In from the CALD!

Andy Fryar August 1, 2004 5
In from the CALD!


By OzVPM Director Andy Fryar with guest contributor Peter Heyworth

We have often heard it said that outside of Israel , Australia has the most multicultural population on earth. That is, Australia has more people from different countries and cultures living in our fair shores than just about anywhere else on this planet!

In fact, with the Olympic Games only days away, international readers to this hot topic may be interested to learn that Melbourne in fact boasts the second highest Greek population of any city in the world – after Athens !

This important group within of our community are often collectively referred to as being from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse backgrounds – or CALD for short, and while certainly not unique to Australia, the topic of how best to involve people from CALD backgrounds is a common theme amongst volunteerism newsgroups and conference attendees the world over.

In a report released in 2001 , researchers from the University of South Australia cite figures which tell us that 19% of Australia’s population are of European background while a further 4.5% come from an Asian heritage. These two groups alone represent more than 170 countries and over 100 languages! Add to this our indigenous citizens and you can begin to gain an appreciation of just how diverse the Australian population really is.

These figures alone should be motivation enough to challenge us to examine our volunteer workforce and ask some hard questions about just how representative our programs are of the people we seek to serve and the communities in which we exist.

So just how representative of our culturally diverse population is your program?

Now before proceeding, let’s acknowledge that many CALD groups do in fact already volunteer within their own communities in many ways – and as a result don’t necessarily come along knocking on the doors of more mainstream volunteer programs. Equally, however, let us make it clear that this article seeks to specifically address the issues surrounding the involvement of people from CALD backgrounds who do want to participate in the types of formalized programs that most readers of this hot topic would operate.

So how do we go about creating program environments that are more inviting to people from CALD backgrounds?

Firstly, what do you expect of people from CALD backgrounds?

Ever heard someone say that people from non-English speaking backgrounds should be ‘more Australian’? This narrow sentiment is most often expressed when a person can’t speak English as well as the local population. But what does being ‘more Australian’ really mean? Does it mean come and look like us and sound like us? Does it mean ‘do away with your customs and traditions’ and instead adopt the Aussie ‘thongs and BBQ’ mentality?

Just as importantly, what does it mean for your volunteer program? Do you want more volunteers who can do more of the same old things, or can you use a variety of different cultural experiences to enhance the programs you are already running?

As already stated, it is not unusual that individuals from CALD backgrounds often choose to remain restricted to their own communities, even though this may mean they miss out on services provided by many organisations, including the opportunity to volunteer. Expecting individuals to break away from a community which provides support, acceptance and meaning, can be unrealistic and we need to be mindful of what we can offer to ensure that these people still have a high level of support should they wish to participate in our environment.

To emphasize this point, article co-author Peter Heyworth, while living in Hong Kong , found there was a very strong expatriate community residing there and that it was possible to live and function within this community without ever meeting or talking to a Chinese person!

Appreciating the reasons about how CALD communities are formed will help us to understand why it is that this group is under-represented in our volunteer workforce.

Reasons that CALD populations may be reluctant to participate in mainstream volunteering may include:

* language barriers
* a perception that your organisation is not ‘user friendly’
* previous bad experiences
* or the fact that your organisation has a lack of CALD clients (or even other CALD volunteers).

Yet, in saying this, it is very important to realise that there are many people who are happy to break out of their cultural structures and pursue volunteer opportunities if they are presented to them in the right way. However, unless we actively provide environments where people are accepted, they will, quite understandably, retreat to a safer place – their own community.

Secondly, what are you prepared to do (or what have you done) in order to develop a CALD program?

Too frequently it is possible to find volunteer programs and even managers of volunteer programs who quite willingly say they are accepting of volunteers from CALD backgrounds, however the reality is that their practices state the opposite. Organisational culture, the attitudes of other volunteers and paid staff and the tasks a CALD volunteer is asked to undertake, may in fact all transmit quite a different message.

To successfully integrate CALD volunteers into your programs, your organisation will need to firstly examine its own views on this involvement. Questions that need to be asked might include:

* What is the nature of your current workforce?
* Why do you want people from CALD backgrounds?
* Do you want to set up a specific program for a particular CALD community and therefore require volunteers from that community?
* What resources is the organisation prepared to put into this development?

A third issue to examine is how you plan to integrate CALD volunteers with your current workforce?

* Will it be important to conduct CALD sensitivity workshops with existing volunteers to discuss the issues around accepting someone with different cultural and religious practices and values?
* What training can you as a volunteer program manager undertake to better understand the issues surrounding the involvement of CALD volunteers?
* Do you have policies and procedures in place that adequately address issues such as racial discrimination?

Other tips for involving more CALD volunteers might include:

* Considering how your work environment may be offensive to volunteers from other cultures (eg. a calendar or display magazine which shows women dressed in swim wear, could be viewed as insulting, extremely offensive and denigrating to some. Do you have an area where Muslim volunteers can pray in private if required?)
* Will you need to modify your approach to advertising, with an aim to being more culturally sensitive?
* Do you have access to a translation service if you need one?The Translator and Interpreter Service (TIS) in Australia is a useful contact for people for interpreters – both over the phone and in person.
* Can training and promotional materials about your program be presented in different languages?
* Target your approaches to specific CALD populations, rather than simply trying to increase the number of CALD volunteers per se. After all, there is not much point recruiting 5 new Asian volunteers for the three new Estonian clients your program just took on!
* Identify local CALD groups with whom you may be able to develop an ongoing partnership. You will find that they will frequently appreciate being asked to be involved in your organisation and you will benefit by exposing existing volunteers to cultural insights and richness. Cultural awareness and insights can often be gained by running events showcasing food or customs as people are often interested in telling others about their country of origin.

Utilising the services of CALD volunteers can be very rewarding and profitable for your existing volunteer workforce and will also make your program more relevant to the ethnic profile of the local community.

So now it’s your turn to comment.

– Please share your own successes and experiences about involving CALD volunteers?
– Please comment on the barriers you may have faced in involving CALD volunteers in your program
– What do you think the future might hold for the involvement of CALD volunteers?
– Do you think the greater strength lies in developing CALD specific volunteer programs or being able to successfully integrate CALD volunteers into existing mainstream programs?


  1. Mary Doyle April 23, 2012 at 3:19 am - Reply

    Thanks for this article. I’m about to bring a volunteer Recruitment Diversity Officer to widen our range of CALD volunteers at the State Library of WA and I’ll use it as a starting point for her.

    In our non-compulsory survey of volunteers at the end of 2011 (which about 50% responded to)
    82.1% have English as their first language,
    69% were born in Australia or the UK
    and age
    5% 18-24 yrs
    17.5% 25-39 yrs
    20% 40-59 yrs
    30% 60-69 yrs
    25% 70-79 yrs
    2.5% 80+ yrs

  2. ozvpm_andy April 14, 2012 at 10:34 am - Reply

    Submitted on August 31st 2004 by Yael Caplin, Volunteer Resource Development Coordinator, Institute for Research and Development of Volunteerism in Israel

    I would like to share with you our organisation’s experience within the context of a diverse multi cultural State. Yad Sarah has branches throughout Israel with a volunteer base of 6000 strong; it provides an array of services and equipment to the sick, disabled, elderly and homebound making home care possible.

    Israeli society is comprised of a number of groups: Jews, Israeli Arabs, Drouze, Cherkesim and Bedouins. The greater majority of the population is made up Jews. Since the State of Israel has only existed for 56 years, it is an immigrant society. Most of the Jews who came to Israel came for ideological reasons. Those immigrants who came from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia in the 1990’s, are still under going a process of absorption. Therefore, have not been able to look beyond the needs of their individual communities, thus almost exclusively volunteering within their community. Yard Sarah, in an attempt to tap on this potential source of volunteers, organized workshops on volunteerism for Former Soviet Union immigrants who were recent retirees and people in their late 50’s who are still working. The immigrants received a token stipend for their participation. However, once the workshops were completed, none agreed to volunteer for Yad Sarah.

    During the 70’s 50% of our elderly volunteers were comprised of immigrants who came in the 1930’s and 1940’s who literally contributed to the construction of this country. These people perceive their volunteer efforts either as an extension of this ideological movement or that they are simply felt that they were unsuitable (or good enough) to take part in the active workforce. We have found that immigrants from Western Europe and the Anglo Saxon countries seem to be highly motivated and willing to make the extra effort to overcome the language barrier. It appears that volunteerism is part of their culture as opposed to the Former Soviet Block were it volunteerism is synonymous with coersion. In addition, the second generation of almost all immigrants appears to have integrated into Israeli society and is more open and willing to volunteer outside their community. This is prominent amongst the younger generation who may even have come, as immigrants but perceive themselves as part of Israeli society.

    Only over the last 6 years have we been successful in opening up branches amongst the Israeli Arab and Druz settlements in the North. These branches are a success story both run by and serve the Arab, Druz and Cherkesim community in the Galilee area. This maybe attributed to the change these communities are currently undergoing.

    Unfortunately, we cannot point at any particular efforts made on the side of Yad Sarah, which have brought about the absorption of new immigrants. It may be simply attributed to the natural process any immigrant under goes when trying to integrate into a new society.

  3. ozvpm_andy April 14, 2012 at 10:34 am - Reply

    Submitted on August 26th 2004 by Judith Miralles, Judith Miralles & Associates , VIC, Australia

    You may be interested to know of the Step into voluntary work program (funded by the Community Support Fund) and conducted in Victoria over the past 2 years. The program has set out to increase the cultural diversity in the voluntary sector. I have been conducting the program with the Australian Multicultural Foundation.

    At first we worked with women from ddiverse language and cultural backgrounds who wished to become involved but who lacked confidence and a solid understanding of the sector in Australia. We also wanted to show that accredited training outcomes were possible if language and cultural support was available. Instead of developing our own course we modified units from the Community Services Training Package. As part of the training, we found volunteer placements for all the course participants and mentored them as they familiarised themselves with being volunteers in Australia. We have trained over 150 women, over 80% still involved in the organisations they volunteered with during their work placement. These organisations are mostly mainstream agencies across a very broad spectrum – this did not surprise us, but it does run counter to some commonly held misconceptions that people from a language other than English background volunteer in the main, to work exclusively within their community.

    All along however, we have been adamant that our role is not to train volunteers. The recruitment and training of volunteers from diverse language and cultural backgrounds we believe, needs to be conducted by those who are responsible for the recruitment and training of all volunteers.

    So this year we have been working with volunteer coordinators in Victoria. We are conducting Train-the-Trainer workshops around the state. So far over 130 participants from the government and non-government sector have attended the workshops. We are aiming to pass on our knowledge so that in future, we do ourselves out of a job. The sessions aim to provide practical skills and to lead to organisational change so that culturally appropriate volunteer management practices become a core activity.

    Further information about this program is available from my website –

  4. ozvpm_andy April 14, 2012 at 10:34 am - Reply

    Submitted on August 9th 2004 by Greg Colby, Volunteer Services Manager, UnitingCare Ageing – Hunter, Central Coast and New England, NSW, Australia

    This is a very interesting area of discussion for volunteering and volunteerism in Australia. Going on total subjective personal observation, it would seem, that the greater majority of volunteers are from white middleclass English speaking backgrounds. Anecdotal evidence would seem to support my personal observation as well. However, as Andy and Peter point out, CALD volunteers do volunteer within their own communities at a far greater rate than they do in mainstream volunteer involving organisations.

    I think that this limits us, our clients and our volunteers and our organisations with regard to diverse, enriching and rewarding experiences. For example (and I point this out to my own great disappointment) we at UntingCare Ageing – Hunter, Central Coast and New England, out of our over 200 volunteers, would only have around 10 CALD volunteers. 2 stand out from the rest in that they are obviously CALD; Marie is a French lady with a very heavy French accent who can be very difficult to understand unless you listen very carefully. Eddie is an gentleman from Malta who also has a very rich accent. Both these volunteers are dearly loved by our residents and staff and bring a wealth of experience, stemming from their background and culture, into their volunteering. These are experiences that are not present in our otherwise seemingly culturally and ethnically homogenous program.

    I would like to see an increase in CALD volunteers in our program. The Central Coast of NSW is not known for it’s cultural and ethnic diversity, however we do have some groups of diverse cultures that we could approach. It seems that we increase the wealth of experience for all of us when we actively include volunteers from CALD backgrounds in our programs.

  5. ozvpm_andy April 14, 2012 at 10:33 am - Reply

    Submitted on August 3rd 2004 by Margaret Guy, Volunteer Educator, Sisters of Charity Outreach, Darlinghurst, NSW, Australia

    We have an increasing number of CALD volunteers.The Volunteer Training Program covers 7-8 sessions followed by a 3 month probation time.This year we have volunteers from Laos,Sri Lanka,South America,Malaysia and Germany [all in their probation time]. All can speak English well but accents are sometimes hard to understand.
    These volunteers have a say in choosing a particular service so we use them generally in sharing their culture and skills.
    However they are especially helpful re language and culture at our Refuge for Mothers and Children and Parent Support Program where clientele are also often CALD.

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