November 20, 2016
Posted in Community Development, Politics of volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Trends in Volunteering tagged Advocacy, Civic engagement, Civil Society, Empowerment;, Risk Management, social capital at 1:58 am by Sue Hine
Of course the sky is not falling! Chicken-Licken got it wrong. But the Brexit-Trump phenomenon sure has spiked a lot of fall-out. We’ve had our week of it here in New Zealand: there are wags who reckon a 7.8 earthquake is part of the flow-on effect from the presidential election in the US. Then the sky really did fall, sending a weather-bomb to Wellington and causing extensive flooding which has added to our disarray and dismay. It’s a hard time at present, here and in many other parts of the world.
When the earth growled and shuddered, throwing down landslides, uplifting a railway line across a main highway, and closing Wellington’s CBD for the day emergency services swung into action to restore a bit of order. And we learn again about the personal and community resilience built through previous experience and training.
Once again, the immediate and spontaneous volunteer response in such circumstances has been impressive. A huge drive for food supplies is organised; people offer accommodation to those displaced from their homes; Takahanga Marae at Kaikoura has served up hundreds of meals, helping stranded tourists and supporting locals. No one asked them: they just got busy caring for everyone who needed it.
Volunteering Lives! Long live Volunteering!
I note how this sort of volunteer response is informal, outside the formal structured process of voluntary sector organisations. I note also, the rise of informal volunteer support groups involved in community gardens, or making lunches for kids in low-decile schools, or meals for new mums (for example). Could these ventures explain the concurrent fall in volunteer numbers engaged in formal organisations?
The community and voluntary sector has been riding storms and enduring the uncertainty of change for decades now. We continue to struggle to be heard, to raise funds, to provide services to the highest standard. Expectations and demands rise, for accountability and better outcomes, for increased response to community needs. Regulations for privacy, health and safety, client protection (as in police vetting of volunteers) increase the pressure on administration and management. And still we carry on.
Perhaps it is not surprising that this past week has thrown up a raft of ideas for keeping ahead of the game, or to revitalise flagging spirits. Bloggers and columnists and social media commentariat are full of encouragement in the face of perceived political mayhem. Here’s a pastiche of the contributions I have been reading:
- Advocacy – keep pressing the cause: it’s part of the organisation’s mission. Articulate beliefs at every opportunity.
- Inspire people with a vision for change and a world we can believe in. Make sure organisation decisions are consistent with the vision.
- Collaboration, across causes and fields. We are in this together folks – we need to push back…. Find strength in linking arms.
- Lift the capacity to communicate, across all channels, with consumers and donors and stakeholders, and make sure you are listening (really hearing the messages) too.
- Build relationships, make strategic connections with local and national networks. Find the stories and broadcast them.
- Understand responsibilities of citizenship – and practice active citizenship. Stand up for the community and promote a strong civil society.
That’s a fairly weighty to-do list, and there’s nothing there we have not canvassed and promoted in the past. With the emphasis on speaking out and promoting a vision it looks more like a ‘post-truth politics’ position: you know, find the right slogan and everybody will hit the like button.
Nevertheless – and whatever the state of national and international politics – volunteering and the community and voluntary sector has been forever political, whether giving an hour a week in a helping role, or making the tough calls at board level, or presenting a case to funders and government.
Or joining a protest march when we want to be heard, when we want our stories to be told.