Date
21 November 2018
Volunteers help clean up a massive oil spill that washed on the coast of Lamma Island in August last year. A UN report estimates about 1 billion people around the world have taken part in volunteer work. Photo: AFP
Volunteers help clean up a massive oil spill that washed on the coast of Lamma Island in August last year. A UN report estimates about 1 billion people around the world have taken part in volunteer work. Photo: AFP

Volunteer work: changing society through participation

According to The Thread That Binds, a report published recently by the United Nations on the state of voluntary service around the world, volunteering has played an important role in promoting and fostering community resilience, particularly during natural or man-made disasters.

The UN report estimates that some 1 billion people around the world have taken part in volunteer work, and the total amount of work they have done is equal to that of 109 million full-time employees.

About 30 percent of the volunteers work formally through organizations, associations and groups, whereas 70 percent of them work through informal engagement between individuals.

Numerous studies have indicated that taking part in volunteer work can bring huge benefits to the volunteers themselves, the people they help, businesses and society as a whole.

These studies have also suggested that volunteering not only promotes community spirit and enhances the bond between individuals and society, but can also boost the sense of attachment of employees to their company by providing them with a platform to contribute to society.

A recent survey carried out by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention of the University of Hong Kong indicates that 47.3 percent of Hong Kong citizens have taken part in volunteer work.

The survey also shows that compared to those who have never participated in any kind of voluntary service, volunteers generally have higher scores in life satisfaction indices.

In a society like Hong Kong, where the wealth gap is widening, our sensitivity to other peoples’ woes is gradually eroding without us even realizing it.

And this insidious erosion of our sensitivity may fuel social inequalities.

For example, while many of us would be willing to spend HK$200 on 1 kilogram of African coffee beans, only a few people would know that most of these African coffee-growers only get paid HK$10 per kilogram for their produce.

By participating in volunteer work, we can acquire a new perspective on life and find a totally different interpretation of various social issues.

As such, all countries should regard the service of volunteers as an invaluable asset that can help spread the message of peace and harmony, as well as facilitate sustainable development in society.

Simply put, volunteer work is a form of social behavior that reflects people’s desire for change through participation.

Voluntary service shouldn’t be seen merely as a kind of cost reduction measure but rather, a form of mass practice under which existing social resources can be utilized to achieve wonderful results through proper channels.

Volunteer work should not merely fulfill one’s desire for self-satisfaction.

It is a viable way to use our skills to help the relatively less fortunate and more socially vulnerable members of the community, thereby allowing every member of society to create and to share.

Taking part in volunteer work is in itself rewarding, providing volunteers with a deep sense of satisfaction.

Suffice it to say that participating in voluntary work can create a win-win-win situation for the volunteers, the beneficiaries and the entire society.

Thanks to the rise of technology and social media, we can now easily provide the necessary support and training as well as encourage others to take part in voluntary service.

If we look at social issues from a fresh angle, our attitudes will start to change, and so will our behavior.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 3

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]

JC/CG

Director, Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention.

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