Volunteerism: An Essential Act of Citizenship

Gillian Hewitt Smith, Notable’s Philanthropy Expert, a corporate affairs businesswoman, and avid volunteer.

Every day, Canadians across the country selflessly offer their time to causes and organizations about which they are passionate. Canada has the second strongest volunteer sector in the world, next to the Netherlands. Caring Canadians, Involved Canadians (Imagine Canada and Volunteer Canada, 2007) reports that 12.5 million Canadians in 2007 did some form of volunteer work – a 5.7 per cent in the increase of total volunteers and a 4 per cent total increase in volunteer hours since 2004. Furthermore, volunteers put in approximately 2.1 billion hours, the equivalent, the report asserts, to 1.1 million full time jobs. Many organizations in the not-for-profit sector count on volunteers and would not be able to execute many of their activities or programs without them. The Institute for Canadian Citizenship certainly could not continue its work without its volunteers, volunteers who form the 25 citizenship committees across the country that coordinate community-based ceremonies.

An election campaign provides all Canadians with an opportunity to focus on and debate issues of collective interest and concern. Both volunteering and voting encourage us to ask ourselves, what kind of Canada do I want to build? What vision of Canada do I want?

Let’s think about volunteerism as an act of citizenship. Volunteerism is at the heart of being a citizen, at the heart of building community. At its core, volunteering is as much an intrinsic act of citizenship as voting; it is a way of curating your experience as a citizen of this country. Indeed, the study guide for Canada’s citizenship test includes helping members of your community as one responsibility of Canadian citizenship. Volunteering helps cultivate a connection to others, and thus a powerful sense of community.

If volunteering is recognized as an intrinsic act of citizenship, everyone wins. Canada would be a place where its citizens sincerely care about each other and the future of the country. Our country faces real challenges that can seem, at times, overwhelming. Volunteering is a catalyst for change and provides a concrete opportunity for individuals to contribute to solving those problems. Take one issue you are passionate about – whatever it is – and put your heart and soul into it as a volunteer. This simple act of citizenship can make real change in the lives of other Canadians, and to your own.

Image courtesy Stock.Xchng.