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.

New Year, New Focus

We are two weeks into this new year (and decade!) and The Traveling Volunteer continues to grow. We have several goals this year. One, in particular, is to increase engagement with the variety of people segments actively involved in a traveling to volunteer experience. Namely – the volunteer traveler, the community member, the nonprofit leader, the tourism representative, and you, the reader, who may or may not fill one of these roles. Because, regardless of any group titles…

You are part of the global community.

How will engagement be increased you ask? Through social media platform posts, the #iamthiscommunity challenge, group meetings, research (interviews and surveys), and other innovative ways yet to be revealed, all with the intention of connecting traveling volunteer people groups with each other.

But our reach has changed.

To strengthen our mission of engaging people within the traveling to volunteer space, we have decided to narrow our focus on very short term volunteering opportunities in USA and Canada. By short term, we mean between 2 – 5 hours of deep, impactful volunteering. We found that trying to reach a very large global audience did not give us the deeper impact we wanted that could otherwise be gained in a smaller geographical region. But wait –

If you are not from USA or Canada – this still includes you!

If you plan on traveling to, or traveling within, the USA or Canada, The Traveling Volunteer aims to be your intermediary by offering you short-term volunteering opportunities while at your US or Canadian destination. We strongly believe the connection developed through traveling to volunteer experiences is life-changing. To do this, we trust we will have a greater global impact because we have specialised our reach on a smaller scale. Having said this, if you do not plan on traveling to volunteer in USA or Canada, we have a special projects team worldwide. It is through them, we will continue to curate and offer potential short term volunteering opportunities as the need arises.

To start, we will be offering our volunteering opportunities on this website.

While we have plans to grow and partner with larger booking sites, at the moment, we will be using The Traveling Volunteer website to feature short term volunteering opportunities in specific USA markets. We will be testing these opportunities in the next few months, and letting you know how you can participate and book any of them.

We are excited for the year ahead and look forward to engaging with you through events, social media outlets and more! We are working hard to provide you with volunteering opportunities for you to deeply connect with, and make a difference in, a community you visit. We believe through a traveling to volunteer experience, all participants can say #iamthiscommunity because of the connection they have made to this place.

#iamthiscommunity

You might have seen the #iamthiscommunity hashtag pop up in social media outlets lately and are wondering what its’ all about. Or perhaps you’ve wandered over to this Page regardless if you’ve seen this hashtag or not. So, what can be said about this challenge? What is it all about?

Your community

Where you live brings to mind a certain imagery and the connections you make there. The warmth felt. Excitement. Frustration (yes, even that). It’s the place you call home. Your place in this world with it’s unique climate, food, events, attractions, volunteering opportunities* and so much more.

Traveled to volunteer communities

When volunteers travel they become part of the community they volunteer in. Through this type of engagement, they leave a lasting imprint to remain indefinitely part of that community. As a result, both residents and traveling volunteers can say #iamthiscommunity due to their collective connection to the place.

This challenge focuses on “all things great” about your place of residence, and the communities you’ve traveled to volunteer. A chance to brag! BUT particularly on local volunteering opportunities for travelers to consider AND volunteering experiences you’ve participated in when you’ve traveled. So, how do I participate? Through social media outlets on these topics!

       Brag about your local community. 

    • Log into your Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter accounts. (Actually, log into each one and do this for all of your social media outlets!).
    • Choose picture(s) that represents your community. Is it that waterfall that you all hike to and recommend others to join in? How about that bustling downtown core? What about a walk around the block from your house? Or that image of that scrumptious dessert you had at your favorite foodie location?
    • Upload and tag it with: #iamthiscommunity #(your city/town/village/area) #(your country), #thetravelingvolunteer
    • Explain why you chose your picture(s). Don’t forget this part!
    • Tag @thetravelingvolunteer (Facebook); @travelingvolunteer (Instagram); @TheTravelingVo1 (Twitter); AND your friends!

       *Feature local volunteering opportunities.

    • Same as above.
    • Choose picture(s) that represent your favorite local volunteering opportunity. Is it your local animal shelter? What about a unique hands on experience with a cultural group only available in your community? Or connecting with local community members through beach cleanups or forest restoration?
    • Upload and tag it with: #iamthiscommunity #(your city/town/village/area) #(your country), #thetravelingvolunteer #(the organisation) #(theme of organisation)
    • Explain why you chose your picture(s). Don’t forget this part because The Traveling Volunteer will be choosing volunteer opportunities for travelers from this list!!
    • Tag @thetravelingvolunteer (Facebook); @travelingvolunteer (Instagram); @TheTravelingVo1 (Twitter); @(your volunteering opportunity name/group/nonprofit); AND your friends!

       Showcase your traveled to community and volunteering experience. 

    • Same as above.
    • Choose picture(s) that represented your traveling to volunteer experience. Who did you meet? What did you do? Tell us all about it.
    • Same as above.
    • Same as above.
    • Same as above.

You might not be able to showcase a traveling to volunteer opportunity if you have never been somewhere else to volunteer. That’s okay! Just post pictures of your community and possible local volunteering experiences. However, we encourage people to post local volunteering opportunities for travelers, and traveling to volunteer experiences you participated in, where you can.

Continue to check back often as we will be developing this campaign as time goes on. I hear there might be some merchandise in the works…! JOIN IN, you just might get a picture featured and a shoutout to your Page or Profile or Account!