Game-changing Volunteers and Social Businesses
27 April 2017 at 8:31 am
Innovation and the efforts of social businesses, volunteers and civil society give hope to achieving a world where all people have the opportunity and the means to achieve their full potential, writes Settlement Services International CEO Violet Roumeliotis in the lead up to National Volunteer Week.
Something that unites the different arms of civil society is a belief in working for the common good.
Religious organisations, community groups, unions, rotaries and more benefit from the hard work of everyday citizens who have put up their hands to get involved with something that inspires their passion. They do this for no other reason than that they believe in a cause.
We see that reflected every day in the work we do at SSI. A number of our staff members are community leaders in their own right. Others have lived experience that compels them to give above and beyond their nine-to-five job.
Then we have the people who volunteer their time to help create safe, welcoming environments, where the individuals and families SSI supports can flourish.
The empathy and warmth of volunteers enriches so many aspects of our organisation. Volunteers provide career guidance to young workers and job seekers. They help newly arrived refugees navigate their first few days in Australia. They mentor fledgling entrepreneurs and encourage individuals and families to participate in the community through activities such as community kitchen, playtime and the friendship garden.
Next week is National Volunteer Week, a chance to recognise people from all walks of life for the shared altruism that sees them give up their time to work for the common good.
Volunteering leads to an astounding increase in social capital not only for organisations like SSI but for our country as a whole. That social capital is what forges links between individuals and communities, enabling us to trust each other and work cooperatively. It means more goodwill and fellowship — shared values, understanding and sense of identity.
Last month I had the honour of meeting Nobel Peace Prize winner and social entrepreneur Muhammad Yunus, who co-founded a global initiative that creates and empowers social businesses to address and solve problems around the world.
Speaking at the Australasian Social Business Forum, he challenged businesses, entrepreneurs and everyday community members to find a way to use their professional vocation to benefit the community.
Yunus argued that every organisation should have a social element – a way of using its profits for good. Reinvesting profits to address social injustices is the only way to disrupt a world where the eight richest people have the same combined wealth as the poorest half of our global population.
It’s inevitable in the coming years that not-for-profit organisations like SSI will also be disrupted. Disruption is pervasive; it’s something we’re seeing all over the world, socially, economically and in unexpected phenomena such as Brexit and the election of US President Donald Trump.
But we must avoid having to dodge the bullet of unprecedented change and instead find a way to shape it. For SSI, that means keeping one eye on the horizon – staying ahead of the bell-curve, while remaining true to our purpose of working with vulnerable people and communities to build their potential.
As an organisation, a lot of our funding comes from government contracts. The fact that we deliver those services efficiently and effectively without compromising quality is something of which I’m immensely proud. Robust management means we are able to run our organisation like a social business, reinvesting our surpluses in things that not only add value to those contracted services but also achieve broader social outcomes for individuals, families and communities.
We invest in things that reap rewards for the communities we work with, whether that’s through donations, sponsorships or self-funded initiatives like Ignite Small Business Start-ups or our Arts and Culture Program.
It is through such innovation and the efforts of social businesses, volunteers and civil society that we can hope to achieve a world where all people have the opportunity and the means to achieve their full potential.
As Muhammad Yunus puts it: “Making money is no fun. Contributing to and changing the world is a lot more fun.”
About the author: Violet Roumeliotis is CEO of Settlement Services International and a member of Pro Bono Australia’s 2014 Impact 25. She has an extensive background in advocating and developing services for vulnerable and at-risk communities and individuals – with more than 30 years involvement, in both a professional and voluntary capacity, in human resource and project management. In particular, she has developed specialised knowledge and skills in working with people of non-English speaking backgrounds and culturally diverse communities, refugees and humanitarian entrants, families in crisis, and women and children at risk.