Original Research Reports

Why Do First and Second-Generation Young Migrants Volunteer? The Migrant Volunteerism Motivation Model (MVMM)

Sara Alfieri*a, Daniela Marzanaa, Sara Martinez Damiaa


The following study aims at inquiring into the motivations behind young migrants’ volunteerism in civic organizations in Italy, namely in starting and maintaining their engagement (preliminary vs. maintenance phase). The term “young migrants” refers to first and second generation of migrants who deal with two challenges: the transition to adulthood and the acquisition of a cultural identity. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 37 Sub-Saharan young migrants living in Italy (18-32 years old), 19 of first generation (1G) and 18 of second generation (2G). The Omoto and Snyder’s Volunteer Process Model (VPM, 1995) was used as an underpinning theoretical framework and a guide for the interpretations of the results. The findings indicate that a) motivations included in the VPM are also found for young migrants, b) some of these motivations take particular meaning for young migrants, c) some motivations are not included in the VPM and are specific of this sample. We named these last motivations: social norms, advocacy and ethno-cultural. In addition, some considerations may be advanced regarding the generation and the phase of motivation: 1G migrants are particularly moved by the importance of integration in the Italian context and by the promotion of their ethnic group while 2G migrants reported mostly the desire to understand their roots. The values, the concern for the community and the longing to develop relationships are the motivations for which all young migrants continue to volunteer; however, 1G migrants are also sustained by advocacy and ethno-cultural motivations. Implications and future directions are discussed.

Keywords: generation, young migrants, motivations, volunteer process model, volunteerism

Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 2019, Vol. 7(2), https://doi.org/10.5964/jspp.v7i2.1104

Received: 2018-11-24. Accepted: 2019-07-07. Published (VoR): 2019-12-20.

Handling Editor: Clifford Stevenson, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, United Kingdom

*Corresponding author at: Department of Psychology, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Largo Gemelli 1, 20123 Milan, Italy. E-mail: sara.alfieri@unicatt.it

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Identity definition for young migrants is a multifaceted process which involves, on the one hand, the transition to adulthood (Arnett, 2003) and on the other hand, the development of a cultural identity, which is linked to their migration’s background (Clauss-Ehlers, 2008). In order to understand the factors which can sustain these two challenges, social psychology has moved towards the study of migrants’ community participation and has highlighted its relationships with integration (Khvorostianov & Remennick, 2017; Marzana, Martinez Damia, Alfieri, & Marta, 2019), expression of citizenship (Alarcón, 2011), and wellbeing (Albanesi, Cicognani, & Zani, 2007; Alfieri, Marzana, & Cipresso, in press; Di Napoli, Dolce, & Arcidiacono, 2019; Gilster, 2012; Marzana, Alfieri, & Marta, 2016; Marzana, Martinez Damia, Alfieri, & Marta, 2019). Because community participation has been found as a resource for young people (Hart, 2013; Hart, Donnelly, Youniss, & Atkins, 2007; Marzana, Martinez Damia, Atallah, & Loreto Martinez, 2019), some studies have investigated the rationales which push first and second generation migrants to engage as well as what sustains their engagement over time (Suárez-Orozco, Hernández, & Casanova, 2015; Taurini, Paloma, García-Ramírez, Marzana, & Marta, 2017).

However, the inquiry on migrants’ community participation is still quite limited and not yet systematized compared to the literature on volunteerism in general, which offered more focused research on the rationale behind the voluntary action (Burns et al., 2005; Liao, Chang, & Tsai, 2012; Marta, Manzi, Pozzi, & Vignoles, 2014; Omoto, Snyder, & Hackett, 2010; Pozzi, Pistoni, & Alfieri, 2017). The theories adopted to describe the rationales that leverage people’s motivation in volunteerism are rooted in either the utilitarian or the moral/value-based perspective (Wilson, 2000). The former explained the voluntary action as a desire to maximize the usefulness of a specific action to one’s own interests (Smith, 1981), while the latter looked for motivations behind engagement in values such as altruism (Boz & Palaz, 2007; Burns, Reid, Toncar, Fawcett, & Anderson, 2006), solidarity (Khvorostianov & Remennick, 2017), and social responsibility (Pozzi, Marta, Marzana, Gozzoli, & Ruggieri, 2014; Weng & Lee, 2016).

There were different models developed in this research area. First, the Role Identity Model of Volunteerism by Callero, Howard, and Piliavin (1987) which sustained that helping behaviors often satisfy a symbolic function of confirming ones’ personal and social identity. Second, the Penner's Sustained Volunteer Model (Penner, 2002; Penner & Finkelstein, 1998) that, instead, identified the role of personal believes and of demographic characteristics. We decided to focus on the Volunteer Process Model (VPM) of Omoto and Snyder (1995) because it combined the utilitarian and the moral perspectives sustaining that volunteerism stems from multiple reasons, which can evolve over time.

Borrowing the motivations identified by the Snyder and Omoto’s VPM (2008), this study aims at identify a specific model for young migrants by exploring though semi-structured interviews the rationales that drive and maintain their engagement to volunteering. In particular, attention to the migration status (i.e. first vs. second-generation) and to the possible change of motivation though time (i.e. preliminary vs. maintenance motivation) will be addressed. We used a “hybrid approach” (Fereday & Muir-Cochrane, 2006, p. 82) to data analysis combing elements of the VPM’s motivations (Snyder & Omoto, 2008) with inductive elements raising from the qualitative interviews in order to develop an explicative model of the young migrants’ motivations to volunteer.

Young Migrants [TOP]

Identity definition in migration is a complex developmental task (French, Seidman, Allen, & Aber, 2006; Phinney, Horenczyk, Liebkind, & Vedder, 2001) as young people deal with issues related both to transition to adulthood and to the construction of their personal or collective migratory narrative. The term young refers to a specific time between adolescence and adulthood, where personal and social identity develops (Arnett, 2003, 2007). During this phase, young people have to become responsible for themselves and choose independently (Arnett, 1998). Moreover, they deal with socio-political issues that define their civic identity (Alfieri, Marzana, Marta, & Vecina, 2017; Marzana, 2011), i.e. their relation with their community and their role of citizens vis-à-vis institutions. Along with the challenges encountered for all young people, young migrants have also to cope with the formation of a cultural identity, joining a mainstream culture and the culture of origin (Benet-Martínez & Haritatos, 2005; Brambilla, Manzi, & Regalia, 2010).

When addressing issues related to cultural identity, their generation plays a key role. Some of the research focusing on migrants (Giuliani, Olivari, & Alfieri, 2017; Rumbaut & Komaie, 2010; Stepick, Stepick, & Labissiere, 2008) made a distinction between: first-generation (1G) migrants, who have experienced migration first hand because they came to the host country aged 17 or older as part of their own migratory plan; second-generation (2G) migrants, who were born in the host country from migrant parents. Although, for this second group the term migrants may be inappropriate, because they have not personally experienced migration, we will refer to them as migrants following the previous literature. The difference between 1G and 2G young adults lies in the challenges that the two groups face: the former are confronted mostly with integration in the new society and the possibility to feel their migratory expectations have been fulfilled, the latter deal not only with the acceptance by other national peers – an issue experienced by their parents too – but also with their own life plans that are often only partly in line with the parents’ one (Besozzi, 2009). Indeed, 2G young migrants often struggle with getting recognition from both their parents and the society they live in (Volpato, 2011).

Many studies (Born, Marzana, Alfieri, & Gavray, 2015; Clary et al., 1998; Johnson, Beebe, Mortimer, & Snyder, 1998; Marta & Pozzi, 2004; Yates & Youniss, 1996) have emphasized the role of volunteerism in supporting the transition to adulthood for young people, highlighting how it promotes agency, social relatedness and moral and political awareness. Moreover, in the case of young migrants, volunteerism also has been found a way to reflect on one's own cultural identity and on the position within the social contest (Flanagan, 2008; Flanagan, Bowes, Jonsson, Csapo, & Sheblanova, 1998). Therefore, when talking about young migrants we need to take into account several factors that can affect their life choices and their commitment to volunteerism.

Motivations Behind Migrant Volunteerism [TOP]

Engagement behaviors within the community can assume different forms: from helping people who suffer to participating in political debate, or organizing cultural and social events. The former behavior is a particular type of engagement known as volunteerism which is defined as a “voluntary, sustained, and ongoing helpfulness” (Clary et al., 1998, p. 1517) usually performed within organizational context; the others forms are usually identified in the literature as social or political participation (Pozzi et al., 2017). Although research on migrant volunteerism is gaining momentum, only few studies have focused on the motivations that drive migrants to engage in the host community, i.e. the community that have received them, or in the community in which they have raised, as this is the case for 2G migrants. The majority of the research on migrants has usually focused on social/political participation (however, not always there is a clear distinction between this and volunteerism) and has brought to light specific rationales for migrants to be engaged. A recent study conducted by Taurini et al. (2017) on Moroccan volunteers in migrant organizations in Andalucía indicated that behind engagement lie both self-focus oriented and other-focus oriented motivations. Among the first type (i.e. self-focus oriented) there were cultural and career motivations. Researchers found that migrants involve in the community to both remember and maintain their cultural identity and build relationships with those who share their same roots (Jensen, 2008; Khvorostianov & Remennick, 2017; Weng & Lee, 2016). Engagement was also a tool to develop skills expendable to increase one’s job positions or to find a job as well (Ballard, Malin, Porter, Colby, & Damon, 2015). In particular, 1G reported the need for self-actualization in the context of underemployment and occupational downgrading due to migration (Khvorostianov & Remennick, 2017). Among the second type of reasons to community engagement (i.e. other-focus oriented), the call for social responsibility (Weng & Lee, 2016), the awareness of their unfair treatment and the desire to contribute to social change (Suárez-Orozco et al., 2015) have been found, for both 1G and 2G migrants. Migrants became volunteers in order to promote the wellbeing of the migrant community and to assist their country of origin (Jensen, 2008). In particular, many 1G migrants have been motivated by their previous hardship of settling down in the new country, the desire to help compatriots to settle and by their being grateful for all they have received (Taurini et al., 2017). On the other hand, the emotion of anger and shock, because of something considered wrong is happening in the society (Ballard et al., 2015), can drive to engagement in order to overcome marginalization and segregation (Jensen, 2008; Sánchez-Jankowski, 2002; Stepick et al., 2008).

This brief literature review has shown that 1G and 2G migrants are drawn to volunteerism and social/political participation by a wide range of motivations. However, regarding generational differences in people’s motivations, few studies explored the differences between 1G and 2G migrants. Suárez-Orozco et al. (2015) for example, found that 2G migrants tended to be less engaged although, as the authors pointed out, this could be explained by their professional background as they often have jobs that already involve helping others. Moreover, a specific model that explains what drives migrants to only volunteer (and not participate politically) in the community has never been develop. For this reason, we have looked to volunteer models built for their national peers. Among them, in particular we have focused on the Snyder and Omoto’s (2008) Model.

The Volunteer Process Model and the Rationales Underlying Volunteerism [TOP]

Motivations are found to be the strongest predictors of the induction to and sustainability of volunteering (Omoto et al., 2010). When we use the term motivation we refer to the activation of an individual towards the fulfillment of a goal, taking into account the conditions of one’s environment (Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999).

VPM (Omoto & Snyder, 1995; Snyder & Omoto, 2007, 2008) is the approach that is credited the most in the scientific community (Pozzi & Marta, 2006) and has tried to understand why people volunteer by: a) conceptualizing three stages of interaction (antecedents, experiences and consequences); b) proposing several levels of analysis (individual, interpersonal, organization and social system). According to Snyder and Omoto (2008) the number and the type of labels used to define motivations vary across studies but seven are recurring. The first motivation is related to personal values and includes the humanitarian desire of contributing to others or other personal core values, convictions and beliefs in fields like religion and spirituality. The second one is community concern and consists of the desire to help or support a community that does not necessarily overlap with the one the volunteer belongs to. The third one is volunteers’ intellectual ambition to understand or know more about a problem, a cause or a group of people. The fourth one is career, intended as the possibility to increase the chances of getting a job through voluntary action. The fifth one is personal development concerns and entails the possibility to put to a test or enhance people’s professional and personal skills. The sixth one is esteem enhancement, which is the potential of volunteerism to feel better or get distracted from personal problems. The seventh one, social concerns, is about being able to enlarge one’s own social network (e.g. building new friendships).

In this study, there were two assumptions borrowed from VPM. First, people are moved by a complex combination of motives; in other words, people can volunteer prompted by different motivations at the same time (Ballard et al., 2015; Kiviniemi, Snyder, & Omoto, 2002; Marta, Guglielmetti, & Pozzi, 2006). Second, motivations are not static but change over time, generally shifting from mostly self-focused motivations to more other-focused ones. As far as we known, only one quantitative research used the VPM to study the motivations of African migrants (Reeder, Davison, Gipson, & Hesson-McInnis, 2001); however, it was narrowed to the field of HIV/AIDS prevention and did not address questions neither about the changing motivation though time neither regarding generation. Starting from this consideration, it is necessary to consider the differences in the experiences and motivation to volunteer of 1G and 2G migrants and understand their evolving over time.

The Present Study [TOP]

Italy represents an interesting case study for a research on young migrants’ motivations to volunteer because it is a country that has recently and rapidly turned from a country of emigration into a country of immigration. According to the latest ISTAT data (2017), more than 5 million third-country nationals live in Italy, with a growing number of residence permits being issued to Sub-Saharan African citizens. Interestingly, the number of young migrants is particularly on the increase: the number of naturalized people aged less than 30 was 32.3% in 2011 and reached 51.3% in 2016. Acquisition of citizenship from parents is also on the increase.

In light of the brief literature review, this study had the general aim to explore the motivations underlying volunteerism among young migrants regarding two issues: generation (1G vs. 2G) and phase (preliminary vs. maintenance motivations). Firstly, because young migrants encountered different challenges related to their migration status, they can be driven by different rationales, thus we focused on differences between 1G and 2G Sub-Saharan (also called Southern Africa, by the 2013 United Nations’ categorization) young people. Secondly, keeping in mind that motivations may change as the VPM sustained (2008), we also focused on preliminary vs. maintenance motivations, namely those who bring to volunteer in the first place and those who sustain volunteering over time.

Method [TOP]

Participants and Procedures [TOP]

Thirty-seven Sub-Saharan 1G and 2G young migrants took part in the study. Outreach was conducted through organizations promoting volunteerism based on two criteria: a) area of migrants’ origin: Sub-Saharan Africa; b) membership to non-profit civil organizations, i.e. organizations aiming at supporting vulnerable people. We decided to focus on so-called civic organizations as they promote volunteerism (and not other type of engagement) and because they are predominantly represented in Italy (34.4% of the total according to the latest ISTAT data). Thirty-seven out of the 40 organizations contacted were available to take part in the study while 3 refused due to lack of time as they were already implementing other events and activities. One participant was recruited from each organization.

Participants were aged between 18 and 32 (M = 23.26). 19 participants were 1G and 18 were 2G migrants. The group included 18 men and 19 women living in Lombardy – the region with the highest rate of non-profit organizations (15.7% of the total according to the 2017 ISTAT data). Most of them declared holding a secondary school degree (70.27%, n = 26), 18.92% (n = 27) an undergraduate or postgraduate degree and 10.81% (n = 4) a lower secondary school degree. Nearly half of them were students (51.35%, n = 19), 24.33% (n = 9) were in employment, 18.92% (n = 7) were unemployed and other (5.40%, n = 2) were classified as student-workers. 40.54% (n = 15) were part of migrant organizations, 35.13% (n = 13) were part of Italian organizations and 24.33% (n = 9) were part of mixed organizations (i.e. multiethnic). The interviews were conducted in the premises of their organizations by two properly trained psychologists. We informed participants about privacy and data processing, and we made clear that participation was voluntary and unrewarded and they could leave at any time. We also asked for their consent to record the audio of the meetings. Consent was requested from each participant in written form. None of the participants left the interview or showed signs of discomfort.

Semi-Structured Interviews [TOP]

Participants took part in individual semi-structured interviews on the following topics: a) what drew them to volunteering, b) how they first got in touch with the organization, and c) why they maintained their commitment over time. The semi-structured interviews looked at different areas of migrants’ experience in organizations, namely the motivations that drove them to engage and maintain their engagement over time. The interviews were entirely tape-recorded and later transcribed verbatim in Italian.

Data Analysis [TOP]

Data analysis was based on a “hybrid approach” (Fereday & Muir-Cochrane, 2006, p. 82) of qualitative methods of thematic analysis, that involved deductive coding (derived from the VPM) and inductive coding (themes emerging from participant’s narratives). This approach was developed as a method of analysis combining the data-driven approach of Boyatzis (1998) with the a priori template of codes approach of Crabtree and Miller (1999). We chose to rely on this method for several reasons: VPM offered us a prescribed and comprehensive set of motivations to volunteer, thus it would provide systematization to our results; however, since VMP was never used with young migrants, we wanted to be open to specifics of this particular population.

Taking inspiration from Fereday and Muir-Cochrane’s method (2006) we followed 5 stages of data coding:

  1. Developing a coding manual: the research team developed an a priori code manual that was based on the research questions and the VPM’s motivations. Six code categories formed the codebook (values, community concern, understanding, career, personal development, esteem enhancement, and social).

  2. Summarizing data and identifying codes: two researchers read and analyzed independently all the interviews line by line summarizing the raw data.

  3. Applying temple of codes and additional coding: the two researchers independently applied the codes from the codebook, writing down some specifics, and also assigned additional codes to segment of text when something new came up. These inductive code categories were separate from the fixed ones of the manual.

  4. Testing the reliability: the two researchers compared codes founded and, in case of disagreement, a third researcher was involved into a discussion in order to cross validate the interpretation, to ensure trustworthiness of analysis, and to reach eventually a collective meaning.

  5. Corroborating and legitimating codes: to confirm the results all the previous stages were examined; labels were given to the additional codes identified and the researchers decided the most representative quotations to present the findings.

Results and Discussion [TOP]

Results represented based on the motivations outlined by Snyder and Omoto (2008) coupled with extra motivations that emerged in the study. For clarity sake, we considered each motivation as preliminary, i.e. which goal drove young migrants in a preliminary phase of their volunteering, or maintenance, i.e. which goal young migrants tried to fulfill during their volunteering, keeping in mind that motivations could change over time. Moreover, as Snyder and Omoto (2008) argued, we considered that multiple motivations could occur simultaneously. Table 1 illustrates the motivations emerged in our study divided by generation (1G and 2G) and stage (preliminary and maintenance).

Table 1

Type of Motivations to Volunteer Divided by Stage and Generation

Motivation Preliminary
1 G 2G 1G 2G
Human X X X X
Religious X X X X
Giving back X X X X
Community Concern
Migrant X X
Italian X X
Both X X
Understanding X
Career X X
Personal Development
Integration X
Esteem Enhancement
Feeling better X X
Distracting from personal problems X X
Reconnecting with source culture X
Italian network X X X X
Migrant network X X X X
Social norms X X
Advocacy X X
Ethno-cultural X X

Note. 1G = first generation young migrants; 2G = second generation young migrants; preliminary = motivation that brings to volunteer; maintenance = motivation that sustains volunteering over time; X indicates the presence of the motivation.

Values. Value-based motivations were common across generations and stage. However, volunteer young migrants were driven by value-based motivations that take multiple forms. The first form was the human one, intended as being able to ‘do good’ – “To help out other people” (Fred, 1G).

I take some things at heart, so when I see a young kid abandoned by his parents and without any relative, I think it is important to cater for him, to give him a better future or maybe improve his daily life (Davide, 2G).

The second form was the religious one - “Because I believe in Jesus” (Licy, 1G), meaning that helping others is the very mission of Christianity or, as Mustafa (2G) said, is a mean to earn their spot in heaven:

If we talk about the religious aspect, [helping others] is a real blessing because we all strongly believe and practice [Christianity], so we are giving ourselves the possibility to walk towards a better life, towards what we believe in. We are all Christian, so [we are laying the foundations] for a better life up in heaven.

The third one was the gratitude young migrants have for all they received by the organization they later decided to volunteer for. This gratitude has made them willing to give others the same good they received and to be a good example of overcoming one’s fragility - as Jamila (1G) says:

[Volunteering] has been very important in my experience, it has been very positive and is now a point of reference. All the girls [which I help as volunteer] tell me ‘How come we all want to go away while you came back?’ It’s important to send out this message: perhaps while you’re living here [in the community that receives young girls] you might see it as a prison but when you leave it you understand that it has happened for a reason, you know? [you understand] that you also can do something and that’s the reason I came back.

Value-based motivations were found in both the preliminary and maintenance phases and across generations. The importance of value-based motivations in the preliminary and maintenance phases is unanimous within the literature across the different voluntary activities carried out (Alfieri, Pozzi, et al., 2017; Omoto & Snyder, 1995). Results showed that young migrants identify with different types of values: human values (altruism), religious values and the wish to give back experienced because of a sense of gratitude for all the help they previously received. The latter type of value is in line with the work of Taurini et al. (2017) who traced this gratitude back to Godbout’s (1992) gift theory. This theory argued that the cycle of gift is characterized by giving, receiving and giving back: therefore, a migrant who has been helped on his arrival in the new country, once settled, is led to help in turn, providing what he has received. With respect to religious declination, Taurini et al. (2017) also found that the Muslim religion may be the reason of activating for some migrants, and other studies have also reported that religious people are more involved in the community (Handy & Greenspan, 2009; Penner, 2002; Stoll & Wong, 2007).

Social. Social motivations were found across generations as both preliminary and maintenance. For all participants, these motivations involved the possibility to meet not only Italian nationals but also people from their own ethnic group - “making connections with people from the same country or region that of my parents” (Fatou, 2G).

Perhaps meeting young people like me, people who were born here, and share this particular way of living our culture with them since it’s different from doing it in Senegal, so sharing our culture with each other […], to not feel isolated (Antonella, 2G);

[Ours] is an organization that was founded to keep us all together […]. Obviously when you’re in a country where you don’t know anyone, as soon as you meet a group of people from your country, you start hanging out with them and you see if you fit in (Landry, 1G).

Results on social motivations across both generations were particularly groundbreaking as, contrary to the general assumption, showed that this kind of motivation was strong not only in the preliminary but also in the maintenance phase and was found in both 1G and 2G migrants. Developing relationships could therefore have been a motivation for young migrants to continue their engagement. Studies have pointed out that social support in the host country promotes the integration of migrants (Gurak & Caces, 1992; Marzana et al., 2016; Marzana, Martinez Damia, Alfieri, & Marta, 2019; Palloni, Massey, Ceballos, Espinosa, & Spittel, 2001) as it helps them rebuild their social networks, usually lost after leaving their countries (Morrison, Laughlin, San Miguel, Smith, & Widaman, 1997; Schwarzer, Hahn, & Schröder, 1994; Vega, Kolody, Valle, & Weir, 1991).

Community Concern. Community Concern was also found across generations and stages. Interestingly, the interpretation of ‘community’ varies between 1G and 2G migrants. For 1G migrants community overlapped with community of origin - “I need to do something useful in order to first and foremost help our [fellow] Africans integrate and get them off the streets” (Abasi, 1G).

Since we come from one of the poorest countries in the world, we thought it would be useful to unite and do something useful for those who had remained there [in Africa]. [My] organization has built small hospitals, schools…we send the little we have to help who is in need” (Ganhio, 1G).

For 2G migrants the community was more broadly defined and could include both Italy and the country of origin:

When you get here [in Italy] you feel like a foreigner, but now you want to work hard, work hard for this country. When you hear young Muslims, they don’t talk about Italy or Cameroon, they say “our country” and stress this point very much, so I would like to work hard, work hard for myself and for this country” (Fatou, 2G).

1G migrants seemed to conceive community more as the ethnic group they belonged to, while 2G migrants were more broadly interested in both their ethnic group and their local community. This finding could be explained by the fact that 1G migrants often maintain a strong link with their country of origin, which can result in more apprehension and commitment to improving the wellbeing of the migrant community or the country of origin. This was in line with Jensen's (2008) and Weng and Lee's (2016) findings regarding the sense of obligation to one's community of origin as a reason for volunteerism. However, in the results of Jensen (2008) no distinction was made between 1G and 2G migrants, while Weng and Lee (2016) focused only on 1G migrants. A sense of duty and social responsibility pushed 1G migrants to help their fellow countrymen in difficulty in the country of arrival or those who were lagging in some way behind (Weng & Lee, 2016). What emerged here compared to the 2G migrants was a sense of greater openness in the concept of community, which was also broad to the Italian one.

Understanding. This group of motivations emerged only in the preliminary phase and among 2G migrants. For this group of young migrants understanding occurred as the effort to grasp a part of one’s source culture - “improving the understanding of my religion […] is a journey that I am taking with several people in order to better know myself and what concerns me: my culture, my religion and the country I live in” (Fatou, 2G).

In the beginning I was interested in knowing my religion because people know they are Muslim or Christian but don’t know why, why they make specific things like praying…so I decided to be part of this group in order to answer to these questions and doubts, […] sometimes we talk about general things, we spend the afternoon asking questions on things that are happening these days, we ask about terrorism and whether it’s linked to religion and we are given answers. It’s a debate (Fatima, 2G).

The meaning of ‘understanding’ referred to the need for the 2G migrants to rediscover their origins, both because of a perceived cultural diversity compared to peers who do not have a history of migration in the family, and to better understand what was happening in the countries of origin of the parents, countries that were far away for them but with which they had a connection. This could also be interpreted considering the historical turmoil of the Arab Spring that has led many young people to become active, awakening and strengthening in them a bond with Africa.

Career. Motivations related to career were found only in the preliminary phase regardless of the generation of reference - “basically this friend of mine told me about this association she knew […] [I was] looking for a job, looking for something to commit to” (Nassor, 1G). In light of the recent flows of third country nationals coming to Italy, many organizations valued the language and cultural skills of young migrants who have already settled down. As a result, participants in some cases acted as mediators and educators in the same organizations they first entered as volunteers. This is what happened to Cecilia (2G):

When I became unemployed [I called the contact point of the organization] and he arranged an interview right away, I began as a volunteer and then became an educator […] I see many foreigners volunteering for us, based on their skills, they can become an assistant educator and advance in their career by becoming a senior staff member.

For young migrants, volunteerism provided an opportunity to develop useful skills for finding work, as other studies highlighted (Ballard et al., 2015; Handy & Greenspan, 2009; Taurini et al., 2017). Ballard and colleagues (2015) argued that migrants compared to non-migrants were more likely to volunteer because of the belief that joining an organization allowed them to find a job. In the research by Khvorostianov and Remennick (2017) the career motivation was also the hope of finding a more fulfilling job and to use some of their professional skills which were not practiced in the everyday life because of the under qualification or unemployment condition 1G migrants often ran into.

Personal Development. Only preliminary motivations for 1G migrants related to personal development were found. This motivation referred to a personal growth and achievement in the integration process. “I think it is important that we Africans learn Italian, as learning means integration – if you can’t speak the local language you can’t integrate and adapt to all situations” (Abasi, 1G); “I think of helping out as a phase of integration because you get to know new people and experience new things. I am curious to take part in new activities because I want to learn something new” (Jean-Baptiste, 1G).

For 1G young migrants this motivation was strongly expressed by the desire to improve language and thus develop skills in order to achieve a better adaptation. Some researchers have shown that the community participation of migrants involves an increase of cultural competences and a deeper understanding of the reception context (Marzana, Martinez Damia, Alfieri, & Marta, 2019); therefore, personal development linked to adaptation was not only a consequence of volunteering but also a motivation.

Esteem Enhancement. This group of motivations was found in both 1G and 2G migrants and only as maintenance motivations. It took the form of both enhanced self-esteem and distraction from personal issues: “For me it was a great thing. Basically, I was in a pretty uncomfortable situation. In the beginning I would [go] to Scouts to run away from my problems” (Sharif, 2G);

On the one hand I was looking for a job and could not find one. On the other, I don’t like staying at home, I feel really bad when I’m home because I feel my life has no meaning anymore, no value” (Kesi, 1G).

For 2G migrants, however, being able to distract from personal issues was paired with wanting to reconnect with their roots:

Finding myself, my place, because I was going through adolescence and couldn’t figure out exactly who I was, I would go to the parish youth but at one point I felt I needed to further explore my religion. I felt a bit like out outcast, not because I was mistreated but because I would be part of religious rituals related to Catholicism that I couldn’t relate to” (Raisa, 2G);

I would hang out only with Italians, I would only speak Italian, even at home, I would watch movies in Italian…but I would feel guilty because I wanted more for myself, I wanted to take full advantage of the other side of my identity. So, it was also thanks to [name of the organization]and by getting in touch with these people that I could do all this and get what I was looking for. When I attended the presentation [of the organization] the day Asem took me [here] I found the way to fill this void that I was feeling (Kimasi, 2G).

This motivation differed among migrants with respect to the generation they belong to: 1G migrants often struggled to find a role in the host society because they felt devalued; thus they were driven to volunteer by the intention to gain their own place and consequently a better self-esteem (feeling better and distract from personal problems). 2G migrants instead felt out of place because, even if born in Italy, they carried the culture of origin of their parents and had to manage to integrate it with the culture in which they grew up with some difficulties as Liu (2015) also have pointed out.

Social Norms. This label gathered motivations that drove people to participate in activities promoted by organizations at the recommendation or request of parents or friends. It was a group of motivations found in both 1G and 2G migrants only in the preliminary phase -“At first it was more like an obligation for me because my dad would take me at meetings saying that I had just arrived and had to learn Italian – which is fair” (Jean Baptiste, 2G);“What I can remember is that my dad signed me in, perhaps because the father-son relationship means the father is always right” (Parfete, 2G);

My mum had settled here way before I did and when I got here she wanted me to have something to do after school to avoid staying home all the time, and a friend of mine said I should [come here], I didn’t quite decided this, it just happened (Fariath, 1G).

This motivation was very close to what Ballard et al. (2015) defined in relation to a sample of 1G and 2G migrants as weak motivation to indicate a generic idea to engage, meaning also the requirement to volunteer from the context. It therefore represented an extrinsic motivation that had little to do with the achievement of a specific objective. This motivation was also similar to what was found by Chareka, Nyemah, and Manguvo (2010) who highlighted that migrants were sometimes driven to volunteer only because of the pressure of the work environment and/or friendship.

Advocacy. In the study advocacy was intended as the motivation driving young migrants to engage for the protection of the rights, the culture and the reputation of their own ethnic group. This type of motivation was found only in 1G migrants, regardless of the stage experienced:

When I came here in 2007 as a university student, I would encounter some old stereotypes and prejudice on Africa and migrants [...] but due to this kind of prejudice within the academia people are not aware of what’s happening in the other continents. So we have the opportunity to gather around in a group and see how to organize conferences and meetings to explain our culture, the African culture, and the one of the other African countries to students in order to make them less dependent on mass media, who always try to manipulate migration for political purposes. […] We wanted to make [the perception of migrants in the academia] a bit more evidence-based and not based on information taken out from anywhere” (Simba, 1G).

This motivation was partly related to the one found by Suárez-Orozco et al. (2015) who identified the desire for 1G migrants to foster social change and improve the rights of foreigners. It could also get close to what Ballard and colleagues (2015) have defined personal issue, namely the intention to politically mobilize in the face of unjust migratory laws. In this sense, advocacy could be considered as a motivation not strictly linked to the field of political activism but also to volunteering in civic organizations.

Ethno-Cultural. This label gathered motivations that led to engagement in order to disseminate and raise awareness on other cultures among the population. These motivations were found only in 1G migrants, regardless of the phase they were experiencing:

I realized that the organization is a good thing for everyone […], we try to move on holding on to our country’s values […]. As long as I’m here I’ll always try to contribute positively to this organization. As a matter of fact, we organize a Festival of cultures and we represent Burkina Faso. It’s also a good thing to promote ourselves within other communities, like the Italians and other communities who are here” (Donald, 1G).

This motivation was not previously found in the literature reviewed, and it is specific for 1G migrants. They felt a strong bond with their countries of origin and consequently wanted to make their culture known also in the new context that welcomed them. The objective of their volunteering was to enhance the positive contribution that new cultures can give to Italy. This goes in the direction of building a multicultural society as other studies have shown (Marzana, Martinez Damia, Alfieri, & Marta, 2019).

Conclusions [TOP]

This study aimed at exploring the motivations underlying volunteerism among Sub-Saharan young migrants, taking into account their generation and the evolution of motivations over time. It provided an illumination of the steps involved in the process of thematic analysis using a balance of deductive coding (derived from the VMP) and inductive coding (codes emerging from participant’s discussions). The findings show that motivations feature similar components as they apply to 1G and 2G migrants, albeit with some differences, and broaden VPM of Snyder and Omoto (2008) by showing that a) some VPM’ motivations have particular meanings for young migrants; b) specific motivations linked to the migratory condition need to be integrated into the model.

This exploratory research of the motivations that drive 1G and 2G migrants to volunteer showed that the former are particularly moved by the importance of integration in the Italian context (i.e. getting to know new people, fulfilling their projects, fighting the loneliness resulting from the migratory condition). However, they are not moved by a better understand of the host culture as found in another study (Chareka et al., 2010). First generation migrants are also moved by the promotion of their own culture, the protection of their rights and the concern of what migrants are experiencing today. Second generation migrants, instead, conceive volunteerism also as a tool to understand their roots and reconnect with foreign-born citizens. Both groups indicate value-based, social and career-based motivations and this shows that employment, networking and skill-building are fundamental today in Italy and that universal values underpin the volunteerism for 1G as much as for 2G. The results also seem to indicate that understanding, career, personal development and esteem enhancement are motivations that drive young migrants to activate in the first instance and to become volunteer in organizations but these rationales do not sustain their engagement over time. The values, the concern for the community, both migrant and Italian, the protection of right and the promotion of the culture of origin are those motivations for which young migrants continue to dedicate their time to others.

This study highlights some limitations that should be taken into account. First, participants came from the same region but from different Sub-Saharan countries of origin. Indeed, the Sub-Saharan region comprises nearly 50 countries (United Nations, 2013) that differ in terms of history, culture, religion etc. As found in other studies (Chareka et al., 2010) exploring the way of conceptualizing volunteerism within different migrant cultures of origin could shed light on their motivations to engage in the host country. Second, this research focused only on volunteerism in civic organizations of Lombardy. It would have been interesting to include organizations in other regions and with other scopes in order to explore how the local context and the mission of the organization can activate and maintain voluntary engagement among migrants.

Future studies should investigate socio-political climate at meso level (region) and macro level (country), climates that can range from encouraging migrants to socially participate as far as to rejecting migrants and limit their opportunity to be part of the community. Climates at different levels may be consistent with each other or not. Regardless of that, socio-political conditions can shape the type of motivation that drives and sustains migrants to volunteer. Moreover, we must highlight that the data of the present study refers to some years ago (2015-2016). During that period, political context was less marked by xenophobia which has drastically increased over the past few years (Eurispes, 2018) also inflamed by political debate that has focused on security, terrorism and crimes carried out by young migrants. Finally, regarding the type of organizations, ethno-cultural motivations could underpin the creation of many recreational and cultural organizations that aim at promoting different culture than the Italian one, while advocacy could be found more often among volunteers working on human and social rights.

Considering the above, research could be further developed through other qualitative studies considering the effects of socio-political environment at different ecological levels and involving migrants coming from others cultural background or volunteering in different type of organizations. It could be interesting also to investigate if non-young migrants are pushed by some specific motivations. Furthermore, results from these qualitative research could be verified through an extensive quantitative study. These studies, possibly integrated into a mixed method design (Aresi, Henderson, Hall-Campbell, & Ogley-Oliver, 2017): a) further describe results and highlight relevant sub-features, b) validate the results obtained through this study and identify potential significant differences between 1G and 2G migrants and between different stages of motivation.

The findings of this study can feed into both theories and practice. In terms of theories, the study: a) looks into a topic that is under-researched in literature and yet is key to building an inclusive and multiethnic society; b) enlarges a solid theoretical model by adapting it to a demographic and type of organizations that had never been included into it; c) expands the existing literature by looking at differences between first and second generation migrants’ motivations and focusing on motivations in the preliminary and maintenance phase. In this light, we suggest labeling this enhanced VPM the Migrant Volunteerism Motivation Model (MVMM). The MVMM features ten motivations: the seven motivations proposed by Omoto and Snyder (personal values, community concern, understanding, career, personal development concern, esteem enhancement, social) with the addition of three motivations which are specific to the migratory condition (social norms, advocacy and ethno-cultural). In particular, these three new categories can be defined as follows:

  • Social norms: consists in the requirement to volunteer coming from the context to which young migrants respond without a strong objective to reach.

  • Advocacy: refers to the protection of the rights and the standing for the reputation of one’s ethnic group.

  • Ethno-cultural: entails the desire to raise awareness and to disseminate the culture of one’s ethnic group in order to create multiculturalism.

The practical implications of this model can be important for both the organizations and the society. Regarding the first, this study could help organizations formed both by migrants and/or by nationals to understand how to recruit new migrant volunteers. In addition, knowing young migrants’ motivations can be a tool to ensure their sustainable engagement. Indeed, potential volunteers can be oriented towards different organizations and, within those, towards different activities in order to match their motivations with the organizational aims. This would turn into more satisfied volunteers which could improve the accomplishment of their organizations’ missions. Regarding the second implication, since the MVMM has been defined according to the Italian framework and the ongoing debate on migration and integration at national level, this model can provide food for thought by showing the positive impact of organizations on the integration and identity-building of migrants. The growing number of foreign-born citizens and Italian-born children with migrant parents should be enough to have politicians and researchers question two issues. First, the importance to investigate ways which can sustain young migrants’ transition to adulthood; second, the necessity to shift mentality challenging the adequacy of the formal categories on citizenship that have traditionally been used. Promoting volunteerism programs for migrants based on their strongest motivations should be at the core of social policies in all countries, as striving for and investing time in a country’s wellbeing is what makes people real citizens.

Funding [TOP]

The authors have no funding to report.

Competing Interests [TOP]

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Acknowledgments [TOP]

The authors have no support to report.

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