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What’s Up with Volunteering Down Under?

What’s Up with Volunteering Down Under?

In mid-September I traveled to the eastern seaboard of Australia, to meet with corporate and nonprofit representatives and talk about what’s new and what’s working in volunteering. Aside from spending lots of hours flying there and back, the experience was eye-opening and inspiring.

My first few days were spent helping lead workshops in Melbourne and Sydney sponsored by AMP, a wealth management company in Australia and New Zealand. About 150 people responsible for corporate social responsibility or employee volunteering at companies and a number of nonprofit representatives attended the workshops. We had a great conversation on some of the new trends in volunteering taking hold across the globe:  innovations in skills-based volunteering; how companies can leverage millennials’ volunteer preferences; measuring the social impact of volunteering; and how volunteering is good for business. It was terrific to work with Doug Taylor, Executive Director and CEO, United Way Australia, Penny Van der Sluys, General Manager, and Paul Metcalfe, Investor Relations in South East Asian and the Pacific, to share United Way’s insights and ideas, and to learn from the workshop participants as well.

After Sydney, I headed north to the Gold Coast, to join 1,000 people (more than half from overseas) for the 23rd International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE) World Volunteer Conference and Youth Forum. Founded in 1970, IAVE has grown into a global network of volunteers and volunteer organizations, with members in more than 70 countries throughout the world. At the conference, IBM and medical technology company BD were honored for their outstanding corporate volunteer programs.

I was so pleased to collaborate at the conference with Lyndsey McKee, Corporate Partnerships, United Way Australia to present on a fascinating topic:  collective impact. Collective impact is the “commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem.” 1

Lyndsey described a very successful initiative called 90 Homes for 90 Lives, where the corporate, government and non-profit sectors collaborated to provide long-term homes for nearly all of the homeless people sleeping on the streets in Woolloomooloo, a Sydney suburb. I was excited to share United Way’s Readers, Tutors, Mentors initiative, which also fosters cross-sector engagement and has mobilized more than 308,000 volunteers to help children of all ages succeed in school.

So, what’s up Down Under? It turns out the U.S. and Australia share some of the same challenges in volunteer engagement, needing to focus on systemic change; ensuring that volunteer opportunities create impact and do more than make people feel good for a day; and finding ways to invest in effective volunteer management. Challenging situations to be sure, but comforting to know that United Way and the people we serve can benefit from thoughtful dialogue with like-minded people from around the world.



1 “Collective Impact” by John Kania and Mark Kramer, Stanford Social Innovation Review. Winter 2011.