by Denise Roche
In the last week I’ve spent a lot of time working alongside volunteers as we collect signatures for the petition calling for a referendum on the sale of our state-owned assets. Invariably they’re committed, good-humoured (even in the foulest weather) and graciously give their time to a cause that will ultimately benefit us all. And that’s got me musing on the amazing contribution volunteers make to our communities. It’s Volunteer Awareness Week this week after all.
According to the Office of the Community and Voluntary Sector the not for profit sector contributes 2.6% to the national GDP and if you add up all the voluntary hours of work it comes to 4.9% of our national GDP – about the same as the construction industry. In dollar terms that’s $6.95 billion dollars per year. The OCVS says that in the Not-For-Profit sector more than 1.2 million volunteers who give more than 270 million hours of unpaid labour to the sector annually.
Volunteering is crucial to creating healthy and safe communities. Civic engagement is a clear indicator of ‘social capital’ – which is often described as the ‘glue’ that holds a community together. Volunteering is about people coming together for a common cause, for a common good – and when they do that they generate a sense of belonging in communities.
I live on Waiheke Island where many of the services that most of us take for granted are headed by volunteers either at a governance level or for the provision of services. The last time I counted there were 198 not-for-profit organisations for a permanent population of around 8000. Those organisations include sports clubs, acting and dance troupes, choirs and music groups, parent groups, service organisations like Rotary, our local cinema and radio station, emergency services, environmental organisations, senior citizens services, our health services and even Friends of the Roosters, an animal welfare group who voluntarily feed the feral chooks that live at the sports park on a daily basis.
Our schools rely on volunteers for one-on-one work with kids who are lagging behind in their reading and maths and at the governance level as trustees. And then there’s the hours of labour that volunteers provide to events including the Once Upon and Island Story-Telling Festival, the Jassy Dean Garden Safari, the Jazz Festival, the biennial Sculpture on the Gulf, Junk to Funk and various fundraisers through-out the year.
I’ve done a very conservative back-of-the-envelope calculation and estimate that volunteers contribute nearly $1million worth of labour per annum to the Waiheke community. We could not have the quality of life our kids and our people enjoy there without this contribution.
Throughout New Zealand this happening over and over. Volunteers are community-creating heroes. Thanks, all of you, for all your work.