Are you #iwilling?

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George Thomson of Volunteer Scotland talks empathy, young people and untapped potential.

#iwill is a great volunteer pledge full of possibilities. It’s inspiring and challenging. Before making it, you might first say ‘I’m willing’.

It’s a tribute to young people in Scotland that they ARE willing to volunteer. I’ve witnessed this time and time again. There’s a universal willingness to help others. Scotland’s pledge  in recognition of this should be: “#iwill enable, empower and support young people to volunteer.”

Put ourselves in the shoes of young folk. Listen to their heartbeat of empathy for others. A heartbeat which is not self-centred on personal advantage but one which is moved by need.

The stories young people share about their volunteering has three main elements at play, making a meaningful difference, new experiences, and meeting people and making friends.

The Clydesider volunteers at Glasgow 2014, for instance, talk about their wonderful experiences with people. Not the task they did. I love the Host City Volunteer’s on YouTube saying: “We don’t know if we gave visitors the right directions, but we all had a brilliant time with them.”  Another adds: “One visitor asked us where the beach in Glasgow was. We let them know there wasn’t one and directed them towards the Clyde!” Yes, of course there is work to do, but it’s the relationships that count. Time to drop the ‘hands up’ image of volunteering.

A lot of emphasis is placed on job experience, skills and CV development. My view is I think this is missing the main point. Volunteering at its best is friendly, uplifting and rewarding. Yes, you’ll discover learning, skills, and stories to tell to a potential employer. With a life ahead and jobs to find this is important for young people, but is oversold.

I heard on the news a woman recount that her choir’s purpose is to help its group overcome breathing difficulties. When a member of the choir misses a session, on return they’re welcomed back with a hug and enquiry of how they are. The volunteering heartbeat is about solidarity.

What if we talked about the values that underpin our volunteering, more than it’s worthiness? There’s a movement in economic development for a mindset shift away from GDP to human needs. This is recognising that there is a human need to give. It’s what makes us human. Volunteering is simply one of the best ways of meeting our need to give, and at the same time to gain by meeting our mutual needs.

This seems to chime with the extraordinary willingness of young people to volunteer. 82% of 16- to 19-year olds (VInspired) say they’d like to volunteer. The issue, for me, is that we haven’t worked out how best to enable this willingness from all walks of life, into the actual experience of volunteering. We’re getting better: 45% of 10- to 18-year olds (Volunteer Scotland research) are volunteering – the highest rate in the UK. However, there remains massive untapped human potential.

Volunteer Scotland is studying very closely all the conditions that help or hinder young volunteer participation, including recent research in some of our poorest area and insights about what works best.

In #iwill week, we are pulling all the evidence together about how we can create the best conditions for all our young people to be supported in turning their natural willingness to volunteer into a reality. All power to them!

George Thomson is CEO of Volunteer Scotland.

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