OzVPM HOT TOPIC – April / May 2009
During March 2009, two ‘first time’ visitors travelled to Australia where they got involved in various ways in providing training to the Australian volunteering sector.
Rob Jackson (at the time) was employed as the Director of Development and Innovation at Volunteering England. He is also the creator and lead moderator of our sister newsgroup, UKVPM’s and a founder of the UK’s professional VPM body, AVM. Rob was in the country to participate as a Faculty member on the Australasian Retreat for Advanced Volunteer Management which he then followed with training and speaking engagements in Perth and Hobart.
Tony Goodrow is the CEO of Volunteer², a Canadian company which specialises in volunteer management database software. Tony has been active in the volunteerism scene in across North America for a number of years now and has a vast wealth of knowledge to share. Tony attended the Retreat as a participant before heading on the road to present the database package to volunteer Administrators in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide.
As we have done in the past with other first tim e visitors, we took some time to ask both Rob and Tony what their impressions of volunteering in this part of the world were.
OzVPM: As this was your first trip to Australia, how did the experience match up to your expectations?
Tony: It exceeded my expectations. Almost all of those who attended the presentations on our software solutions were very receptive about engaging volunteers through a web based system. Prior to the trip I was uncertain about the general feeling toward internet enabled database programs in Australia, but it became clear that they are embraced there. Personally the trip was the most fun I have ever had on a business trip. Everyone I met was great and I am certain I have new friends to call on the next time I return.
Rob: It exceeded expectations in every way. The distance from the UK has to be experienced to be fully believed but once the journey was finally over I loved the warm welcome, the relaxed outdoors lifestyle and the great food, wine and beer. As the British love talking about the weather I have to comment on how amazing it was, at least compared to the average UK weather in March. That said, I did catch the end of Cyclone Hamish, so Queensland was grey and wet which made me feel very at home!
OzVPM: A part of your trip included attending the Australasian Retreat for Advanced Volunteer Management. What are your recollections of this experience?
Tony: It was great to be part of a dialog that is about moving the sector forward. The world we live in changes so quickly these days that if you are not moving forward, you are falling behind
Rob: I’ve been involved in delivering advanced volunteer management events on four continents now, but Australia was my first experience of the retreat format. In the UK and the USA the approach is more like a traditional conference, with lots of sessions to choose from on a range of topics. The Australasian Retreat for Advanced Volunteer Management requires you to take more responsibility for your own learning, for example via lots of work in small group ‘support circles’. It also allows more freedom for the debate and
discussion to go where it needs to, ensuring the event delivers for delegates based on their needs as advanced practitioners and not the needs of the organisers.
OzVPM: What are your general observations about volunteerism in Australia?
Tony: In many respects, volunteerism in Australia has a lot in common with volunteerism in Canada or the USA; longing to be understood, under resourced, coping with a wide range of continuous changes, a very wide range in volunteer management practices and filling a significant role in communities all across the country.
Rob: That it is in good health and that the issues we all face are pretty much the same regardless of which side of the world we’re on. From my travels and international engagement across our field everyone thinks everyone else is 5 to 10 years ahead of everyone else! I think the great thing about the Australian volunteerism field is the openness to – and level of debate, about the bigger picture philosophical issues we face, such as incentives/reward & compulsion to volunteer etc..
OzVPM: How does the volunteering scene ‘stack up’ against volunteerism practices you have witnessed at home or elsewhere?
Tony: There seems to be a more relaxed attitude around the collection of information than there is in Canada. It’s not that some of the same policies exist (or don’t exist) in both countries. However, the Canadian volunteer sector is moving steadily toward following human rights as they apply to paid employment.
In Canada it would be frowned upon to ask a volunteer applicant questions regarding age, gender or ethnicity. For example, in my country, where age is a requirement to participate in certain volunteer roles, the application needs only ask about age ranges that determine eligibility to participate. Information that is desired to report along demographic lines can be left off of the application and be collected once the volunteer has been accepted as a volunteer. When these concepts came up in meetings in Australia, the ideals were acknowledged as worthwhile but there is nothing pushing them along.
Australia also seems to put more emphasis on the maximum number of hours a volunteer can work in a set period of time. This came up more often in my 3 week visit than is has in all my conversations in North America.
Rob : A bit like the answer to the previous question, pretty well. I think there is some great practice by volunteer managers and I came across some interesting an innovative approaches that we don’t have in the UK. However, I also know there are some significant challenges to volunteerism as well, some of which we all face (e.g. changing demography) and some of which are maybe more unique to you guys because of the ‘local’ context.
OzVPM: What did you learn or take away personally from your experiences here?
Tony: A desire to come back soon!
Also an appreciation of how similar and Australia are, especially in relation to:
o Population density greater on the east than the west o Vast open land separating the east and west o Universal healthcare o A blemished history related to native peoples
o Modern economy, education system and parliamentary system of government
Rob: My time in Australia was a really great opportunity for reflection and refreshment. I came home feeling re-dedicated to the volunteerism field, in no small part due to the enthusiasm and drive of the many inspirational Volunteer Managers I met and worked with during my time in the country. I also came home relaxed and refreshed by both some lovely warm sunshine and the opportunity to connect with colleagues, meet new friends and have some down time whilst I travelled.
OzVPM: Are there any final thoughts or reflections you’d like to share?
Tony: In many ways I feel like my experience has just been the tip of the iceberg. I will have to come back to learn more about volunteerism in Australia and New Zealand
Rob: Just a huge thank you to OzVPM & People First Total Solutions for bringing me over to Australia; to those organisations that had me come in and train for them; and to everyone I met for making me feel so at home whilst I was so far away from home.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS FOR EITHER ROB OR TONY?