As a nation of volunteers, New Zealand has much to celebrate

The National Volunteers Week ends on Saturday (June 24, 2023)

Moumita Das Roy
Auckland, June 22, 2023

Every year, the third week of June is celebrated as New Zealand National Volunteer Week to honour the collective effort and energy of volunteers in Aotearoa.

This year’s theme is ‘Time to Shine (He Wā Pīataata). It is time to recognise and celebrate volunteers.

Moumita Das Roy, in her LinkedIn Audio Event LinkedIn Karma with #WonderingMo, spoke to Community and Voluntary Sector Minister Priyanca Radhakrishnan (PR), Volunteering New Zealand Chief Executive Michelle Kitney and former Volunteer Service Abroad Chief Executive Stephen Goodman and discussed Volunteering in and from New Zealand.

Editor’s Note: This conversation took place on June 19, 2022 and hence some of the comments and observations may have lapsed over time and some proposals changed or actioned.

Moumita:  Minister, please tell us what it means to lead the Voluntary Sector for the country.

PR: As the Minister for the Community and Voluntary sector, my role is to advocate and support the charitable sector to thrive. There are a few different ways in which I can do that through my portfolio. I have proposed a suite of changes to the Charities Act, which is the legislation that regulates the sector. I am trying to do this to strike a balance between supporting organisations, particularly very small organisations to be able to do their work, the work that they are passionate about, and to alleviate compliance burdens and continue to strengthen trust and confidence in the sector. We have been doing work to simplify crowdfunding so that it is easier for communities to access. Supporting community-led development, and funding for projects across the country to realise their aspirations. That is a key priority for me.

Moumita: I came to New Zealand a few years back, and the first thing I did was find a volunteering role. I wanted to feel integrated with communities and get to meet people. I joined a foundation that gave me this experience. In fact, it gave me my first referee in the country. You came to New Zealand as an international student. How did you use volunteering to network, find meaningful and contributory work and how did it set you on your path to holding the premier portfolio for the nation in this sector?

A Nation of Volunteers

PR: Firstly, thank you for volunteering. We are a volunteering nation, close to 50% of people in New Zealand give up their time to volunteer. I want to shout out to our volunteers across the country and say a huge thank you. And you are right about the reasons that motivated you to volunteer. I too started volunteering soon after I came to New Zealand. One of the first things I did was to join my university student association. I volunteered my time to support other international students. And as you said, it opened my eyes to various issues that were being discussed when I moved here. I met people that I otherwise would not have met. And I don’t know if that was a clear pathway to my current role, but that was a foray into the political world. I didn’t join thinking of standing for parliament, but it’s allowed me to meet a number of people who have supported me along the way.

Moumita: Great story from your first volunteering role to now leading the nation in the voluntary sector. Thank you for sharing your journey Minister. Michelle, tell us about your first volunteering role.

Michelle: My first volunteering role from memory was actually doing some tree planting in an urban marae. I did that when I was a student. At that point in my life, the opportunity to get out into nature and do some planting was an antidote to student life, to the anxiety and stresses of having moved away from home. That is a fond memory.

Moumita: Stephen, what was your first volunteering role?

Stephen: Growing up, there were lots of things I did in the community. Later when I had my children, I volunteered at their schools. As a new parent, I found myself doing lots of things, supporting the schools, not just fundraising, but also enabling programmes around the schools. That was quite a big part of my life.

 

The Covid-19 Experience

Moumita: Let me share how I started volunteering for Volunteering New Zealand and the role LinkedIn played in it. It was 2020 December, and we could not travel but we had to stay at home. To use that time more meaningfully, I posted on LinkedIn that I wanted to volunteer for New Zealand not-for-profit organisations. The Chief Executive of Volunteering New Zealand, Michelle Kitney got in touch. We created a series of videos from volunteers across New Zealand sharing their volunteering stories. Michelle also invited me to speak about this project in the New Zealand Parliament last year, which got cancelled due to Covid. Michelle, please tell us about Volunteering New Zealand and the role it plays in finding key volunteering roles across sectors. What kind of roles are currently available? How can someone register?

Michelle: Thank you for volunteering, and for supporting National Volunteer Week, which is an opportunity to celebrate the collective contributions of all volunteers of Aotearoa. Volunteering New Zealand is the peak body or umbrella organisation for volunteering and volunteers. We were set up over 20 years ago and established from the relationship between the volunteer centre network and the Department of Internal Affairs. And that role entails a range of national tasks like advocacy, and research. For example, we celebrate National Volunteer Week, on behalf of the nation. We try and build the momentum behind it so that everyone across the country can honour those who make a difference in our communities.

If someone is looking for a volunteer role, a great place to start is with one of the 20 Volunteer Centres across the nation, from Northland to South Island. They are regional organisations that work within the communities and they have membership bases of both community organisations and volunteers, you can access information about them through our website or from all the volunteer centres around the country. What we know from our research is that about 50% of people find their volunteer roles through word of mouth. There are also online portals to get access to volunteer roles like Seek Volunteer, Indeed, Be Collective or Do Good Jobs.

Moumita: Thank you so much, Michelle. Stephen, I am an e-volunteer with Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA), a marketing and advertising professional. And I have done hundreds of ad campaigns in my life. But never have I ever been the face of an ad campaign. VSA gave me that opportunity. I was the face of a volunteer recruitment campaign and part of VSA email signatures, and other ads including billboards. Thank you for the opportunity. Please tell us more about VSA and the role it plays in finding key volunteering roles for Kiwis across the Pacific. How can someone register with VSA?

Stephen: VSA works in international volunteering and is New Zealand’s oldest and largest organisation in that space. Recently, we celebrated our 60th year. And during that time, we sent out well over 4000 volunteers globally. In the last few years, we have focused on working in the Pacific. When we talk about a volunteer assignment, we are talking about going out into communities, with your families for anywhere from several months through to sometimes an exclusive two years. A lot of our funding comes through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), for which we are very grateful.

The areas in which we are working at the moment are business and economic growth, health and well-being and the education sector. Increasingly, we are working in environmental and climate change science. Related to that are agriculture, fisheries and food security. These are the issues where there is a real need for support at the moment across the Pacific. Our volunteers are all New Zealanders. Everything we do is driven by partner needs and is aligned with their sustainable development goals.

The way our volunteers come depends on partner organisation requirements. We have programme managers, in specific countries. They discuss that requirement and turn it into a final role description. We will go out and look for people with that skill set. Every candidate has to go through a selection process. If that goes right, and they get selected, we will prepare them and send them off to either work in a country or as you do, work remotely.

Moumita:  I am going to ask you more questions about E-volunteering, Stephen. But first, Minister, what can we expect in the coming months from the Ministry in the voluntary sector?

PR: I am focusing on the role I can play, to strengthen the volunteer ecosystem. We are working with Volunteering New Zealand to update the best practice guidelines. I am also looking forward to setting up a steering group because there are many government agencies, about 16 or so, that have strong links with volunteers. If you look at Fire Emergency New Zealand or the Department of Conservation, they work with a large number of volunteers. I want to set up a steering group that has senior-level representation from those government agencies to look at how we might be able to address some of the concerns or support volunteer aspirations across the government in a way that is more cohesive.

Moumita: Thanks, Minister. Why do you think someone should consider volunteering? People may think there is not enough time or they are not an expert, or simply have not considered it yet. What would you tell them?

PR: Firstly, I want to thank everyone who does give time to volunteer. Many of us do it because we get a lot out of volunteering. It enriches our lives, we get so much in terms of service and benefit across our society, in our nation. Shout out to all the ordinary New Zealanders doing extraordinary things day in and day out. For those who want a little bit more encouragement, I guess my message is just to do it if you are thinking about it. People can volunteer in so many different ways. It does not matter how much time or how little, every bit counts. My message to everyone is to find a cause or an organisation you feel passionately about and support it.

Moumita: I love what you said Minister, start from where you are, with what you have. Not only with expertise but also with experience. Mahi Aroha is in the kindness DNA of New Zealand. Thank you for your time, Minister. It has been a privilege to host you.

Let us continue with your thoughts on this Michelle.

The benefits of Volunteering

Michelle: There are about 115,000 not-for-profit organisations in New Zealand, and 90% of them are volunteer-run. You get more than you give, that is what I hear consistently from people, talking about their volunteer experiences. The well-being, community and connection – there are so many upsides to volunteering, it is known as the helper’s high. There are lots of benefits to volunteering. It is worth starting where they are and finding a way to a volunteer centre. Start with a community organisation that is in our neighbourhood and start small. Everybody has skills, everybody can volunteer and everybody has something to contribute. What we know from research is that when people start volunteering, 80% of the volunteers surveyed, said they were going to stick with their current roles. It is about connectedness and community and building our own futures through volunteering.

Moumita: Thank you, Michelle. Stephen, I want to follow up on what you were mentioning earlier, volunteering in international roles through the concept of e-volunteering. I could volunteer there from here.

Being a Virtual Volunteer

Stephen: We have been exploring e-volunteering prior to Covid. With Covid, we had to bring all our in-country volunteers back. Then we faced this dilemma of the unknown, we shifted to online volunteering. This concept has been very successful, more than we originally anticipated. For example, during the fiscal year 2021-2022, We had about 65 online volunteering assignments, just as you are doing across the Pacific. Obviously, if you are in-country and you are located alongside your partner organisation, there is a strong person-to-person relationship aspect, which is a little different when you’re doing it remotely. That said when you are doing online assignments, depending higher on the skills component, where you are mentoring, and supporting someone through their learning journey, then online volunteering is proving to be very effective. It is a different form of volunteering, but one that certainly has its place.

We will definitely continue. I suspect as we start to get more people out across the Pacific, the number of assignments will reduce because our partner organisations would like in-country volunteers. The other advantage of E-volunteering is from the volunteer’s perspective. It has opened up an opportunity for a number of people who previously would not have been able to go and do a traditional in-country assignment, for reasons medical, family and other reasons. They can now. I am sure that you are also experiencing, even though e-volunteering, you are forming a relationship with people in those communities. It is remote, but it is still a very strong relationship. They are getting a real sense of satisfaction and being able to work with them in a system.

Moumita: Thank you, Stephen. I wanted to echo what you said. I could personally take up volunteering because it was e-volunteering. I think e-volunteering gave me the opportunity to do the best I could. Thank you for creating these opportunities.

The National Volunteer Week

Michelle, coming to National Volunteer Week, what is the purpose of celebrating National Volunteer Week?

Michelle: It is an exciting week for our team here at Volunteering New Zealand and across all our member organisations and volunteer centres. National Volunteering Week is an opportunity for accountability, everybody and anybody can celebrate. We run every year, in the third week of June. It is an opportunity to thank and recognise volunteers and bring about awareness about the voluntary infrastructure, and all the things that are needed to make volunteering happen, which are often kind of invisible. It is an awareness drive to showcase the magnitude of contribution that happens across the country, to re-energise and refocus on the coming year.

We enable the week through media outreach, resources and tools, and celebrate across the country, in all sorts of ways, on social media, from volunteer expos to open days. Any organisation or person can get behind in very small ways, such as a shoutout on Facebook or LinkedIn to thank someone who has made a difference in the community.

Moumita: Thank you Michelle that is really helpful. Stephen, tell us about your personal volunteering experiences, with VSA or otherwise.

Stephen: My volunteer experience was primarily through various local community networks. I have always found them incredibly rewarding, in the sense that you feel you are contributing something. I will bring it back to one of the common themes that come through from our own volunteers. We say our volunteers go with two baskets, one of those baskets is full of their skills and what they have to offer. The other basket is empty because they fill it with experiences, achievements, satisfaction, and strength in themselves, which they bring back. This applies to all volunteers and has been my experience too. I have always got more out of volunteering. That is one of the real privileges, of being able to volunteer, whether it be here in New Zealand and local, or regional, or overseas. You make connections, you realise that by volunteering, you are broadening your understanding of the community. That is one of the real reasons why it is so important.

Moumita: Thank you, Stephen and Michelle. That is a great note to end our conversation today. I hope this will help many to consider volunteering and also acknowledge the many volunteers of Aotearoa.

If you enjoyed the conversation, please use the comments section to share your thoughts. Moumita can be reached at https://www.linkedin.com/in/moumitadasroy/

About Moumita Das Roy

Moumita Das Roy is a cross-industry marketer with experience in Nonprofit, Media, Advertising, and Telecom and has worked in some iconic global organisations such as Ogilvy and BBDO in Advertising, The Walt Disney Company in Media and Virgin Mobile in Telecom. In her current role in New Zealand, she manages the B2B marketing communications for the Dulux Group. She is also a trained tertiary educator and industry speaker. Moumita is a LinkedIn enthusiast and a prolific content creator on the platform. She shares stories from her corporate world and her life in academia and presents them in a very real-world, relatable way.  Apart from work, she takes an avid interest in Travel, Volunteering and Diversity and Inclusion conversations. Having worked in multicultural work environments and through her travels across seven continents, she has unique stories to tell, in a very adaptive and versatile way.
Email: dasroymo@gmail.com

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