Volunteering Around the World - Celebrating International Volunteer Day

Volunteering Around the World – Celebrating International Volunteer Day

Volunteering Around the World

Don’t feel bad if you haven’t marked December 10 on your calendar for the “Taste for Volunteering” fundraiser.

The online event to assist children with special needs isn’t happening in the Triangle or even in North Carolina. Its organizer is HandsOn Tokyo, which promotes volunteerism in Japan.

Senior citizens share their life stories with young volunteers at a “nostalgia activity” organized by iVolunteer in India

A group in Panama is organizing volunteers to respond to the COVID19 pandemic. Organizations from Romania to Brazil and Indonesia are encouraging volunteerism, too. [See our accompanying article below about how HandsOn Bogotá is promoting a culture of volunteerism in Colombia.]

If all of this global activity reminds you of a certain group here in the Triangle, that’s not a coincidence. Activate Good is part of a worldwide volunteer network with these and other organizations. (Here’s a list of some of its current volunteer opportunities.)

Points of Light

“The Points of Light Global Network thrives on collaboration,” says Meg Moloney, the network’s chief operating officer. “Being able to share ideas with experts in 200 cities across 37 countries is a huge benefit. Leaders in our network regularly share their own experiences and learnings on a wide array of programs and initiatives.”

Meg Moloney (Points of Light)Formed in 2007 through a merger with the Hands On Network, the Points of Light Foundation is an international nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in Atlanta. Its name comes from a phrase famously used by President George H. W. Bush to encourage people to get involved in their communities.

Activate Good joined the network in 2013. Other North Carolina members include Hands On Charlotte and the Volunteer Center of the Triad. There are also volunteer groups in Winston-Salem, Wilmington and Asheville.

“We wanted to be a part of a network of other organizations where we could learn from each other. We gather new ideas for initiatives (and share our own). This helps us learn best practices in volunteer mobilization,” says Amber Smith, Activate Good’s executive director. 

Most of all, the network provides Activate Good with valuable perspective on its own activities and challenges.

Examples of Volunteering Around the World during COVID-19

Just as Activate Good has teamed up with local partners to help North Carolina families cope with the pandemic, so has Charities Aid Foundation Southern Africa launched an emergency fund to expand the capacity of South African nonprofits during the crisis. 

In Italy, MilanoAltruista is now highlighting how volunteers can serve remotely from their homes. In Paris, the website for Benenova is featuring volunteers wearing masks. HandsOn Hong Kong’s website shows a masked woman and the words “Volunteer Safety Requirements.” Empact in Singapore features a laptop and the message “Virtual Volunteering: The new norm in this pandemic.”

Activate Good works with the Durham Community Food Pantry, the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle in Raleigh, and others to provide food to families in need. In November, it organized several activities for Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Volunteer organizations in other countries have taken similar steps. In the Philippines, for instance, Hands On Manila organized “Servathon 2020” to recruit volunteers interested in food insecurity and related issues.

Promoting Volunteering Around the World

Activate Good is in good company when it comes to seeking ways to encourage people and organizations to put their ideals into action. The Nadácia Pontis volunteer organization in Slovakia recently held an online workshop to highlight ideas for promoting volunteerism. Other organizations in the global network are helping nonprofits be impactful by using technology, strategic planning and social media.

Around the world, network members are also grappling with changes in how and why people choose to volunteer. Workplace teams, a faith groups and individuals are struggling. 

Irish volunteers help out at a Lana Del Ray concert at Malahide Castle and Gardens. Photograph: Leah Carroll

“A resistance towards change to more virtual, micro and informal volunteer roles will be a challenge for organizations who do not adapt to the needs of volunteers,” says Stuart Garland. He is the training and programmes manager for Volunteer Ireland.

Diverse Populations and Volunteering

Activate Good’s efforts to serve North Carolina’s growing Latinx population highlight another challenge many volunteer organizations share across the globe. How do they assist people with diverse languages and traditions? Shalabh Sahai, co-founder and director of iVolunteer, notes that India “has 22 official languages, none of which is spoken or understood by everyone. … The charities, which need to work closely with the communities, are usually focused in small pockets and regions.” His organization, India’s largest volunteer group, works with more than 600 nonprofit partners across the country. They tackle everything from beach clean-ups to technology consulting.

A group organized by iVolunteer in India cleaned and painted the walls of this school.

Communities around the world have different views on volunteerism but learn from each other.

(In response to an inquiry for this article, HandsOn Bogotá in Colombia sent a fascinating response, reprinted below, saying “we have a lot to learn from countries like the U.S., where a significant sample of the population has experienced volunteering at least once in their lifetime, and many do it naturally as part of their daily lives.”)

Volunteering in the United States

Our country’s long tradition dates back to before the American Revolution. A 2018 report from the Do Good Institute at the University of Maryland served as a reminder that this tradition is fragile and constantly evolving. The report’s analysis of data collected by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that “fewer Americans are engaging in their community by volunteering and giving than in any time in the last two decades.”

A 2018 Volunteering in America report, on the other hand, found that “more Americans than ever are volunteering.” It said “77.34 million adults (30.3 percent) volunteered through an organization last year. Altogether, Americans volunteered nearly 6.9 billion hours. That time is worth an estimated $167 billion in economic value.” Millions are supporting friends and family (43.1 percent) and doing favors for their neighbors (51.4 percent). This data suggests that many are engaged in acts of ‘informal volunteering.’

Volunteering in the Triangle

The Raleigh metro area ranked ninth nationally with a 38.0 percent volunteer rate, according to these statistics. North Carolina was 19th among states with a 35.1 percent rate.

Regardless of the numbers, the students, employees, families and others who serve with Activate Good are demonstrating with their hearts and enthusiasm how volunteerism can thrive even in tumultuous times. As it looks ahead to a new year, Activate Good will continue touching the lives of people across our region.

It will also remain part of the larger movement activating good around the world. Through the Global Points of Life Network and more broadly, volunteers are getting good done. As the network’s Maloney puts it: “A global presence allows us to equip organizations with the knowledge needed to meet the pressing needs of their local community. It helps individual volunteers make the biggest impact possible.”

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Admiring U.S. volunteering

HandsOn Bogotá says Colombia and other Latin American countries get ‘constant inspiration’ from the U.S. tradition of volunteerism.

[In Their Own Voice: A Perspective on Our Activating Good Worldwide article]

Volunteer organizations in many parts of the world admire the “culture of volunteerism” embodied by Activate Good and other U.S. volunteer organizations. The leaders of HandsOn Bogotá say it gives them “constant inspiration” as they promote volunteerism in Colombia. Carolina Uribe, the group’s director, and Camila Londono, its founder, explain here:

Volunteerism in Colombia and Latin America has been getting stronger and more popular over the past 10 years. However, it is still far from the volunteerism culture that exists in the U.S. since decades. It is a curious yet ironic thing to say, as most countries in Latin America have real and deep levels of poverty, hence innumerable social challenges and needs. However, there is not such a strong culture around volunteering and social work just yet.

Perhaps this is a process that already started to take place but will take years to get established as a culture. There might be some aspects in which Colombia needs to catch up in order to promote a culture of volunteering in a more vigorous and active way.

First, almost all significant efforts around volunteering come either from private corporations or a few small NGOs that strive to connect civilians with social work opportunities. There are no evident economic or institutional efforts from the local government to develop a culture of volunteerism in order to engage the population in social activities. 

Some large multinationals or the largest local Colombian companies do dedicate some resources and efforts to their own Social Responsibility programs. However, these are not always connected to volunteering initiatives.

Apart from lacking resources to promote such a culture, there are not enough incentives for volunteers such as tax benefits or any form of recognition for the hours dedicated to volunteer or do social work. There´s not even legislation that refers to volunteering as there is for donations in money or in kind. 

Also, the media has never been particularly keen or proactive in highlighting news around volunteers’ efforts or projects. This itself is a powerful resource that has not been used for the benefit of creating a volunteering culture in Colombia. 

In HandsOn Bogotá, we are passionate about volunteers and have been trying to promote a culture of compassion and generosity toward other people´s needs. We are part of a larger effort and organization called Points of Light, from which we get constant inspiration and examples of how volunteerism is done in other parts of the world, especially the U.S. We see how people who volunteer around the world feel proud, useful and part of a community which they help to build and progress. 

This feeling of collectivity and the satisfaction volunteers experience when they help others make them want to come back and do it again and again … to the point it becomes part of their DNA and ultimately, part of their culture. 

In Bogotá that´s no different. Most of the volunteers that have participated in our activities rank them 9 or 10 (out of 10) and tend to repeat the experience in the future. This is very important for us because this is how we begin to develop a new culture and lifestyle. Although it will take time, we feel encouraged by the fact that most of our volunteers are young men and women (between 18 and 35 years) who feel enthusiastic about helping others and saving the planet. 

This millennial (and likely centennial) generation, has a special interest in creating a better world by doing something good for others and the environment. They behave as a community, rather than isolated individuals, and care for other people´s needs and reality. 

We have a lot to learn from countries like the U.S., where a significant sample of the population has experienced volunteering at least once in their lifetime and many do it naturally as part of their daily lives. We trust Colombia and Latin America as a region is building this capability step by step and will continue to awaken curiosity for this healthy practice until it becomes part of our own culture.   

A volunteer with HandsOn Bogotá feeds an elderly woman in Colombia

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