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2001 International Year of Volunteers

Inspiring Involvement
Katherine Peet
Chairperson, Volunteering Canterbury - 14/12/01

Introduction
It is my basic assertion that inspiring people to be involved in our communities requires being more specific about those aspects of a Big Picture of Society which extend well beyond Government and Commerce.

Volunteering
In a recent address, Kenn Allen, World President of the International Association of Volunteer Effort (IAVE), suggests that the International Year of Volunteers 2001 (IYV) is a time when:

  • We can learn about, reflect on, and hold up for public recognition the traditions of helping, service and Volunteering in our societies, particularly by indigenous peoples.

  • We can learn about the current nature and scope of Volunteering, identify ing the potential for growth and increased impact and the barriers that stand in the way of such development-and develop action plans to create a new future for Volunteering.

  • We can capture the attention and build support of leaders in all Sectors - government, business, the media, religion, education, philanthropy, NGOs - by reminding them of the important roles they can play in making Volunteering an integral and useful part of society.

He concludes by arguing that Volunteering is about how people work together to envision and make real their shared futures.

The first facet of the Big Picture, then, is to address the above matters as they relate to this land. Volunteering New Zealand (VNZ) offers an opportunity to develop a framework for such an approach.

What is Volunteering?
The definition of Voluntary work being upheld by Members of VNZ is that it is done of one's own free will, unpaid, and for the common good. Set up by six Volunteer Centres as an Incorporated Society, VNZ is a national association of autonomous and independently organised Volunteer Centres and national organisations strongly committed to Volunteering. It is really encouraging that the Government has both recognised and resourced Volunteer Centres and VNZ.

The above definition, set in the context of the Vision, Purpose, Values and Beliefs of VNZ, has been given express on in Maori, to Volunteering Canterbury, by Rev Maurice Manawaroa Gray, Upoko of Te Runaka ki Otautahi o Kai Tahu, as Aroha ki te Takata a Rohe.

Commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi
In moving on from our monocultural past in the context of commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Volunteering Canterbury has begun to identify aspects of the Big Picture which focus on what really matters and what we want to pass on to future generations. In focussing on our hopes and aspirations we have be gun to appreciate that if we fully understand Te Tiriti we learn that it gives all people, especially those not of Maori descent, a place in this land. This of course depends on Te Tiriti being honoured and not replaced by "Principles" (e.g. of Partnership, Protection and Participation) or some other substitute.

New Insights into Leadership
Leadership which includes peoples' hopes and aspirations in the Big Picture has particular qualities. It is Leader ship which works with people as peers, giving them encouragement to look at each other as persons with gifts to offer, thus allowing them to retain and regain their dignity. Such Leadership must be willing to think about the group as a whole and to offer some direction and influence in helping the group meet its goals. It will be both from individuals and from groups and will come out of processes involving Volunteering. This challenges us to look for new insights as to what is needed to complement what we know already.

Volunteering in Sectors

graphic
Volunteering can occur in any Sector of the community. "The Community" actually includes everyone - government (national, regional and local), business/commerce, the voluntary Sector and the household Sector. There can, of course, be communities of interest and locality. I feel it would be helpful if the word "community" were not used to refer to the Voluntary Sector, since putting the two terms together draws attention away from the key elements of what Volunteering means, and can cause misunderstanding.

A useful way of looking at the Sectors has been developed by the Finnish writer Hilkka Pietilä. She uses the term "Intermediary" to indicate the dynamic place of the voluntary Sector in societies where government and commerce have become so powerful. (See Figure)

Accountability
In order to address the direction and influence such a Big Picture could have, we need to acknowledge a broad framework for plural accountability, beyond a single group, agency or project. It will certainly go beyond management/governance standards and the economic discourse.

Volunteering and Paid Work
There are roughly 3.8 million people in this country. About 1.75 million are in paid jobs and a further 120,000 are actively looking for paid jobs. Around 1 million others of working age are not in paid employment or actively seeking paid employment. They may be in voluntary work, domestic labour, caring for children, the sick, or engaged in training and education. To leave these people out of the definition of "work" would be to ignore their contribution to our economy and communities, as well as their needs and rights. A wider definition of "work" is needed.

Upholding the distinctive contribution of Voluntary work is not to diminish the value of paid jobs. It is just to acknowledge the reality of the way our communities are held together by the generosity inherent in gifting. Social statistics need to be collected in the full context of relationships and never be seen only in the context of market transactions. One practical example is John Ralston Saul's argument that employment agreements should include time for democracy.

We know from the last Census and the 1999 Time Use Survey that we are a nation of Volunteers. In the four weeks before the census 1.1 million of us did some sort of unpaid work outside the household. A key question becomes, how we can ensure that people work the combination of paid and unpaid hours they want to.

Third Age
A commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi draws attention to the roles that older people play. Pakeha have tended to "retire" older people from responsibilities whereas Maori expect to pay due attention to the contribution these older people make.

There are moves to address this tendency in mainstream society by developing Third Age projects. These may highlight the richness of giving due weight to the contribution of elders.

Volunteering and Unpaid Work
In stating the obvious, that unpaid work and volunteering are not the same thing (remembering that slavery was unpaid work), questions are raised about the Time Use Survey follow - up. If we are to learn how to properly "see" the need in our communities we will need to ensure that the Big Picture is not limited to being described as simply paid/unpaid activities. Even though cost/benefit analyses, evaluation of opportunity costs and benefits and consideration of externalities may sometimes be helpful in demonstrating the limitations of a narrow market approach, they do not describe the complex reality.

We will need to navigate new waters and provide Leadership that helps us catch a glimpse of what a new society might be like.

Cross - Sectoral Approaches
Currently, there is much debate in the Commercial Sector about whether a business should meet a social (or environmental) responsibility apart from its responsibility to shareholders. Legal realities and some acceptance of the (so cial, economic and environmental) "triple bottom line" require some shift. Recognition of the Big Picture perspective (of Reciprocity and Generosity) described above could create a situation in which this is automatic rather than imposed.

Seminal international work on this has been done in this context, developing a Systems approach to painting the Big Picture. Particular methodologies for working on human needs within the wider picture are usefully and practically presented by writers such as Manfred Max-Neef.

As we learn to see a bigger picture than the one obtainable through a Labour Market lens we will feel empowered to resist the commodification of everything and move from a politics of self-interest to a politics of generosity. This will assist in working out how to value the Commons, replenishing that which has been depleted by several centuries of colonisation. We will think of people not as self-interested individuals but as people-in-community, capable of reciprocity. There is a shift to solidarity and from there to genuine human mutuality. Rituals may be needed to acknowledge the relationships in community, ensuring give and take. This is particularly important as we move on from a monocultural approach to one based on Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Value of Volunteering
Volunteering is undoubtedly valuable to people and the causes they support. It is also an invaluable act of citizenship and is as diverse as society itself. Just about everyone is a Volunteer (including those in paid work), though they may not name themselves as such. We desperately need lenses to widen our view of the Big Picture. Tools which act by remote control and depersonalise (like standards and accounting) need to be complemented by those that focus on inter-personal relationships, moral purpose and a vision based on Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Topics which need reflection and action have been suggested above. Leadership that both inspires involvement and recognises the inspiring involvement of people in the Big Picture of our communities will be necessary if we are to direct and influence the direction of the future.

This article is based on a paper of the same title given to the National Conference for 2001 International Year of Volunteers, Tamaki Makaurau (Auckland), August 2001. Copies are available on request from the author at 87 Soleares Avenue, Christchurch 8008, New Zealand.

It was written for a book on leadership by Dave Breuer, not yet published. No title is available at present.






 
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