Predictions for 2019: Volunteering
Thursday, 17th January 2019 at 7:30 am
This year marks 30 years since volunteering was formally recognised during National Volunteer Week. It’s time to turn our attention to ensuring the volunteer sector is adequately resourced, writes Volunteering Australia CEO Adrienne Picone, as part of a series of 2019 predictions from leading experts across the social sector.
According to the Productivity Commission, the global volunteer workforce sits at 109 million full-time equivalent workers, a number exceeding that of many major global industries.
In Australia, over 5.8 million people or 31 per cent of the population engage in formal volunteering activities and programs.
The community benefits of volunteering are widely known, but volunteering also makes a significant economic contribution with research demonstrating that volunteering yields a 450 per cent return for every dollar invested. Nationally this is an estimated annual economic and social contribution of $290 billion.
At its final meeting for 2018, the UN General Assembly formally adopted a resolution on volunteering for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The resolution officially commended all volunteers and reiterated that volunteers are critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Sustainable Development Goals are helping to reset the narrative on volunteering. Volunteers are drivers of change, and the realisation of the 2030 Agenda requires active and engaged participation of people at a local level.
The infrastructure that underpins safe and effective volunteering gained prominence in 2017 when the sector successfully lobbied to retain funding for Volunteering Support Services, under the Volunteer Management Activity (VMA). A review of the VMA was undertaken in 2018, but we are still awaiting the final report, and the future of Volunteering Support Services remains uncertain post June 2021.
I hope that 2019 is marked as the year the government recognises the significant multiplier benefits that Volunteering Support Services provide to the community and provides them secure long-term investment.
In the lead up to the federal election we will be encouraging all candidates to more fully recognise the social, cultural and economic benefits of volunteering, and call on the new government to increase and refocus the level of investment in volunteering and volunteer management.
Successful volunteering outcomes depend on an appropriate balance between the needs of volunteers, and those of the organisations that involve them. When volunteers put up their hand to donate time, they need access to suitable and safe opportunities. To this end, we need to ensure investment in volunteering infrastructure, as well as recognising the vital role of volunteer management in successful volunteering.
Social isolation and loneliness have come into sharper focus in recent times and this will be amplified in 2019.
The negative impact of social isolation is now well researched, with loneliness purported to be a bigger risk for premature death than smoking or obesity. Volunteering is widely recognised as playing a significant role in building social cohesion and social connection – two of the factors that help to alleviate loneliness.
In 2019 there is an opportunity for Volunteer Involving Organisations to strengthen the dialogue on the role of volunteering in building social cohesion and social connection.
Many services in the community are provided by a combination of paid and unpaid staff. However, we still see many instances in strategic policy development where the volunteer component of the workforce is not considered.
My hope for 2019 is that the requirements of the unpaid workforce are as much a part of the productivity agenda as those of the paid workforce, and that volunteers have a legal status and are afforded protection through every piece of legislation and public policy that affects them.
This year marks 30 years since we started formally recognising volunteering during National Volunteer Week. The annual celebration to acknowledge the generous contribution of our nation’s volunteers began back in 1989. We will take the time this year to reflect on what has changed and what has remains unchanged.
We have made some great inroads since 1989, and arguably the value of volunteering is more widely accepted than ever before.
In 2019 we need to turn our attention to strengthen the other side of the volunteering coin and ensure that the volunteer sector is adequately resourced, and has the capability and capacity to support the ongoing participation of Australians through volunteering.
About the author: Adrienne Picone is the CEO of Volunteering Australia. Prior to starting at VA, she was the CEO of Volunteering Tasmania.