Building Community Resilience Through Traveling Volunteers

Last week I virtually attended the International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE)’s Building Resilience Through Volunteering During COVID 19 presentation given by Benjamin Lough, PhD. In his presentation Dr. Lough suggested there are 5 key characteristics of a resilient community that can be applied to the activity of volunteering itself: self organisation, connectivity, social cohesion, diversification and redundancy, and feedback and learning. I’d like to go one step further and extend his presentation by applying some elements of his talk to the topic of traveling volunteers. These unique volunteers can provide a value-add service to a community they are visiting by participating in volunteering activities. But now more than ever, they can also be key players in building community resilience as we emerge from this global pandemic.

First, what does resilience mean?

According to Harvard Business Review, resilience means “the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity.” It should be understood, that people can be resilient both at the individual and group level. Many aspects help a person become resilient, such as, having a supportive network of friends/family, a strong belief system, or a personality type that lends itself well when the going gets tough. While these insights are helpful for individuals to understand, how (or does it) change at the group or community level?

In other words, what factors help a community become resilient?

I believe factors of community resiliency are based on well-respected leadership. If the community is lead by a team of trustworthy organised people, who are solid communicators providing factual information to a group of diverse of individuals living in that community who feel appreciated, then the community has a firm foundation to build upon if adversity comes their way. If on the other hand, community members do not trust their leaders to have their best interests in mind and they experience spotty non-factual information communicated to them when the going is good, it is hard to imagine how this community can become resilient during/after a crisis is over.

How can traveling volunteers contribute to community resiliency?

By expanding the resource base to tackle a community problem. A resilient-thinking community leadership team looks for innovative ways to help their community bounce back from a crisis if/when it occurs. In reference back to Dr. Lough’s 5 key characteristics of resilient communities, as applied to the activity of volunteering, we can see that diversification is one key characteristic of a resilient community. When a traveling volunteer comes into a community, they bring with them a diverse perspective (and another set of hands!) to add to the mix of people who work together on a local volunteer project. Leadership who embrace the idea of having traveling volunteers part of their community resiliency plan, will find that these new people will not only add to their resource base when a crisis is at hand, but long after it is over.

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