Handy and Wadsworth in their paper, ‘Defining who is a Volunteer’, say that volunteers are commonly considered as “unpaid help provided in an organized manner to parties to whom the worker has no obligations.”
Volunteers generally work within a formal program with an overarching mission that subdivides into goals, plans, job positions, and tasks. The intended beneficiaries of a volunteer’s efforts should be strangers, not friends or relatives.
The literature on the subject says that volunteerism refers to a wide range of activities, including traditional forms of mutual aid and self-help, formal service delivery and other forms of civic participation, undertaken of free will for the general public good and where monetary reward is not the principal motivating factor (Halski-Leventhal, 2011). At least four different types of volunteer activity can be identified within this conceptual framework: mutual aid or self-help; service to others; participation or civic engagement; and advocacy or campaigning.
Professor Don Robotham, in his 1998 Grace Kennedy Foundation Lecture,’ Vision and Volunteerism, Reviving Volunteerism in Jamaica’, argues that volunteerism can be defined as any action or course of action, usually of a social or civic nature. This course of action is prompted primarily by altruistic motives, from which the actor does not obtain wages, salary or profit and in which the beneficiaries are people who are not normally the volunteer's direct responsibility.
Robotham in his definition also gives recognition to the critical importance of the moral element in volunteerism. The moral element must be the heart of volunteerism.
He insists that volunteerism is an expression of the degree of moral and civic unity of a society. It is a measure of its state of spiritual integrity. 'Total strangers' in a society take steps to assist others in that society without seeking reward because they have a sense of common feeling and duty to each other. They do not, in fact, regard others as 'total strangers'. They recognize that they have moral claims on one another. That is what a real society is like, says Robotham.
The literature on volunteerism says that it involves much more than working without pay and that it is where people make choices to do so things to help society that go beyond their basic obligations. Volunteerism strengthens civic engagement; safeguards social inclusion, deepens solidarity and solidifies ownership of development results. Volunteerism has a ripple effect in that it inspires others and advances the transformations required for any positive change to take root in communities.
The United Nations highlights four key areas in which volunteering has been transformational: These are in the areas of peacebuilding, environmental sustainability, social inclusion and basic services.
In peacebuilding, volunteerism, says the UN, is known to help regenerate certain fractured or absent dynamics that are crucial to reconciliation and reconstruction. In the area of environmental sustainability, volunteerism has been key in mobilizing communities globally to address environmental degradation.
In speaking to social inclusion and volunteerism, The United Nations says that ‘the values inherent in volunteerism opens up diverse pathways for marginalized groups to overcome social exclusion, while enabling them to become drivers of development action’.
In terms of basic services and volunteerism, The United Nations also explains that ‘ Volunteer action, when well facilitated, can be a particularly effective mechanism to foster support and complement the state provision of essential services across a number of sectors.’ The sectors, it continues, include the provision of basic services such as clean water and sanitation, health care and primary and secondary education. These are key ingredients of human development and wellbeing.
One does not have to look far to see the positive effects of voluntarism. It provides an opportunity for concerned members of the community to identify needs and offer their time and skills to implement change. I use this column to celebrate the hundreds of volunteers in the Cayman Islands in whatever area and capacity.