contribution. They may also receive a letter, which will give details regarding their particular position and tasks during the Games. This certificate may prove very useful in enhancing the resumé of younger volunteers with no previous work experience. The job offer letter, which they must sign and return, might also be useful for future employers as it refers to the position each volunteer has been assigned to.
How many volunteers with knowledge of Greek will be needed? How important is it for volunteers to speak at least some Greek? Are there many volunteers who don’t speak Greek at all? Will they be given Greek classes as part of their training?
Most positions require good knowledge of the English language. For the positions needing very good knowledge of the Greek language, we tend to use people whose mother tongue is Greek- either people living in Greece or people from the larger Greek community abroad.
Generally speaking, we have covered the language needs of the Games with some exception in languages like Chinese, Korean and Japanese where we need people who are also fluent in English.
Training will not include Greek classes for those not speaking Greek.
What sort of security vetting measures are there in connection with the selection process?
We do do a background check on the volunteers. Once we have the confirmations of volunteers who have accepted their positio ns, we send their data to the Accreditation dept and they send the data to the police authorities for the background check. Police authorities do this in cooperation with local police for volunteers from Greece as well as international police for foreign volunteers. If everything’s ok, they do send the info back to Accreditation, so we can proceed with accreditation and uniforming.