OzVPM HOT TOPIC – JANUARY 2006
By OzVPM Director, Andy Fryar
In the OzVPM e-newsletter for December 2005, I offered a ‘tip of the month’ which suggested we look carefully at the events we choose to celebrate throughout the course of a year, to be sure we don’t exclude volunteers from different religious, cultural or lifestyle groups from feeling truly included within the life of our program.
I specifically used the example that while many of us happily label our end-of-year celebrations as ‘Christmas’ events, we often neglect to recognise major events from other faiths throughout the course of a year, and I posed the question of whether this had the potential to alienate some of our volunteers as a result. As you can imagine, this elicited a great deal of response both within the OzVPM newsgroup and also via personal emails sent directly to me ‘off group’. It was such a burning issue that I thought it worthwhile following up with a broader discourse through this month’s ‘hot topic’ forum.
As a re-cap for those of you who did not read the original ‘tip’, here’s an excerpt of what I wrote:
It’s December and ’tis the season to be jolly’, however our communities (and by default more and more volunteers) are coming from cultures, religions and backgrounds where Christianity is not the dominant belief system. It’s easy to overlook this in the course of our busy schedules and assume that all our volunteers also celebrate the Christmas season in the same way we might. While I am not suggesting that we no longer hold Christmas parties, it is important to assess the language we use, and be culturally sensitive to those volunteer team members who don’t celebrate Christmas. Failing to do this risks alienating those volunteers who don’t celebrate at this time of the year. Perhaps an ‘end of year’ function works better or maybe we need to also celebrate and make mention of significant annual cultural events from other countries.
My point was not one about political correctness, nor was it about trying to deny the importance of Australia ‘s Christian heritage. Rather the message I wanted to make was that we should remember that our communities, and by default our volunteer programs, are constantly being reinvented and made up by a much broader cross section of people than simply those who come from English speaking backgrounds and have a belief in Christianity. Indeed if anything, I believe Christmas in most western countries now feels more like a holiday dedicated to the power of credit facilities and commercialism rather than a religious celebration.
To move away from the direct example of Christmas, there is a broader issue I’d like to raise in this month’s column – that being the way that we, as Volunteer Program Managers do – or more often than not do not actively include individuals and groups from other cultural and lifestyle groups into our volunteer programs.
Sadly, I believe we all too often give only ‘lip service’ to inclusion within our programs. Sure we talk all the time about involving indigenous people, culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) populations, those with disabilities, young people, the homeless and many other marginalised groups – but how many of us actually go out of our way to actively engage these groups as volunteers?
Further, what do we miss out on by not pursuing them as volunteers within our organisations?
My thinking about what might constitute ‘true inclusion’ has been fuelled by my recent trip abroad where I heard a number of statistics which were absolutely mind blowing, and where I heard testimonies and reports that attest to the less than ideal job most of us are doing in this respect (my apologies for those of you who are already doing this well)
Let me cite just a few examples.
While in suburban Glasgow in Scotland , a friend told me that in the local public primary school 96% of students came from families where English was not the first language spoken at home (no that’s not a misprint!). Similarly, in Ireland , 38% of the many immigrants heading into that country come from countries where English is not the main language (mainly from eastern Europe ).
Sure these are overseas examples, but in Australia , nearly 2 million people have immigrated to our country since 1980 and around one in four Australians were born overseas, so perhaps the picture is not so different.
Consider an article in a recent edition of the ‘Herald Sun’ newspaper (22/12/2005) which strengthens this argument. The article cited statistics about changes in religious affiliations in Victoria over the period 1996 – 2001. It told us that Buddhism had grown by 77%, Hinduism by 45%, Islam by 38% and Judaism by 6%. Catholicism was up by only 3.8% while the Anglican church was actually down by 1.6%. To be fair, the article did not cite figures mentioning the huge growth in the Pentecostal movement over recent years (see our May 2005 Hot Topic), however the point is that we cannot deny that in Australia, as in many other countries around the world, we now live in highly complex multi-cultural communities, and sadly, I constantly fail to observe this diversity within our volunteer programs.
Moving away from cultural differences, here are a few other questions to ponder:
- What proportion of people with disabilities do you have involved in your volunteer program?
- How many indigenous Australians are registered as volunteers?
- How do you actively involve young people or families in your agency?
- When was the last time you advertised for volunteers from within specialist target groups like gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transsexual (GLBT) communities?
The most common (and often easiest) excuse I often hear is that these groups only choose to volunteer within their own cultural or interest group, and while there may indeed be some small element of truth to this – the question I’d like to pose is how often do we actually ask ?
Let’s take the GLBT community as an example. A 1998 report* found that not only do this group give more in terms of both volunteering time and financial support than the general population, they also give equally to the GLBT community and other broader causes.
Surely if ‘word of mouth’ and asking people to participate are the most effective methods of recruitment it augurs the question of why aren’t we asking more? Consider the charity toy runs that occur each year by biker groups around the world – someone somewhere had the foresight to make an approach to these unconventional groups – with positive and pleasing results.
I’m reminded of a story told in ‘Turn your organisation into a volunteer magnet’ ** by friend and Australian ex-pat (now Londoner) Nikki Squelch, about her successful efforts to befriend and eventually recruit a number of new immigrants from the African country of Eritrea to her program. While I’d encourage you to read the full story for yourself, it is clear that in Nikki’s case, the time she spent getting to know this marginalised group had far reaching benefits for both her agency and the Eritreans themselves. Had Nikki not taken the time to seek out and connect directly with this group this tremendous union would never have taken place.
So what does a successful and inclusive program look like?
Well I think it is a program where the involvement of marginalised or minority groups and populations is pro-actively sought and encouraged – and not just spoken about.
One of the best examples I have come across involves Scope in the UK. Scope is an UK based disability organisation whose focus is on people living with cerebral palsy. Their aim is that “disabled people achieve equality: a society in which they are as valued and have the same human and civil rights as everyone else” . Having worked myself for more than a decade in the disability sector I love the fact that Scope don’t just hang their hat on their mission – they go beyond ‘saying’ what they will do and instead practice what they preach. For example not only do they have a staffing policy which dictates that 10% of their staff (at all levels of the agency) must be people with disabilities, they also have a system of ‘enabling funds’ that assist disabled volunteers to have the opportunity to make any necessary physical and support changes in the workplace to aid in their participation. It’s a great example I think we can all learn from.
So why not start your new year by making a pledge to find exciting ways to involve new volunteer groups in your agency?
Now let’s hear from you.
- Do you agree that we don’t do a good enough job of being pro-active’ in seeking marginalised groups as volunteers in our programs?
- What do you think are the barriers to this happening better?
- If you already do this well – why not share your story and tips of success for others to learn from?
* ” Creating Communities: Giving & Volunteering by Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and transgender People ” 1998
** “Turn you organisation into a volunteer magnet” , 2004, Fraser Dyer, Andy Fryar, Rob Jackson (editors)
Response posted on 10th January 2006, by Karen Jenkinson, Coordinator of Volunteers, City of Unley, Adelaide, Australia
The Christmas celebration topic has been a concern of mine for some years now. I think too many people link December events and Christmas together without thinking of what it is they are really celebrating.
As a volunteer coordinator I like to use the end of each year to celebrate, recognise, value and support volunteers. In the last two years this has been done over a sit down evening meal with drinks provided to 230 people. Volunteers are the guests of the Mayor, CEO and senior management who also attend and show their support by mixing with the volunteers and giving brief speeches. All expenses are covered by Council and much of the planning and work is done by staff who work with volunteers throughout the year.
I prefer not to link this occasion to Christmas just because it happens to fall in December. Christmas and volunteering have nothing in common and I believe by throwing in Chrismas as a theme we take away the real reason that we come together to celebrate all the wonderful things the volunteers have done throughout the year. Having said that, I do get pressure from staff to put up Christmas decorations, have traditional Christmas food and provide bon bons and Christmas serviettes. I find myself in a position of having to compromise and find some middle ground.
I don’t believe my views have anything to do with being politically correct or addressing any religious concerns. It’s like comparing apples with oranges. It is simply just about being clear about what it is that we are celebrating. For me, it’s volunteering NOT Christmas.
Response posted on 9th January 2006, by Vimala Colless, Community Worker, Volunteering Ilawarra, Australia
Glad to see CALD communities and their inclusion in volunteering in the discussion topic this month. Volunteering Illawarra has had a CALD access project in place for the last 18 months. Its focus has been information and training in community languages, as well as brokering volunteer placements for people from different cultural backgrounds. We have translated a “What is Volunteering” information sheet in 6 languages, and also have translated handouts for training in Grief and Loss, Basic First Aid, Kitchen Health and Hygiene and OHS for Volunteers. I would love to hear from anyone who wants copies, or anyone who wants to talk about working with CALD communities.
Response posted on 4th January 2006, by Judith Miralles, Director, Judith Miralles & Associates, Melbourne, Australia
You had a similar topic a while back and at the time I also responded. Many of the questions you pose have been posed and answered in Victoria for the past 4 years through a program Step into voluntary work that the Australian Multicultural Foundation and my company have developed and conducted through funding in the first year from the Commonwealth’s Department of Education Science and Training and subsequently from the Victorian Government’s Community Support Fund.
The Step program works to build the confidence and capacity of people from culturally diverse backgrounds who wish to become volunteers. And because the volunteers we train need organizations who want them and can support them, we also work with volunteer managers from mainstream organizations both NGOs and government to build their capacity to recruit, train and support volunteers from culturally diverse backgrounds. The Red Cross, Department of Sustainability and the Environment, Cancer Council of Victoria, Volunteering Victoria, Surf Life Saving, and many other organizations have taken part in the state wide training program.
As I mentioned last time, this is a first in Australia. I don’t know of other programs elsewhere so it may also be a world first! We recently presented a paper at the 10th IAVE Asia-Pacific Regional Volunteer Conference in Hong Kong. It was noteworthy that there was much interest from people in the audience from Hong Kong and other Asian countries with growing numbers of immigrant workers. It certainly highlighted that in a globalised world, cultural diversity has the potential to be both a source of disunity and fear OR a means of forging strong community connectedness and cohesion. The aim of Step is the latter.
There seems to be interest in this area nationally within the volunteer sector; our program provides a practical way to increase the confidence and skills of volunteer mangers. We will be presenting a workshop at the forthcoming national volunteer conference in Melbourne in March. But we would love to work with you to find other ways of bringing the program to many more in the sector.
My website – http://www.jm-a.com.au – has some information on the Step into voluntary work program in the Facilitation and Training section