OzVPM HOT TOPIC – JULY 2003
By OzVPM Director, Andy Fryar
I am lucky to live on the edge of the Barossa Valley, one of the premier wine growing regions on earth. I have at my doorstep some of the world’s most well respected wineries producing some of the world’s greatest wines – but guess how often I visit?
It seems the only time I venture into what could easily be referred to as my ‘back yard’, is when guests travel many thousands of kilometres to visit the area from the USA, Canada or Europe.
In truth, the ‘valley’ is so local to me, that I take it for granted – often struggling to put into some sort of perspective the way that others must view it.
My point here is not to give a discourse about the international wine market, but to draw some analogies with the Australasian volunteering sector.
Sadly, all too often, my experience has been one of disappointment when it comes to the way we value our own voluntary sector and the people in it. Our willingness to unquestioningly seek out and accept all things American, Canadian or European while ignoring the tremendous culture of our own volunteering sector is at times, disappointing to say the least.
Don’t believe me? Then take a look at any substantial Australasian text on volunteerism. Chances are that more than 50 percent of the references will be credited to overseas material!
The biggest reason this is a problem is not because authors have chosen to quote overseas sources (because let’s face it you want to quote the best sources wherever they are from). Rather, it is a problem because authors and researchers generally have had only a very limited amount of Australasian resources to choose from!
You see, it becomes self-perpetuating – we don’t value highly enough what we have so we don’t recognise the quality of the product we can produce. In turn, we don’t bother to produce it!
Before I write any further, allow me to clarify that I don’t have any difficulties with us looking abroad for trends, research and guidance – believe me, many of my closest friends and colleagues in this field live abroad. What does annoy me is when we look abroad in deference to what exists locally.
What’s more, it is ironic that my international work has taught me that volunteering leaders overseas look to our region as being a benchmark for many aspects of volunteerism internationally
One example springs immediately to mind.
While attending a volunteer management conference in Denver in 2002, I attended one particular workshop being presented by international leaders in the field, American Steve McCurley and Canadian Linda Graff, on the topic of diversity and inclusion. Guess what they used as a handout and discussion point for the workshop? A discussion paper developed by Volunteering SA!
Do you think Australians might have considered using that same paper for a local conference?
Here are just a few more examples of ways that we are seen as leaders in the field internationally:
- Australian volunteerism pioneer, Margaret Bell was world President of IAVE (the International Association for Volunteer Effort) for 8 years and played a major role in having the UN declare 2001 the International Year of Volunteers
- The VolunteeringAustralia network structure is unique as far as national volunteering structures go, and is viewed as a favourable model internationally
- The Sydney 2000 volunteer program is still viewed as being the best Olympic program ever
- The Australian Journal on Volunteering continues to be considered one of the premiere volunteerism journals internationally
So my questions to all of you are:
- Do you share my view (and frustration!) on this topic?
- Do you have ideas about how we might improve our self image and encourage more people in our own region to contribute back to the sector?
- What are you planning to do to make a difference?
Let’s hear from you
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After 10 years of OZVPM it is interesting to look back at some of the Hot Topics to see where we are today and to see if there have been changes since. It’s an interesting experiment to look at the topics and ask if they still could be written today. On reflecting on this particular topic Andy I believe that we have leapt ahead in some ways and fallen back in other ways
For example more leaders in the field have emerged in both Australia and New Zealand. There has been good debate and worthwhile initiatives in terms of advancing the Volunteer Management profession.
Yet the Australian journal on Volunteering is now gone and we wait to see what direction Volunteering Australia will be taking after some turbulent change. It’s a sad indictment when many in the Volunteer management sector are hoping for a more inclusive relationship with the national body on volunteering.
Some things haven’t changed though Andy – The beautiful place that you call home still has some of the world’s most well respected wineries producing some of the world’s greatest wines. As well you know! 🙂
Submitted on July 13, 2003 by Carol Spencer, Volunteer Coordinator, Sydney, Australia
It is interesting to hear Jean’s international perspective on this topic.
I have to agree that I think every country with well defined volunteer programs has something it can teach to others, and for those of us in Australia, I believe the development of our volunteer programs, largely in isolation from the rest of the world for so many years (pre-internet), has helped to make us unique.
Submitted on July 3, 2003 by Jean Nierenhausen, Director of Volunteers, Minnesota Historical Society, Minnesota, USA
I am from the USA, I live in St. Paul, Minnesota and work in a museum. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I hear from others that the USA are leaders in volunteer management, I get e-mails and drop-ins from people around the world, but to be honest, I don’t feel like we are doing anything out of the ordinary, just trying to make volunteerism as successful as we can.
I have good days and bad days, wondering if it is all worth the while, but then one small thing happens and I realize we are doing good work.
As far as Australia, we did hear how the Sydney Olympics provided a better than ever volunteer environment and look at what you do with respect. I appreciated learning the role that Margaret Bell had in the 2001 International Year of Volunteers.
My point – I think no matter where we live, we all have claims to fame and I think, as a profession or a group with a common cause, we need to continue to share the best of what we do with one another and celebrate, as a group, our accomplishments.
I’m not sure how this saying goes, if anyone has it, please share it, but I have heard that in order to be an expert speaker or consultant, you need to go 200+ miles to be considered an expert on the subject. So perhaps we should visit one another and would automatically become the expert in something that we are already an expert of! I welcome the opportunity to hear from others, worldwide.