Predictions for 2022: Volunteering
21 February 2022 at 5:19 pm
2022 can be a year of positive change for volunteering, writes Volunteering Australia CEO Mark Pearce, in the latest in our series of social sector predictions for 2022.
In my predictions for 2021, I highlighted “change” as being the only constant. Today, ongoing change continues to drive our reality into 2022.
In thinking about this year ahead, I am cognisant of the all-consuming nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and its now protracted, seemingly endless time frame. Yet I believe 2022 can be a year of positive change for volunteering, community wellbeing and the social sector.
So, what are the key trends we should expect to see manifest over the course of 2022?
In contrast to the typical response to natural disasters, such as fires and floods where people physically come together to rebuild and recover, COVID-19 has required people to physically distance themselves from each other while attempting to maintain the links which bind communities. The incongruity of physically separating while somehow needing to stay connected has created tensions and stresses throughout society.
Volunteers and volunteer involving organisations have been developing new and innovative ways of addressing challenges and forging on, and I see this continuing through 2022. Technology is playing an ever-greater role in emerging volunteer solutions. And while this creates challenges, such as considering how to overcome digital exclusion, we know that through a commitment to enshrining inclusive thinking and practices it is possible to ensure access for all.
The ability for individuals to regain control and express their agency through action is a challenge and an opportunity as we look to the future of volunteering and community participation.
Enhanced choice and control
A feeling of marginalisation is increasingly pervasive within some communities. Greater political and economic marginalisation has been joined with a sense of disconnection and loss of control due to COVID-19 restrictions.
We have seen the loss of choice and control over the routines of everyday life manifest itself in a number of ways, not the least of which is political extremism and the denial or rejection of fact. When we feel marginalised, we look for vehicles to “put us back in the driver’s seat”, so to speak.
Volunteering serves as a dependable vehicle providing individuals with purpose, choice, and a sense of control over how they can shape the future in big ways and small. Volunteering is a profound statement in action about the communities in which we live and how we want them to be shaped.
The challenge we face is how to better connect people with their communities, and in so doing allow them to express their aspirations and passions through action. I believe 2022 offers us all a rare opportunity to rise to the challenge of disempowerment and to help shape and strengthen communities through volunteering.
Increased recognition of the strategic importance of volunteering
The quickfire succession of floods, bushfires, and now the community changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, has highlighted to Federal Parliament the essential role volunteers play in communities. The strategic importance of well-resourced volunteer involving organisations and supportive infrastructure was drawn into sharp relief when the volunteer workforce declined by 66 per cent in the first year of the pandemic.
In the many discussions I have with leaders in sectors which rely upon volunteer contribution to deliver mission, they tell me that if not for the unpaid volunteer workforce, their paid employees would not have jobs. It is the combination of paid and volunteer workers that enable organisations to deliver on their purpose. According to the most recent ACNC report, charities in Australia employ approximately 1.38 million people and rely upon the skills of 3.6 million volunteers in order to deliver on their mission to communities.
I believe in 2022, we will witness a greater strategic acknowledgement of the role volunteers play not only in communities, but also in supporting vital organisations and paid employment in this country. Prior to the pandemic, almost six million Australians volunteered their time and expertise through organisations and into community. And yet no whole-of-government consideration for how volunteering contributes to the social, financial, and economic wellbeing of Australia exists.
The development of the National Strategy for Volunteering (funded by the Department of Social Services and being led by Volunteering Australia) provides the federal government with an opportunity to engage more strategically and invest in capacity, infrastructure, and data to support this essential national workforce.
Finally, 2022 also challenges us to shift the focus from stating that “things are changing”, to acknowledging that change has already occurred, and contemporary thinking and aspirational solutions are needed in the context of our new reality. We have a unique opportunity to design a future for volunteering, together.
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