Society needs resilient communities of all kinds, be they geographic, affinity-based or otherwise. When communities are resilient, they can prepare and plan for, recover from and more successfully adapt to adverse events.
A major tool for building and sustaining community resilience is volunteering. By bringing people in the community together to achieve shared goals, volunteering draws on the power of human relationships to strengthen trust and social solidarity. It also enhances shared meaning within groups. When groups share a strong sense of solidarity, they channel individual actions into collective strategies for managing risk.
Volunteers as agents of change
Volunteers build hope and community resilience as agents of change. Local volunteering in particular enables communities to self-organise, set their own priorities and take ownership of local challenges. It enables communities to be flexible, respond in real time and pivot in the face of changing patterns of risk. Moreover, local volunteering can more readily adapt to changing local conditions than external service providers often can.
Connecting communities at all levels
Community volunteering offers a pathway for better connections on local, national and international levels. Volunteers from the community can contextualise information about the community for external agencies. They can also act as a bridge between the community and external actors, like national governments. A key example of this is during emergencies and disasters, where community volunteers provide frontline and immediate response in many crises. In fact, they’re sometimes the only sources of help available in a crisis. These community members organise when central authorities are unavailable to coordinate an emergency response.
Volunteering can also strengthen community connections by reducing social isolation. People who receive services delivered by volunteers, such as disability support and aged care, can experience higher life satisfaction thanks to the social contact they have with the volunteer. Moreover, individual volunteers themselves can also see wellbeing benefits from social contact with other volunteers and service users.
Volunteering supports leadership development
Leadership development is another area where community volunteering drives resilience. Through volunteering, people of all ages can acquire leadership skills that will stand both them and the wider community in good stead for the future. Volunteer mentor programs, for example, enable both the volunteer mentor as well as the mentee to obtain and enhance leadership skills. Similarly, volunteer community sports coaches build and use leadership skills in the course of their roles. When community members have good leadership skills, they are better equipped to deal with challenges and adapt to changing conditions.
Volunteering boosts innovation
If they are to be resilient, communities need innovative solutions in addition to members with leadership skills. Fortunately, community volunteering boosts innovation because volunteers often problem-solve based on immediate needs and resources. In turn, this drive for innovation supports greater resiliency. There are numerous areas where volunteers can create innovative solutions. For example, volunteers can use their on-the-ground experience to develop new systems for crisis communications. Environmental management volunteers, meanwhile, can find innovative ways to carry out conservation projects.
Volunteering and emergency response
The dedicated people known as emergency response volunteers are making a difference in communities all around the world. They’re active 365 days a year and devote their time, energy and skills to respond to safety threats and help communities recover from emergencies and disasters.
Many emergency response organisations rely on ongoing volunteers, either fully or in part, to deliver their services. These organisations invest heavily in training and equipping skilled volunteers. From operational leadership and medical services to search and rescue, formal volunteers perform a wide range of roles. Informal volunteers, meanwhile, respond during emergency situations. Governments and other agencies run emergency volunteering sites focused on recruiting and matching volunteers on an as-needed basis.
Strengthening communities around the world
Volunteering facilitates community response to shocks and stresses. It also positions communities to take advantage of opportunities for the future through innovation. By supporting strong and resilient communities, volunteering ultimately helps strengthen the fabric of society.