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In November 2016, national leaders in volunteering from 38 countries gathered in Mexico City immediately prior to IAVE’s 24th World Volunteer Conference to share with, learn from and support one another. IAVE has released a report on their discussions.
Why national leadership?
By creating and sustaining a national environment that highly values volunteering and encourages and enables people to participate, national leadership for volunteering ultimately results in more people, more effectively engaged with greater impact.
In 2013, IAVE created the Global Network of National Volunteer Centers (GNNVC) as a first step toward establishing a closer partnership with national leadership structures.
In 2015, IAVE launched a research project to identify and develop a knowledge base about national leadership efforts for volunteering around the world. The research team cast as broad a net as it could, combining outreach to known NVCs with extensive research and engagement with a range of global volunteer involving and resource organisations to ask their assistance. By the time of the Mexico City convening, the team had looked at some 134 countries and had identified likely examples of organised national leadership for volunteering in 102 countries, completing interviews and surveys with 81. It was from this pool that the participants in Mexico City were invited. Much of the discussion in which they engaged was built on the interim research findings.
The discussion among peer leaders was energetic and collegial, future-focused and serious. It reflected both the inherent value of volunteering and the absolute necessity of strong leadership for it. While “helping” and “getting involved” often may be spontaneous acts, volunteering, like all strong, sustained, high-impact activities, requires strong leadership and effective management.
The research team also identified three primary functions of national leadership for volunteering:
Advocacy – organised efforts to educate and influence government, media, business, religious bodies, NGOs and associations about the value and impact of volunteering and the actions those groups can take to promote and strengthen it.
Development – deliberate efforts to build community and organisational capacity to mobilise and effectively engage volunteers; training; research; and development of local and/or regional structures to promote and support volunteering.
Mobilisation – organised efforts to activate volunteers: providing ways for individuals to identify and connect with volunteer opportunities; reaching out to specific segments of the population to encourage their engagement; organising large-scale and/or targeted volunteer projects; etc.
Challenges faced by national leadership
Working with government
Participants represented a wide range of relationships with government: some operated essentially independent of government, not reliant on it for core financial support; some were formally and structurally independent of government but highly dependent on it for funding; some were within government. In all cases, whether internal or external to government, there was a recognised need for pro-active collaboration.
Persistence in building strong, sustained relationships is the most critical element in addressing these realities, but not only relationships with government itself but with all aspects of society – local/state governments, business, academia, religion, NGOs, associations, etc. – in order to create a united front of those who believe in the value of volunteering and the necessity of true government support for it.
Building organisational resilience
A resilient organisation was defined as one that can anticipate, prepare for and respond to change, particularly change, whether originating internally or externally, that causes disruption and has negative impacts on the organisation. A resilient organisation is one that can flourish by managing and adapting to change.
Recommended potential solutions to meet challenges such as external changes in government leadership, priorities and expectations of key funding bodies, nature and forms of volunteering, and technology-based disruptors and internal factors including rigidity, limited use of research and data, and unwillingness to strengthen vital existing relationships, are best expressed as leadership, partnership and impact.
Also discussed was linking the national leadership structures for volunteering with the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Each of the organisations gathered in Mexico City are already working - often at a more localised level - with the social, economic and environmental issues that currently affect their communities.
Overall, this was an energising global dialogue with leaders in volunteering from 38 countries across every region of the world, and clearly highlighted the importance of volunteering as a unifying theme connecting nations and cultures.