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Volunteerism is often mentioned in the context of social capital. In the literature
there are two ways in which social capital and volunteerism are related. Firstly,
social capital promotes volunteerism and volunteerism is an intrinsic part of
social capital. Secondly, volunteerism itself fosters and enhances social capital.

The following summary will explain those two linkages and show the benefits of a
high level of volunteering.

Volunteerism is defined as ‘the willingness of people to work on behalf of others
without the expectation of pay or other tangible gain. Volunteers may have
special training as rescuers, guides, assistants, teachers, missionaries, amateur
radio operators, writers, and in other positions. But the majority work on an
impromptu basis, recognizing a need and filling it.] In economics, voluntary
employment is unpaid employment. It may be done for altruistic reasons, for
example charity, as a hobby, community service or vocation, or for the purpose
of gaining experience.’

A variety of literature indicates the societal and economic benefits of
volunteerism. We would like to explore this field specifically in the context of
social capital.
    Baum, F., Modra, C., Bush, R., Cox, E., Cooke, R.& Potter, R. (1999).
       Volunteering and social capital: An Adelaide study. Australian Journal on
       Volunteering, 4(1), 13-22.
    Cox, E. (2000). Creating a more civil society: Community level indicators
       of social capital. Just Policy: A Journal of Australian Social Policy, No
       19/20, 100-107.
    ABS. (2000). Measuring social capital: Current collections and future
       directions [pdf file]. Retrieved 24th November, 2001 from the World Wide
    Judy Muthuri, Jeremy Moon and Dirk Matten (2006) Employee
       Volunteering and the Creation of Social Capital. No. 34-2006 ICCSR
       Research Paper Series
    Dr Peter Mayer (2003) The Wider Economic Value of Social Capital and
       Volunteering in South Australia. University of Adelaide - South Australia
    Jennifer Wilkinson and Michael Bittman (2002). Volunteering:The Human
       face of democracy. SPRC Discussion Paper No. 114. Sydney – Australia.
    Paine, Angela Ellis; Locke, Michael; Jochum, Veronique (2006)
       Volunteering, Active Citizenship and Community Cohesion: From theory to
       practice. Paper presented to the international conference of the
       International Society for Third Sector Research Bangkok, July 2006
   And many others

Social capital addresses networks on horizontal and vertical levels. Those
networks are based on trust, norms and values that enable collective action.

Those networks are based on relationships between human beings. They are
able to mobilize resources in various forms. The World Bank stated on their
website ‘Social Capital is not what you know but who you know’ which reflects
that social capital is about people and individuals. Trusting relationships and
networks are established when the members of the network or partners are
confident that the other person will comply with what is expected. It means that
the parties interacting do not have full knowledge of each other or the expected
results are depend on the persons ability and success is not predictable. By
being trustworthy the partners in a relationships or network make themselves
vulnerable but at the same time it is expected that the other party will not take
advantage of it. And lastly, it means that reciprocity is inherent in the relationship
even though it might be delayed and in a different form e.g. acknowledgment,
enabling another network or contact for someone, support.

In order to build those networks it is important that people who believe in the
greater goals work together in order to achieve the greater outcomes.
Engagement and motivation is needed and this is the pre-condition for
volunteering. Time, resources and support allocated can be elements of
volunteering. Building social capital needs the willingness of individuals to
participate, to engage and to support each other.

Building social capital is not only a motivation for volunteering, built social capital
can also foster social capital. Broad networks of organizations and groups can
motivate ‘outsiders’ to participate and volunteer.

Some practical examples:
If you find many NGOs, Church groups, self-help groups, youth association etc.
in one geographical area that conduct a lot of voluntary work, it might motivate
others to participate in their activities. In addition, the variety of structures and
networks might provide individuals of different interests with different
opportunities to engage. Generally, it could instill a mindset or mentality within
the community that helping others through volunteering is an important value.
Participation in groups and organizations could also be a measure to learn about
others, to decrease prejudices against others. People get to know more people
and through those contacts individuals broaden their networks and hence, their
information gathering circle. Information about services and benefits are easier to
access and share among groups. Burden and crisis of individuals, families or
groups might be easier to address through networks of people you know and
interact with. All these examples show that voluntary participation in clubs or
organizations can have a variety of benefits.

Volunteer activity can also create new networks and relationship and therefore
foster social capital. Imagine a group of people working together on a volunteer

programme. During the duration of the project people engage and get to know
each other. They might form new relationships and networks which will bring
collective action toward common goals of the community, group etc.

The Provincial Government of the Western Cape believes in the social capital
approach and its inherent elements. Therefore, one important element for this
year is the draft of its own ‘Social Responsibility programme’. It will motivate and
encourage staff to volunteer. In addition, several programmes and projects of
individual departments encourage their staff already to volunteer and participate
in activities that are of benefit for the larger community.

Volunteerism, the Heart of Social Capital

1000 Volunteers Housing Project

Volunteers South Africa

Volunteering in South Africa

The electronic journal of the volunteer community


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