Benenova: Promoting Civic Engagement & Inclusive Volunteerism

Jun 23, 2023

The Points of Light Global Network operates with innovative volunteer-mobilizing organizations that serve more than 145 affiliates across 39 countries around the world. Together, we are inspiring, equipping and mobilizing more people to use their time, talent and resources to create positive change in their communities.

We spoke with Andre Salkin from Benenova, a Points of Light affiliate in France, to discuss how the organization is creating positive change in its region and beyond. Benenova was created in 2013 and is currently present in four regions in France: Paris, Nantes, Lille and Rennes. The organization’s mission is to facilitate the civic engagement of as many people as possible by offering a large variety of short, collective volunteer missions accessible to all through special programs of inclusivity.

Learn more about this nonprofit’s outstanding work in the realm of inclusive volunteer opportunities.

What role does volunteerism play in your organization’s overall mission and objectives?

Since 2013, Benenova’s primary mission has been to mobilize citizens to get involved in a wide variety of volunteer missions with a focus on making volunteering accessible. Not only through the variety and choice of volunteer opportunities offered on our website, but also through inclusive programs which provide an entry into volunteering for those with physical or mental disabilities and those in situations of precarity. We do this by working closely with our volunteers and partner associations to ensure each mission is suited to the needs and desires of those involved.

Benenova also promotes a change in the way we envision volunteering. Our programs of inclusivity encourage a reversal of the relationship between the helper and the helped. Our volunteer base is largely young and new to volunteering. Forty-three percent of our volunteers had their first experience with Benenova, and 53% are under the age of 35. Rather than going out and “serving” a community, we want to show how volunteering serves us all, even the volunteers. To volunteer is to strengthen our bond within our cities and neighborhoods – to be really and truly included.

How are you engaging with volunteers to inspire them to participate in community service activities?

Our specialty at Benenova is providing an introduction to volunteering for those who are interested in getting involved. One of the ways we do this is through the “permanence,” in which first-time volunteers, particularly those suffering from situations of economic insecurity or social exclusion, can come to our office and be guided through the process of becoming a fully autonomous volunteer by starting an account and finding missions that suit their needs.

We held 22 permanences last year, allowing us to accompany 110 people in situations of precarity to get involved in volunteering missions. Our most active volunteers, called “supernovas,” help out with these introduction programs, representing Benenova in public spaces.

What resources or tools are you providing to volunteers to help them get involved in their community?

Our main resource is accessibility. We offer a wide variety of volunteer opportunities on the online calendar. Across four cities, over 800 monthly listings relating to the fight against poverty, protecting the environment and aiding the youth and aged populations.

In addition to the permanence, we offer a specialized inclusive volunteer program to make volunteering accessible to those with disabilities – mental or physical. We also follow up with both volunteers and associations to ensure missions are going smoothly and everyone’s needs are being met.

Share one success story of a volunteer (or a group of volunteers) in your community who have made a significant impact.

One of our most notable success stories is that of Seijirô, a young man with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) who we accompanied as he began his volunteer journey. We started with an interview to better get to know Seijirô, his interests and his desire to help others feel useful. We were also able to identify some difficulties to take into account in order to propose adequate missions – for example, his sensitivity to noise, or difficulties related to fine motor skills or speech.

We worked with Seijirô to find a form of volunteering that worked for him, and we worked with the volunteer associations to ensure the task remained suitable for Seijirô. While Seijirô admitted the tasks were difficult for him at first, volunteering made him feel useful, and like he was able to help others. Alexia, a psychologist who has worked with Seijirô and his parents for years, echoed Seijirô’s positive sentiments, saying that volunteering made it easier to go about daily tasks, improving Seijirô’s mood and sense of personal autonomy.

The entire mission of Benenova revolves around adapting and welcoming every person willing to give time to a cause or an association. In that sense, the inclusive volunteer program is simply an extension of our values and core mission.

What are some future plans for your organization to continue promoting volunteerism and civic engagement?

There are two large yearly milestones for Benenova – World Refugee Day (June 20) and World Volunteer Day (December 5) – both big opportunities for Benenova to raise awareness and rally involvement in volunteerism.

We are also in the process of making a film about our 10 years of social involvement, incorporating spoken testimonials from those involved at every level of the organization. In addition, one of our most current objectives is the expansion of corporate volunteerism – getting salaried employees engaged in volunteering by presenting real initiatives to companies.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give someone who’s looking to get more involved in their community through volunteerism?

The best advice is to stay human-centered. We can never be in touch with every individual, but we can stay available and accommodating. All people can give is their time – the least we can do is be thankful.

Points of Light

We are champions of civic engagement with a mission to inspire, equip and mobilize people to take action that changes the world.