You will remember tonight’s talk, because I am only going to talk about one thing: “TICKS”.
Outside of family, what people contribute voluntarily is of enormous value. Volunteer networks and giving back to the community without expectation of payment or return provides the glue that binds communities together with long-lasting positive effects.
Intuitively we know this. We have all benefited from it. But after the extensive research of Robert Putnam, Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, we also have the evidence that demonstrates both the short and long-term benefits.
In his popular best seller “Bowling Alone” he presents this evidence to show that communities with a high level of “social capital” will do better on most indicators of wellbeing: lower crime rates, greater happiness, even better educational outcomes and better performing local economies. The key elements of social capital are trust, reciprocity and shared values.
His opening statement in Chapter 19 “Economic Prosperity” states;
“Just as areas high in social capital are good at maintain liveable spaces, they are also good at getting ahead. A growing body of research suggest that where trust and social networks flourish, individuals, firms, neighbourhoods, and even nations prosper.” P319
There are two types of social capital; “bridging social capital” and “bonding social capital”. As the names suggest, the first is about “inclusion”, building a diverse and multicultural, but connected community. The second is about strengthening the bonds between all groups. This is where trust, reciprocity and common values play their part.
Using the example Tupelo, Mississippi, Putnam explains how this very disadvantaged community built volunteers, community leadership and co-operative projects that led to it becoming “…a national model of community and economic development.” P323.
“The community’s success was based on its unwavering commitment to the idea that citizens would not benefit individually unless they pursued their goals collectively.”p324.
So, let me turn to the one thing I am going to talk about: TICKS.
As you may have guessed, it is an acronym, but it is also meant to convey the positive upbeat nature of the acronym. It is not intended to mean a nervous twitch, a blood sucking insect or a time-bomb.
It stands for: TIME-INTEREST-CONNECTION-KNOWLEDGE & SKILLS. (TICKS)
It is why and how volunteering builds social capital and why everyone benefits as a consequence of people’s voluntary commitments. If you want to make our communities safer, happier, more successful and better places for our children to grow up, this is how you do it.
It is the most generous gift of all, and interestingly, it is the one thing you can keep on giving, at any age, from any background at any time.
We all have 168 hours a week. A third goes in sleep, and another third on eating, basic needs and family requirements. This leaves 56 hours a week for work and for us to use at our discretion. To allocate a portion of this to community is indeed an act of generosity.
What is unique about time is that you can only use it once and if you don’t use it, it’s gone. You don’t get it back and you can’t earn more. It requires a deliberate choice to allocate some of this precious commodity to the common good. It is to be valued.
I have the privilege of chairing the Hobsons Bay Community Fund. We allocate small grants to community organisations. In addition to the grant committee members visit each grant recipient. What is fascinating is that many groups value the visit just as highly as the grant. To have someone take an interest in what they are doing is important. It is about valuing what others are contributing to our collective social capital.
We know that one of the troubling issues of our modern urban lifestyles is social isolation. It can arise from disability, mental illness, poverty, language barriers, family breakdown, retirement, or, even just growing old.
We are social beings. We need social contact. We need to feel valued.
Volunteering in all its forms is about inclusion, reducing social isolation, building networks and making everyone feel valued.
There are some lovely success stories about reducing isolation. One I like is a class of secondary students who were asked to identify an older person in their community, interview them and write up their life story; obviously in an abbreviated form. The students loved it and were blown away by the richness of people’s lives. The older persons loved it and were so pleased to be able to tell (one might say tell and embellish) their stories. The assignment ended with a joint evening where the students reported back on the stories and how valuable they were.
Knowledge & Skills
Step one of becoming a volunteer should be to complete a knowledge and skills register. I am always surprised by the breadth of knowledge and the range of skills that come out of the woodwork once you pry into people’s lives. The manager who is a birdlover. The nurse who teaches yoga. The teacher who is a rally driver. The taxi driver who can fix anything. The recently arrived migrant with amazing culinary skills.
Volunteers have so much to give, the challenge is how to harness and direct these contributions.
This is where an agency such as Volunteer West has such an important role to play. It is about harnessing, directing, facilitating and enhancing the capacity volunteers bring to our community.
If we want to have safer, healthier and economically more successful communities we can do no better than to build social capital and strengthen and support our volunteer networks.
Adjunct Professor Hayden Raysmith AM
Address at Volunteer West’s 2018 Annual General Meeting
Tuesday 20th November 2018