I have just got home from celebrating Mothers Day in a special way. I’ve been undertaking conservation volunteering at a local urban bushcare site in Sydney. As I was walking to the site this morning I suddenly realized what a great gift and privilege it was not just to send love to my own Mother, Grandmothers and Mothers of the world (both alive and deceased) but to be able to give back to Mother Earth who continually provides for us all. I’ve been volunteering at this particular site for nearly one and half years and work with an extremely wise and knowledgeable supervisor who gives of his own time, unpaid, to create a wonderful place for the local community and a vital oasis in the local urban area for plants and wildlife.
I’ve had the wonderful fortune of being able to undertake volunteering both as a personal interest but also within the corporate setting as I’ve travelled for work over the past twelve months. I’ve had many memorable experiences ranging from conservation and organic farming projects in Australia, UK, Iceland and California, packaging food for the poor in Oakland, Northern California; to attending schools for under privileged and HIV positive children in India.
A common thread that I observe coming through in all these experiences is that as volunteers we are able to fulfil an innate need that we all have to give back to others and to feel that we have a purpose and are able to make a positive contribution. In volunteering we give back with no expectation of material gain and this is in itself is very uplifting. Through participating we do something for others and we look outside of ourselves.
In the corporate context volunteering provides an opportunity for team members to step out of their normal job function and to pursue new skills and roles. It is also a chance for us to learn about our teams and peers in a different way outside of the usual hierarchy at work. Personally I’ve discovered many wonderful things about work colleagues when I’ve seen them operating in a volunteer context. Knowing these things has changed the way that we now interact in a work setting.
I also find that participating in volunteering gives many valuable lessons on leadership and interacting in a group context. For example observing: how the leader interacts with volunteers and motivates them to engage in the project; the approach the leader might take to responding to obstacles or signficiant challenges; ways that are taken to impart knowledge and wisdom to the broader community; the communication style of the leader and other volunteers; the leader and team’s commitment to making a difference; and humility as there is so much that we don’t know and once you start volunteering you start to have a little appreciation of this.
I find that all the learnings that I gain through the volunteering can in turn be taken back to enrich other parts of my personal and professional life.