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People volunteer for an array of reasons: because their community matters to them, because they want to make a difference, or they want to meet new people, or just because they believe in a cause and want to champion it… There is no right or wrong way to become a volunteer,, this is not a “one size fits all” path.

First and foremost, volunteering is an essential factor for social transformation. It supports social inclusion, solidarity, active citizenship, the resilience of populations and social commitment, in short: it helps to build our future.

Volunteering is actually also good for the volunteers themselves, including when they are disadvantaged or belong to potentially threatened groups, such as the unemployed, asylum seekers, refugees, migrants, the elderly or the disabled.

“Volunteering contributes to improving the health and well-being of volunteers, and gives them the opportunity to acquire skills and knowledge that can improve their career and employment prospects," said Gabriela Civico, director of the European Center for Volunteering (CEV) (source)

Here are 5 benefits of volunteering that should motivate anyone to give it a try:

  1. You are doing good for others and the community, which provides a natural sense of accomplishment. Your role as a volunteer can also give you a sense of pride and identity. Volunteering can provide a healthy boost to your self-confidence, self-esteem, and life satisfaction.

  2. Volunteers are 27% more likely to find a job after being out of work when compared to non-volunteers.(Source)

  3. Volunteers without a high school diploma are 51% more likely to find employment when compared to those who do not volunteer.(Source)Volunteering helps to combat depression. A major contributing factor to depression is isolation and volunteering keeps you in regular contact with others and helps you develop a solid support system, (Source)

  4. According to research, volunteering, especially among older people, can help to reduce mortality rates and help people live more fulfilling, longer lives. Volunteering has also been shown to combat the symptoms of chronic pain, and even heart disease.

So go out there, and give it a go. At NMA, we strongly encourage you to find the right volunteering opportunity for you. Help the elderly, work in an animal shelter or fundraise for a cause close to your heart: you’ll be surprised by how much it brings to you.

You don’t know where to start? Many platforms can help you find a volunteering position that may suit you. Try for example Volunteer Match, Volunteer World or, if you are in Switzerland, Benevol Jobs or Genève Bénévolat.

Let us know if you have any inspiring stories to share with us and others about your volunteering experience, we always love to .ear from you.

Next month we will talk about volunteer management and retention strategies. Stay tuned!

With June often dubbed” The Environment Month” and as concerns about the environment grow louder every day, let’s take a look at what is the role of NGOs and other non-profit organisations in tackling environmental issues and how this role differs and complements the work of governments.

When addressing environmental issues, governments tend to apply a “carrot and stick” approach, oscillating between regulatory strategies and economic incentives.

NGOs contribute ideas, raise awareness, shape discussions, influence decisions and implement policies. As they are usually not answerable to specific agendas and can often act independently, they have become key players in environmental politics at all levels from local to global. A study from the University of Stockholm shows that NGOs are important actors in global environmental governance, offering knowledge and expertise, moral arguments and new ideas or taking action on implementing policies. However, their approaches and their influence, depend in some part on their resources, which creates a landscape characterized by plurality, inequality, and contradictions.

Recent years have seen the creation of more and more NGOs working toward environmental issues, but the effectiveness of these organisations is rarely assessed or critically examined. Scientists in Jamaica invite us to exercise prudence when it comes to the level of competence and professionalism of some organisations, which have proven ineffective. In some cases they may even exacerbate the problems they set out to solve. This is why governments and donors should be prudent when attributing projects to NGOs.

Since 2020, the Covid crisis and now the inflation and the war in Ukraine have been in the forefront of the media coverage. Environmental movements such as “Fridays for future” have unfortunately been relegated to less prominent places and it could be easy to forget about the climate crisis urgency.

Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg recently teamed up to remind us that “girls’ education is a climate solution”. Women in developing countries are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. Educate them and they can become part of the solution, for example by reducing their communities greenhouse gas emissions. Will that lead to future collaboration between NGOs advocating for women’s rights and NGOs specialized in the environment? That would certainly be interesting to watch, because the fight for both is far from over.

Smaller NGOs are faced with an array of challenges, amongst the most commons are:

  • Lack of funds and longer-term financing

  • Limited or no strategic orientation and planning

  • Lack of a solid network

Today we meet with Mr Raymi Castilla Chacon, secretary of the swiss-based NGO Una Mano para Venezuela y el Mundo (UMAVEM), to find out how he perceives and works around these challenges.

NMA: Mr Castilla, please tell us about UMAVEM and its mission?

R.C : We started as an organized community of Venezuelans in Switzerland who decided to take matters into our own hands to help those in need back in Venezuela.

Our main objective is to support people in extreme poverty with basic services, medicines, clothes, etc for children and the elderly. We also support local institutions which contribute to the alleviation of poverty and social inequality, whether through studies, cultural activities or sports.

In the last 6 months, we have sent 2000 kg of material (clothings, medical supplies, food, basic necessities). We have around 20 volunteers, 6 representatives in Venezuela and we support 14 local charities. To give you an idea: the shipping alone of these 2000 kg cost us around 8000 CHF. And of course, this material has first to be gathered, sorted, packaged and stored. Ideally we would have to raise around 20’000 CHF/year in donations.

What is the background of your volunteers? Do any of them have a formal training in the tasks they perform for UMAVEM?

Our volunteers have diverse professional backgrounds, but mainly what motivates us all is the willingness to help our fellow Venezuelans in need. UMAVEM has no paid employees and relies upon its volunteers for every task on hand, from receiving to packing and sending the donations, from managing our communication, to looking for donors and sponsors. As we all have jobs, families and other obligations, it is sometimes quite difficult to find the time and energy to add extra work in our schedules.

Our President, Johanna Falcon, is a social worker though and also works with other NGOs.

Do you think you would benefit from training in some domains, would it help you achieve your goals?

Yes of course, it is always important to learn the tools to do our work more efficiently. The NGO world is getting more and more competitive and professional, and it would be very helpful to increase our personal and organisational competencies in some specific areas. But as usual, time and money are big obstacles.

What would you say is the biggest challenge you are facing?

There are so many. I would say the biggest one is probably the need to get funds, especially to constantly acquire more. We are highly dependent on donors’ generosity and it is difficult to regularly attract some new ones. Additionally we need a constant presence on social media to keep the actual donors interested and engaged, which is time consuming unfortunately.

I would also say that it is difficult to find the time and resources to manage the material donations (clothes, toys, medications, etc). As happy as we are to receive them, they need to be stored, packaged and sent out to Venezuela, which represents a huge organizational effort and uses the biggest part of our budget.

We probably don’t look enough for institutional donors, grants, public fundings etc. though. Once again, it is too time consuming and we just don’t have the human resources for these tasks. We are currently engaged in the competition “Prix Diaspora & Développement” supported by FEDEVACO. Ideally we should engage in more projects like this, but again, we don’t have the resources to do it. Our volunteers are stretched thin as it is and cannot find more time to tackle more projects.

Do you partner with other organizations or NGOs? Is networking an important part of your strategy?

Networking is essential, be it in Venezuela or locally in Switzerland. In Venezuela, we partner with local associations and rely on them to distribute part of our donations. They also contact us when they need resources for a specific project, or to help a specific family or person. For example, we recently managed to send more than 300 pairs of shoes to an orphanage in Caracas that had contacted us with this particular demand.

In Switzerland we have contact with various organisations and often share or exchange ressources. For example, if we receive clothing which is not appropriate for venezuelan climate, we donate them to a partnering organisation in exchange for other material, or any help they can offer.

What about strategic planning? Is it something you are familiar with and/or apply on a regular basis?

Some months ago we prepared a strategic plan. We have been struggling to apply and implement it formally though. Again the lack of resources and full time dedication is a hurdle on our path.

Thank you M. Castilla for answering our questions and sharing your experience. We wish you and UMAVEM all the best in your mission, and we look forward to following your next projects.

If you are facing these challenges as well, we provide various solutions. From project management, to fundraising or strategic communication, our courses cover a large panel of subjects. They all come with personalized coaching to help you tackle your own challenges. We look forward to hearing from you and to helping you and your organization. At NMA, we keep our prices as low as possible, so small organisations with small budget can have a chance to get the resources they need.

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