The transformation of civic society is an active topic of discussion today. Next to the third sector voluntarism, an independent fourth sector has risen, gaining significant attention. This against the overall organizational concerns that people in general may not want to commit to volunteering as actively as previously.

But, what sectors?

Volunteerism in the third sector means volunteering in the traditional organized way for an established organization. By contrast, volunteering is self-directing in the fourth sector, i.e. free civic action without being tied to any formal organizations.

Swiftness and agility of action is typical in the fourth sector. Here, likeminded people meet in social media and spring into in action. No reports or action plans are needed for the funders; therefore volunteering can be initiated spontaneously. Examples include urban activism, such as restaurant- and flee market days, and activism within social media, including recycling groups on Facebook and housing networks for asylum seekers.

There is a flip side to this agility: spontaneous and occasional activities started within social media can grow and stabilize, making it necessary, for example, to open a bank account. However, Finnish law at the moment does not recognize a Facebook group judicially. Thus, it was stated in Citizen Forum’s dialogue in 2018, that more articulate official recognition is needed for both sectors.

Fortunately, there is a will for further development within civic society. Organizational law is being renewed. Presently a team within Ministry of Justice is working to find ways to reduce barriers for operating non-profit civic organizations.

In Citizen Forum’s vision, Finland is viewed as the best place in the world to volunteer. This includes the activities within the fourth sector, even if not every activist in the fourth sector identifies as a volunteer.

In 2018, Volunteer of the year trophy was exceptionally divided among two recipients: Tapani Vainikainen, representing traditional volunteerism and Jouko the Street Barber for free civil activism. When choosing who to award, the panel of judges recognized the need for both traditional volunteerism as well as activity based on self-motivation and prompt reaction.

The third and fourth sectors can have much to give to each other. Traditional organization can offer spaces for civil activists, as in the case of Kalliola Settlement and the community fridge Keru. On the other hand, the fourth sector can exemplify how to make participation easier – for example online. Citizen Forum wants to be part of developing bridges between the sectors. There is a need for both traditional and emerging activities, now and in the future.

How could Citizen Forum, a nationwide lobbyist for volunteering, advance free social activism? Or the co-operation between the third and fourth sector? You may give us your thoughts here.

Text: Maria Talvela

Translation: Pirkko Nurmikko