General information on youth voluntary services

The youth voluntary services “Voluntary Social Year” (Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr, FSJ) and “Voluntary Ecological Year” (Freiwilliges Ökologisches Jahr, FÖJ) are a publicly funded programme in Germany. The legal framework is provided by the Act to Promote Youth Voluntary Services, which is a federal law. While the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth financially supports training and guidance and quality assurance measures, the 16 German federal Länder are responsible for the implementation.

The youth voluntary services are a special type of civic engagement and contribute considerably to social cohesion. Apart from this, youth voluntary services give young people and young adults the chance to develop new prospects for their own futures.

The predecessor of the Voluntary Social Year (FSJ) started almost 70 years ago. Diakonie, a major German welfare organisation, launched a social service in 1954 under the banner of “Gib’ ein Jahr” (Devote one year). The Catholic Church, too, called for people to engage in charity work. Unlike today, this call to action was solely aimed at young women. Meanwhile, the FSJ features a diverse Germany-wide landscape of agencies offering work opportunities that are also attractive for young men.

The Voluntary Ecological Year (FÖJ) emerged in the late 1980s. At a time that was characterised especially by the Chernobyl nuclear accident and first-time significant forest dieback in Germany, some German states launched initial pilot projects. At the federal level, funding for the FÖJ was initially provided for in 1993 with the adoption of the Act to Promote a Voluntary Ecological Year. Meanwhile, the FÖJ features a diverse Germany-wide landscape of agencies offering a variety of work opportunities.

The International Youth Voluntary Service (IJFD) was established on 1 January 2011 (as a voluntary service) by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ), enabling young people to carry out a voluntary service abroad and thus to gain intercultural, sociopolitical and personal experiences in different cultures. The Guideline for the Implementation of the International Youth Voluntary Service provides the legal basis. Young people who do not live in Germany cannot carry out an international youth voluntary service. For more information on the international youth voluntary service, visit the website at