Volunteering Australia CEO, Mark Pearce writes about volunteering bringing people together to mark National Volunteer Week 2022 and the lead up to the federal election in an opinion piece published in The Daily Telegraph.
With the federal election campaign in its final week, celebrations are taking place across the country to mark National Volunteer Week. Millions of volunteers support the nation every day and are the backbone of our democratic processes. Volunteers have been actively campaigning for their local candidates throughout the election and will be cooking democracy sausages on election day itself.
Volunteering is all around us, unites people and contributes to a strong civil society. This year’s National Volunteer Week theme ‘Better Together’ acknowledges that through volunteering, we are changing communities for the better.
Our communities have taken a big hit in recent times and yet volunteers are always there when we need them. Volunteers across the country have stepped up to help their communities through bushfires, floods, and the COVID-19 pandemic in a most practical demonstration of Australian community spirit.
Volunteering builds social connections and makes communities more resilient so that, when disasters hit, the community copes better. Furthermore, volunteering reduces social isolation, bringing people together and creating support networks where the foundation is based on looking after each other.
Volunteers are essential to Australia’s crisis resilience, including in responding to and supporting recovery following natural disasters and ensuring essential service provision is maintained.
The aftermath and the impact of disasters are felt long after an event has taken place. Volunteers provide support to those affected by crises, including in mental health and suicide prevention services, which typically experience a surge in demand during and after disasters.
While recent events have shone a spotlight on the vital role of volunteers, volunteering is facing major challenges. Volunteering in Australia has been badly impacted by COVID-19, coming on top of a longer-term decline in volunteering participation.
At the onset of the pandemic in 2020 two thirds of volunteers stopped volunteering. More recent Volunteering Australia research found that only slightly more than half of those who stopped had returned to volunteering by April 2021. This was despite the easing of lockdowns and social distancing restrictions in many jurisdictions in Australia at that time.
While less people are volunteering for organisations, new forms of volunteering are developing as volunteering evolves to meet the needs of the community. The impact of COVID-19 has brought home to all of us the importance of being together with others - in our families and communities. We are eager to connect in new ways and to help our communities through challenging times.
Many people spontaneously help out in their communities, particularly in times of crisis and recent environmental emergencies are evidence of volunteers coming together to provide support and care wherever they can. A surge in interest from the public has occurred in support of emergency response over recent years. Spontaneous volunteers are often recruited and coordinated over the internet, either through informal social media groups or through dedicated online platforms.
Technology is making volunteering more accessible. People can find volunteering opportunities online and volunteering itself has been shifting online. The number of people who volunteered online doubled during COVID, with nearly one in five people now volunteering remotely through technology. Whether in person or online, volunteering still brings people together in a common purpose to support communities across Australia.
There is a breadth, diversity and richness of volunteering activity in our communities. Volunteering is good for us. It offers opportunities for social, economic, and cultural inclusion, and improves our health and wellbeing.
Everyone has the right to these opportunities and it is Volunteering Australia’s ambition for volunteering to be inclusive of all members of the Australian community. We are seeking to overcome barriers and leverage current opportunities, so we can all come together, help our communities and experience the many benefits of volunteering.
This National Volunteer Week, take notice of all the volunteers in your community and those supporting democracy on election day. Let’s celebrate the power of volunteering to bring people together and say thank you to the millions of volunteers for their dedication to help their communities. Together, through volunteering, we are changing communities for the better.