A Profile of Volunteers in CBOs

In the Southern African countries surveyed, local volunteering tends to be driven by community needs as well as by the African value system expressed as Ubuntu—the recognition of oneself through others and the fact that we need each other not only to survive, but to exist at all. In most cases, the volunteers are engaged in activities that are embedded within the social and political fabric of local communities and which seek to address their poor socio-economic conditions. This is not to say that all volunteer activities are motivated by altruism. Many commitments are grounded in social obligation (Patel et al., 2007) and the need to engage in activities that may result in some income. Russell and Wilkinson-Maposa (2011) point out that there is an increasing expectation amongst volunteers for some income in the form of stipends or reciprocal giving. In the context of unemployment in which volunteers operate, volunteering can present an opportunity for income.

Who volunteers? One of the features of volunteering in Southern African communities is that African volunteers tend to be persons of low socio-economic status who originate from the communities they serve and are thus themselves poor and vulnerable. This was a key finding of the five-country study on volunteering in Southern Africa conducted by VOSESA (Patel et al., 2007). The same study also demonstrated that the majority of volunteering occurs by poor volunteers serving people of their own class, community, and ethnicity. Caprara, Mati, Obadare, and Perold (2012) and Everatt, Habib, Maharaj, and Nyar (2005) confirm this trend in Africa, which stands in contrast to trends in developed country contexts, where volunteering is often assumed to be the preserve of wealthier volunteers serving poor or less fortunate beneficiaries. Consequently community-based volunteering is mostly characterised by the poor serving the poor (Patel et al., 2007). In this respect the volunteers and the programme beneficiaries experience the same conditions that create the issues that the community-based organisations are seeking to address. This can build solidarity between volunteers and beneficiaries. It can also enhance the volunteers’ effectiveness by virtue of shared culture and language, common experience and a lived understanding of the conditions prevalent in poor communities. In this respect the African experience challenges dominant western notions that only the economically advantaged undertake volunteer activities (Caprara et al., 2012).

The research in Mozambique and Tanzania shows that at least three categories of local volunteers can be identified: founders, stakeholders, and short-term volunteers (VOSESA, 2011b). Founders were local volunteers who founded schools in order to improve the quality of education in poor communities and ran them on a voluntary basis. Stakeholders were local volunteers who have a stake in an organisation or institution (such as the parents of children at a school or the leaders of membership groups in a microfinance organisation). Short-term volunteers were those who served in community-based organisations for limited periods of time. ‘Founders’ and ‘stakeholders’ were more prevalent among the Tanzanian organisations surveyed while the Mozambique organisations surveyed used mainly short-term volunteers, but the samples were too small for these findings to be generalised.

The three categories not only indicate different types of volunteer engagement, but also different levels of investment in the organisations in which they are active. ‘Founders’ are likely to be the most invested in the organisations they establish, and in this study had been engaged in their organisations the longest. ‘Stakeholders’ are generally members of the organisation and may join or leave it according to their motivation and needs. The evidence from the microfinance organisations suggests that the members who volunteer remained active in the organisation for a year or more. ‘Short-term volunteers’ were found to be active in organisations on an ad hoc basis, generally serving for between 1 and 3 months.

When ‘founders’ and ‘stakeholders’ make personal investments in the well-being and effectiveness of the organisations in which they are active, they contribute to institution-building at the local level and increase the visibility of local ownership of the organisations. Community-based organisations that depend on short-term volunteers need to manage the limited amount of time that the volunteers have available so as to ensure that this does not negatively impact services offered. Nonetheless they benefit greatly from the asset value of the volunteers who bring the social and cultural capital needed to engage meaningfully with beneficiaries and effect the changes intended by their organisations.

This volunteer typology illustrates the notion of agency, described by the Development Leadership Programme (2010, p. 5)1 as ‘the choices, decisions and actions of individuals, groups and organisations and, in particular, their leaders and “elites”. They have the potential to change things. Just as structures (institutions, rules, cultural norms) have “causal power” (that is, they have power to influence what we do), so too do agents, though their causal power is different ...’

Gender and age: From the perspective of gender, in seven Southern African countries surveyed (Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe), women volunteered more time than men, with African volunteers giving a greater time commitment than other population groups. Poor respondents were more likely to have volunteered than non-poor respondents. The evidence showed that volunteering in South Africa was not the preserve of the middle class (Patel et al., 2007).

A study in Malawi recorded gender differences in time spent on voluntary service (Moleni & Gallagher, 2006) and found that such differences were related to the type of programme, the level of incentives provided, and the urban-rural location of the programmes. Male volunteering in rural areas appeared to be the result of lack of employment, which increased their availability to serve whilst women were heavily involved in family, farming, and household activities. Focus group respondents in Malawi attributed gender differences in time spent on service also to cultural factors that endorsed women’s caring roles as acceptable forms of women’s participation in community activities.

In South Africa the organisations surveyed (VOSESA, 2011a) demonstrated the dominance of female volunteers across different sectors and organisations and provided 'Cited in Fowler, A (2011). “Beyond Civil Society: Civic Driven Change and Governance in Africa”. Africa Civil Society Research Network Conference 2011.

different reasons for the gendered nature of voluntary service. Some said that women are motivated to volunteer, particularly in the care sector, and attributed these trends to gender stereotypes. In some cases organisations argued strongly for the deconstruction of such cultural stereotypes owing to the value of men’s increased involvement in care and voluntary work, such as in support programmes for teenage pregnancy.

The age of the volunteers varies and Patel et al. (2007) found that the age of the volunteers differed by programme type in Botswana, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. According to this study, HIV/AIDS programmes favoured more mature women who could cope with the caregiving roles that reflect traditional gender norms and stereotyping. There were fewer male servers and they tended to be involved in skilled and or manual labour, leadership roles, and served on local committees. In Malawi and South Africa, youth participation was strong, partly because of the youth service programmes run in these countries; in Zambia the study found that more youth volunteered owing to unemployment. Across the region the age range of the servers varied greatly (from 14 to 72 years), with youth service recruiting young people and HIV/AIDS programmes favouring more mature and older people. In South Africa only 7 % of the organisations surveyed indicated that they involved volunteers younger than 18 years of age, while 15 % said they involve volunteers who are older than 60.

The intensity of volunteering: As noted previously the Southern African research shows that community-based volunteering takes place in conditions of poverty in which the delivery of essential services is lacking, and communities organise themselves to advocate for rights to access necessary services.

Within this context, the intensity with which volunteers are able to serve varies a great deal. In Botswana, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, the limited data available showed that most volunteers served on a part-time basis with a time commitment that ranged between 1 and 2 weeks per year, or single hours accumulating to 1-2 days per week. In Malawi, respondents estimated that volunteers spent an average of three hours per week on the programmes. National survey data from South Africa indicated that 11 h were spent on voluntary service per month per respondent, amounting to a national total of6000 h per month (Everatt & Solanki, 2005, pp. 10-11).

The nature of the programme affected the amount of time volunteers spent on these activities. For instance, in the home-based care programmes it was necessary for volunteers to spend 3 h per day or 2 days per week because they lived in the affected communities and were often called upon at all hours to assist. In the Zimbabwean Zunde ra Mambo programme, where community members worked in the fields for those who were not able to tend to their crops, 1 day per week was set aside specifically for this purpose. An orphan-care programme required 2 h per week (Patel et al., 2007).

Evidence from Zambia showed that more than half of civil society organisation volunteers spent between 10 and 40 h a month doing volunteer work, with no real difference between volunteering with social and political civil society organisations. Volunteer participation was mostly associated with faith-based organisations. However, more people in politically oriented organisations volunteered for upwards of 41 h a month more than volunteers involved in socially oriented organisations. The study suggests that this extended time allocation arises out of deep commitment to a particular cause or interest (CIVICUS, 2011, p.10).

The Zambia survey also shows that when people volunteered with more than one organisation, they would be involved with a ‘traditional triangle’ of faith-based organisations, sports organisations, and cultural and educational organisations. Of these, faith-based organisations were likely to draw the most volunteers.

The variable nature of volunteering was also reflected in the extent to which the organisations used volunteers. In South Africa almost one third of the organisations surveyed (32 %) made use of fewer than 10 volunteers annually. Another group of organisations (22 %) involved from 21 to 50 volunteers annually and approximately 15 % of organisations used 11-20 volunteers annually. Significantly, almost one fifth of the organisations (17.3 %) indicated that they involved more than 100 volunteers annually (VOSESA, 2011a).

Motivation: The Southern African studies show that volunteers were motivated by a number of factors to become involved in community-based organisations. Cultural and religious motivations prevailed in Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. In South Africa civic responsibility was evident among many community-based volunteers who were involved in the anti-apartheid struggle, motivated by their desire to help build a democratic society (Patel et al., 2007).

Importantly, the Civil Society Index surveys in Rwanda, Guinea, and Tanzania showed that most community-based volunteering was done informally and that a minority of volunteers chose to serve in formal organisations. The community survey in Senegal found that while 81 % of the sample was involved in volunteering, only 16 % were volunteering in organisations. However, the survey in Tanzania found that the rate of volunteering was highest among the members of organisations, particularly when the organisations were being formed and among jobseekers. In this instance very few people were ready to volunteer in more than one organisation. As noted above, people in Sub-Saharan African countries who chose to volunteer in organisations were more inclined to volunteer in socially oriented organisations (faith-based, cultural, sporting, and recreational organisations, among others) than in politically oriented organisations (CIVICUS, 2011).

A study conducted by VOSESA of young South Africans between the ages of 14 and 35 living in very poor communities showed that respondents were motivated both by the possibility of benefitting individually and contributing to the development of their communities (NYDA, 2012). Focus group respondents held the view that as citizens in a democratic country they have the responsibility to assist community members where needed and should work with government to assist vulnerable groups. At the same time they articulated their responsibility to hold government accountable for service delivery (including housing and education) on the basis that government receives taxes from citizens to carry out these responsibilities. These young people were most likely to be motivated by three factors: the ability to make an observable difference in their communities; benefitting personally from the experience by maturing, developing skills, and possibly accessing future employment; and serving in situations of obvious need.

In a study on volunteering in the context of HIV/AIDS in South Africa, Akintola (2011) identified a range of reflexive and collective motivations among the respondents.

In order of pervasiveness, these motivations were values, community, career, protection (reducing negative feelings about oneself), understanding, reciprocity, religion, recognition, reactivity (addressing previous personal and current issues), and social motivation (seeking approval from significant others).

Negative aspects of local volunteering: While many positive experiences of volunteering are cited in the Southern African research, negative experiences were also mentioned (Patel et al., 2007; VOSESA, 2011b; Wilson & Kalilia, 2006). As noted above, in some instances volunteers sought to access the benefits that accrue to beneficiaries. At one level this may refer to long-term benefits felt by all from improved conditions in the community; at another level it refers to short-term benefits that volunteers can access, such as food parcels or employment opportunities (Patel et al., 2007, p. 25). Consequently the research documents instances in which beneficiaries became suspicious that the volunteers may have diverted scarce resources to themselves.

Across all the countries surveyed, the research reported instances in which volunteers were not welcomed by beneficiaries. Sometimes volunteers were called names, such as in a Zambian cholera-sensitisation programme where a lack of trust on the part of community members resulted in the volunteers being called ‘cholera’; in a voluntary counselling and test campaign members of the community became suspicious of the collection of blood samples and called the volunteers ‘Satanists’.

In Tanzania and Mozambique the study found that some beneficiaries praised their community volunteers for showing them respect and humanity but at the same time complained that some were not sufficiently patient and that they did not always protect patient confidentiality. This was echoed by beneficiaries who felt that the volunteers did not keep their HIV status confidential. A beneficiary from one organisation commented that because local volunteers work in their own communities, it is sometimes difficult to take them seriously as people who have particular skills to offer (VOSESA, 2011b).

There are a variety of reasons for these occurrences. According to Wilson and Kalilia (2006) , negative reactions usually occurred when the programmes were started by NGOs without sufficient community consultation. Sometimes it was because communities were disillusioned by people launching programmes that claimed to bring about change but had in fact done little to improve their lives. In some situations the volunteers were viewed negatively because they were perceived to be doing unpaid work, undermining people who were trying to gain paid employment. In some contexts young volunteers are not viewed as deserving respect from the older members of the community because of their youth. For this reason some organisations in South Africa recruit older volunteers to provide services to elderly people, the goal being to develop a peer to peer partnership between the volunteer and the beneficiary VOSESA, (2011a).

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >