Maatschappelijke diensttijd (MDT)

The maatschappelijke diensttijd (MDT) empowers young people and makes society stronger. During this community engagement programme, young people develop their talents and meet others while engaging in community service. With this approach, MDT provides opportunities not just for young people, but also for civil society organisations, municipalities, education and industry.

What is MDT?

MDT is the acronym for community engagement programme. During several weeks to several months, young people devote a couple of hours per week to doing voluntary work for others. During this time, they discover their talents and meet others. For example, young people organise sports activities in the neighbourhood, give language lessons to newcomers or become a buddy to assist lonely older people. MDT helps young people find their place in society and increases their community engagement.

Read more stories about young people who have done a MDT on the Dutch website.

What does a MDT look like?

There are different types of MDT to fit young people’s stage of life:

  • (partly) during school time
  • after school and/or work
  • in a gap year
  • when receiving unemployment benefit

The number of hours devoted per week depends on the type of MDT. And the aim of the trajectory depends on the situation of the young person concerned. However, the following three pillars are always found in every MDT trajectory. Young people devote at least eighty hours in the period of at most six months. Read more about the different types of MDT on the MDT website (Dutch).

Opportunities for municipalities

Unique opportunities for youth services

Municipalities have the important task of contributing to the healthy, safe and empowering development of young people. MDT plays a role in this. Many municipalities use MDT as an addition to the existing youth services and view the programme as a way of providing tailored support to young people with their development needs. Municipalities that have already gained experience with MDT, indicate that the programme focuses on young people and contributes to a positive and preventative youth policy. Municipalities deploy MDT on themes such as youth participation, youth care, youth unemployment, school dropout, debts, sports and loneliness. You can read more about this in the inspirational document ‘This is how MDT can contribute to your policy themes’ (in Dutch).

MDT helps municipalities to gain a better picture of young people

MDT can help in identifying young people who are not yet in view at municipalities because MDT is accessible for a broad target group, and not just for young people with a specific indication or need for help. Furthermore, collaboration takes place with organisations other than those in the standard youth services and other communication channels and sites are used. This contributes to the strengthening of preventative youth policy and, eventually to a more inclusive society.

More inspiration for a MDT in your municipality

Opportunities for educational establishments

A growing number of educational establishments use MDT to enrich their educational programme and to make it more practice-oriented. This could be, for example, in the form of citizenship education or career orientation. Young people at risk of dropping out can also receive extra support via MDT. In this way, MDT can increase the societal relevance of education.

Read more about MDT for educational institutions here

The deployment of young people on societal themes

Via MDT, young people can commit to helping others. That can be particularly valuable during societal crises, as was demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic and at the start of the war in Ukraine..

MDT during the COVID-19 pandemic

The outbreak of the coronavirus had a major influence on society, including young people. They nevertheless wanted to help, especially during a difficult period like the COVID-19 pandemic. And so they did! During the COVID-19 pandemic, they demonstrated the relevance of MDT more than ever before. For example, they played tic-tac-toe on the windows of lonely older people and provided homework supervision for other young people with a language deficiency (for whom online education was particularly difficult). Curious to find out what else the young people did?

Stories of young people who helped others during the Covid-19 pandemic

During the second lockdown, it became even clearer still how drastically the lives of Dutch young people changed. They experienced loneliness, stress, unemployment, educational disadvantages and debts. Municipalities felt the urgent need to do something for their young people. In this instance, too, MDT could once again demonstrate its value. Together with MDT organisations, municipalities were supported with funding to set up projects for their young people and, with that, help the youth in their municipalities. Fantastic short-term projects arose that all encompassed the three pillars of MDT.

How municipalities used MDT to support youth

MDT in action for Ukraine

When the world was shaken by the war in Ukraine, this was responded to with a round of “MDT in Action for Ukraine”. The aim was to give young people the possibility to do something about the societal effects that arose due to the situation in Ukraine. This took place in short-term projects in which young people worked for a total of thirty-two hours.

History of MDT

The Dutch Coalition Agreement 2017-2021 stated that a community engagement period had to be introduced. This arose from the thought that giving young people a broad orientation on society contributes to the development of critical and involved citizens. This will eventually lead to a stronger and more connected society. It was not yet clear what MDT would look like exactly. Therefore, it was decided to set up a programme to develop MDT as part of a learning process in co-creation with young people, civil society organisations, municipalities, provinces, education and the commercial sector. In 2018, ZonMw was commissioned by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport to fund the projects, to initially experiment with MDT and to subsequently continue to scale up the introduction of MDT.

MDT has also been included in the new coalition agreement ‘Omzien naar elkaar, vooruitkijken naar de toekomst’ [Looking out for each other, looking ahead to the future] (15 December 2021). In this agreement, MDT is linked to equal opportunities, citizen education for new citizens and growing older with dignity (loneliness).

Read more about the three phases in which MDT has been rolled out

MDT partners

From the outset, the MDT programme has worked together with young people, civil society organisations, municipalities, provinces, education and industry to shape MDT in a co-creation process. Now, a permanent core team has arisen that works on the further development of MDT. The team is made up of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, Ministry of Health Welfare and Sport, Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, Vereniging Nederlandse Organisaties Vrijwilligerswerk [Association of Dutch Organisations for Voluntary work], Dutch National Youth Council, researchers, the Dutch expertise centre in the field of grants (DUS-I) and ZonMw.

More information about MDT?

Since the start of the programme, an independent study into the effect of MDT has been carried out by Kantar and Impact Centre Erasmus. The perspective of young people in the study is included via a questionnaire that they complete before and after the completion of their trajectory.