Let's Commit to International Exchange

By Susan J. Ellis

We have decided to continue July’s hot topic into August for two reasons. First, we have only recently generated some responses from international colleagues and want to be sure everyone feels they have enough time to add their comments. Second, from August 23 to 27, IAVE is holding their World Volunteer Conference in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Susan and others are posting their comments to our From IAVE area.  So check it out!

July's Hot Topic

Leaders of volunteers around the globe are making conscious efforts to connect with one another.  The conferences and publications in our field are reflecting--and sometimes initiating--this broadened perspective.  Because I now have the privilege of conducting about ten workshops a year overseas,  I have committed Energize to the facilitation and nurturing of international networking.  In past "hot topics" I've generally discussed this subject, but now I want to foster communication more actively.

The United Nations has declared the year 2001 as the "International Year of the Volunteer." While such events are often more show than substance, this is nevertheless a major development for a field that has rarely been visible. Most probably the Year will focus on the achievements of volunteers themselves, which is great.  But we can take advantage of this pending event to create exchanges among the leaders of volunteer efforts, lasting longer than one year.  

Too many Americans view "outreach" to people from other cultures as teaching the "right" ways to do volunteer administration. Certainly we in the United States have made enormous advances in developing the profession of working with volunteers--training, publishing, professional associations--and we should share this information. But the important question should be: "What can we learn from each other?" 

I've been amazed at what I've learned.  Almost from the start of my international work, I recognized that a powerful learning experience for me was the chance to examine my presentations from a fresh perspective. What do I believe most and feel comfortable in offering others outside of my own culture? What has the potential to be universal and why? I also listen closely to what my seminar participants say and ask. Not only does this help me to help them more, but it is how I discover new ways of working that, in turn, I bring back to the U.S.

So, here are this month’s questions to site visitors:

1. If you are from outside the U.S. (and we estimate that at least 15% of our visitors are), what do you think you do in your country that colleagues in other countries might see as unique? could replicate? could adapt? What are you particularly interested in learning from others?

2. If you are an American (and this probably goes for our Canadian friends, too), what have you learned from any interaction with colleagues outside of North America? What would you like to learn?

3. For anyone working with issues that have global effects (AIDS, the environment, aging), have you been able to apply volunteering strategies and techniques used in another country to your own work?

4. For everyone: How can we use the Web to encourage meaningful exchange among volunteerism practitioners? Can we collaborate on something focused on the United Nation’s annual International Volunteer Day (December 5)? What might we do collectively for the International Year of the Volunteer in 2000?

If the responses this month seem to lead to ongoing dialogue, we will consider creating a special place for it on this Web site. For any of you attending the the IAVE World Volunteer Conference scheduled for Edmonton this August or Volonteurope in London in September, let’s keep the discussion going in person, too!  (See our conference calendar for more information on these and other international events.) 

Receive an update when the next "News and Tips" is posted!


Permission to Reprint