Words by: ABV CEO, Liz Mackinlay

I’ve been volunteering since I was 8, when my Mum volunteered at the local domestic violence shelter in the regional Queensland town where I grew up.  My sister, brother and I were part of the volunteer team and it instilled in us a community service ethic that remains strong for all of us to this day.  What it also taught us is that volunteering is good for you as a person and as a family, as it takes you out of the day to day difficulties you may be experiencing and allows you to be your better self. I now hold a volunteer position as the Chair of the Board of a domestic violence service in Sydney and the value of volunteering and generosity of our volunteers is as true today as it was for me all those decades ago.

In the great disasters of history, from the Spanish Flu, to World Wars, famine, fire, flood and drought, Australians have volunteered.  Volunteered their time as part of the Civilian Defence Force during World War Two, or as Rural Firefighters during our ferocious fires, or to clean up floods that follow the fires; it’s in our DNA. As CEO of Australian Business Volunteers, an international development and skilled volunteering agency,  I’m proud of our 40-year history managing thousands of business people donating their time throughout Australia and across the globe, as this is a testament to the strength and commitment of our Australian volunteering force.  Like my family in the 1980s, our skilled volunteer network describe the benefits they receive to be of equal value to them in terms of personal benefit, camaraderie and experience.

The beauty of volunteering is this two-way learning and relationship.  Volunteering isn’t a one-way process where the expert provides knowledge and wisdom, and the grateful recipient says thanks for that learning.  Volunteering is most effective when the volunteer and the people they’re working with learn from each other, creating experiences and memories that are lasting for all. The beauty of volunteering is that it is based in altruism, referring to “a quality possessed by people whose focus is on something other than themselves, and its root reveals the object of those generous tendencies.”  (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). It’s the focus on the other and not ourselves that defines the value of volunteering.

The challenge and opportunity of the current COVID-19 world, and our world for the next few years, is to take our love of face to face volunteering and blend it with remote volunteering.

Remote is not a pivot for us…

Since 1981 Australian Business Volunteers (ABV) has successfully designed over 5,000 development projects, managing more than 10,000 volunteers across 35 countries and every single project to this day has a large component of remote support. The current global crisis requiring us to ‘shelter in place’, socially distance and work remote is not a huge side step for our distributed network.

Our expert International Development staff don’t all work together in an office. They never have. Our skilled business professionals might meet on the phone, only seeing each other face to face sometimes after months of work and assignment preparation. And the support does not end when the volunteer returns home.

Projects are recorded, monitored and reported remotely from staff located across Australia; the volunteers’ ongoing support for the individuals and organisations they have been working with and ABVs continued iteration of programs and negotiations with partners all continue remotely.

Embracing the other, those that aren’t exactly like us, is a unique opportunity in a COVID world.  Countries around the world are experiencing vastly different crises ranging from heart-breaking mortality rates in Italy, the UK, Spain and USA to challenges with food security across the Pacific to health systems bracing for the impact of a disease they won’t be able to manage.  In this time, the power of our shared humanity is our highest importance.  Our Australian ingenuity and altruistic history of volunteering is needed if our region is going to survive through this pandemic.  The Trans-Tasman bubble is currently an amazing advantage for Australia and New Zealand and so the challenge is: How do we support our neighbours?

With 4 decades of experience managing, deploying, understanding and innovating in the volunteer sector both face to face and remotely, we believe ABV thrives because we design programs that provide volunteers with what they need to do the work and that the outcomes we committed to with our corporate partner, who fund the work, are being achieved.  This hands-on approach to ensuring change happens in accordance with the plan, and adapting when it needs to, is what skilled volunteering is all about.  Now more than ever, we need to remember and commit to the life-giving, society-changing act of volunteering.

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