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Volunteering: For love of self and others

In the first week of September, in Luxembourg, I had lunch with the funding member of ‘Dress for Success’ and my student who wants to join her in helping and empowering women. A few days later, I bumped into an acquaintance who has been teaching French to new arrivals in our region without financial remuneration. Two weeks ago, I attended a fundraising dinner and dance in a town about 10km from my city. It was a friendly atmosphere with men, women and children making sure that we would have a fantastic time, in addition to being busy collecting money for local charities and NGOs. Last week, through the encouragement of a friend, I went to the nearby park and was mesmerised by about a dozen tents with generous and smiling individuals selling and entertaining people for good causes.

As I write this article, I think of my friend who has always time for her environmental group doing information dissemination, pancake making and coordinating Christmas stalls; as well as my ex-student who founded ‘United by Dream Onlus,’ a humanitarian organisation aiding impoverished children and their families. Sometime in our lives, we are volunteers; however, some do more than others.

Why do we volunteer? Research and individual testimonies have revealed that has benefits for individuals and societies, and the main ones are: i) It gives the volunteer a sense of achievement and belongingness to a community; ii) Offers opportunity to meet diverse range of people and experiences; iii) It enhances social and relationship abilities; iv) Enables development and/or practice of new skills, hobbies and interests; v) Can boost your career; vi) It’s a rich resource for organisations to carry out their missions, thus helping less fortunate than we are or those in need.

When I was young, every time I thought about volunteering, going overseas flashed immediately into my mind. Well, there are plenty of occasions to do this locally, i.e. local service clubs, social centres, non-profit service associations, schools, etc. The first step is knowing what you want to do (taking into consideration your personality and interest) and match this with the organisation or cause.

According to the World Giving Index 2015, a research done by Gallup and Charities Aid Foundation, the five most generous nations in the world are: 1. Myanmar (92% of its inhabitants donated money in 2014. Although they gave a small amount, they did it daily as this is part of their Buddhist faith); 2. US (12th in the world for charitable donation but 76% of its population helped strangers); 3. New Zealand (4th in volunteering and its charitable money giving increased by 6%); 4. Canada (44% of its population offered time to volunteer); and Australia (Its charitable donation increased by 6% and time spent on volunteering by 3%). They are followed by The UK (6th), The Netherlands (7th), Sri Lanka (8th), Ireland (9th) and Malaysia (10th)(www.theguardian.com seen on 27/09/16).

Last year, Wealth-X and Business Insider produced the Generosity Index, a list of 20 most generous people in the world that included Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates (No. 1) donating US$27 billion in lifetime donations as of October 2015. The leading causes supported by the world’s biggest individual donors are education, and medicine, social and humanitarian services, community development, and arts and (http://www.wealthx.com/articles/2015/worlds-20-most-generous-how-they-give/ seen 30/09/16).

Hong Kong business magnate Li Ka-shing, with US$1.4 billion in donations to date, has reportedly spent over US$770 million to establish and support Shantou University, the only privately funded public university in China. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made education one of his primary causes; his first act of large-scale philanthropy was donating US$100 million worth of his Facebook shares to Newark, New Jersey public school system in 2010.

Retail magnate Charles Francis Feeney, who has donated US$6.3 billion to date, has pledged US$177 million to the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) and Trinity College Dublin to create the Global Brain Health Institute aimed at battling the quick rise of dementia.

Pierre Omidyar, co-founder and current chairman of eBay, started the Omidyar Foundation with his wife Pamela in 1998; and this couple have reportedly invested US$115 million in Humanity United (under the Omidyar Foundation umbrella), which supports 85 anti-slavery nonprofit and on-the-ground projects in five countries, including Nepal.

Eight of 20 philanthropists on the list included community development among their principal causes, e.g. Bloomberg’s $42 million “What Works Cities” project aims to help 100 mid-sized American cities enhanced their use of data to improve the lives of residents and boost government transparency.

Twenty five percent of those in the “Most Generous” list have supported arts and culture, which is ahead of the environment (four out of 20) and religion (3 out of 20). KB Home co-founder and former SunAmerica CEO Eli Broad has been an active patron of the arts, and recipients of his generosity include the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It’s easy to give when you have a lot.. a surplus. However, not all those who have surpluses give significantly for the world’s betterment.

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
― Charles Dickens

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