Volunteering powering resilient communities

November 2015

What was the purpose of the Roundtable?

This was Volunteering Victoria’s sixth Research Roundtable.  The purpose of the roundtable was for participants to explore the theme of Volunteering Powering Resilient Communities.

Who attended?

A mix of 32 researchers and practitioners from across Victoria attended the roundtable, including participants from volunteer support organisations, universities, volunteer-involving organisations and local government agencies.

What was discussed?

A panel discussion was held with presentations and comments from panellists Professor Jeni Warburton (La Trobe University), Dr Mario Peucker (Victoria University), Dr Josh Whittaker (RMIT), Angela Sutherland (Red Cross), Peta Fualau (Whittlesea Community Connection) and Adele Stowe-Lindner (Ardoch Youth Foundation).

Following the presentations, there was a general discussion between panellists and participants about:

  • Volunteering in rural settings. Sometimes country people are seen as ‘resilient’ but it is because they have to be. There is an expectation to volunteer. I.e. The workforce who fight bushfires are volunteers. Local sport, health and community services would not be possible without volunteers. But how sustainable is it to rely on volunteers?  The term and meaning behind “resilient communities” was questioned. Local services need support, from VIOs and from all levels of government, especially local government support. Government has a responsibility to fund infrastructure and not expect/require volunteering to pick up the slack.
  • The Proactive Factors model was discussed to illustrate different motivations that can drive people to volunteer. For example, volunteering can lead to personal and community resilience by increasing friendships, leading to greater ‘social capital’. It can also provide opportunities for people to be exposed to different world views as well as gain knowledge and transferable skills.
  • Volunteering strengthens the factors that can lead to resilience. But the problem lies in the circular nature of volunteering i.e. the people who don’t have the networks, skills and connections aren’t going to volunteer. How do we reach these community members?
  • Natural hazards and a community’s preparedness and response further highlighted the capacity of volunteers to build community resilience. Government and services need to be prepared for community volunteers who offer their support in natural disasters. Connecting formal emergency management systems with informal ones is an important consideration in the management of volunteers in natural disasters. Consideration needs to also be given to highly stressed communities as it is crucial to balance volunteer involvement and recovery efforts with the individual needs of a community.
  • Connection, security and information were discussed as integral factors that lead to individual and community resilience. Viewed through this lens, participation in the community through volunteering can increase resilience.
  • Newer communities lacking proper infrastructure rely on volunteers to deliver essential community services. Volunteering is an important part of the settlement process. Services can harness their skills and expertise as well as provide opportunities to learn new things. Services need to be flexible and offer a person-centred approach to recruiting and supporting volunteering.
  • Volunteering contributes to positive personality development and increases open mindedness by being exposed to different views. From this perspective, volunteering can be leveraged to create greater understanding and tolerance, for the individual and also wider community.

Some of the questions and comments from the floor included:

  • Looking at organisational resilience and how it can be built to facilitate community and individual resilience.
  • Consensus that some volunteers are ‘adrenaline’ volunteers – into the one-off event volunteering experience (e.g. the Olympic Games)
  • People are time poor so informal, digital volunteering is growing
  • Young people are working and studying – want flexible volunteering opportunities
  • How can we convert spontaneous volunteers into regular volunteers?
  • Role of social media – is it making us less or more resilient? A lot of young people are comfortable with using social media and the rise of digital technology is increasingly common
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