Jayne Cravens speaks truth to power but is anyone listening?

Jayne Cravens is an internationally-recognized author, trainer, researcher and consultant. Her work is focused on communications, volunteer involvement, community engagement, and management for non-profits, NGOs, and government initiatives.

I’ve been a fan of Jayne's for years now and especially of her blog. I haven’t always agreed with what she says but by golly whatever her views are she articulates them so well! One thing that amazes me though is that she isn’t appearing too much at national or international conferences on Volunteering. Her voice is so unique and her contribution to the sector has been priceless. Surely these days we don’t fear strong and articulate women? If you are looking for a dynamic speaker for your next conference do the conference a favour and go book her in.

I had the pleasure of meeting Jayne once, many moons ago at a Retreat for advanced Volunteer Management in South Australia. I loved how she broke out of the echo chamber and how she challenged our assumptions. If you read her blog you will see that she continues to do so to this very  day.

Her latest blog has the most powerful statement about volunteering itself that I have seen for a long long time. Jayne writes:

“Volunteer engagement is essential to the democracy and the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for which my country, the USA, strives – paid staff just cannot do everything that needs to be done in this regard. Some activities are best done by volunteers – by people who aren’t being paid a wage to do certain work, who are freed from fear of being fired from a job that pays for their home, food, transportation, etc. and, therefore, able to speak more freely about what they are seeing and doing at the agency that hosts them as volunteers or in the community in which they are providing service.

But volunteer engagement does not magically happen and it is also not sustainable by mere good will and passion. Effective, sustainable volunteer engagement requires knowledge and processes.”

Even if that had been it – it would have been a powerful blog. Change the country and you could use this statement about any country when talking about volunteerism!  

But the blog goes on to talk about many important themes

“It’s long overdue for bold statements regarding public policy that affects volunteerism and community service by these associations. I’m tired of being out here on my own.”

In my response to this blog I assured Jayne that she was not on her own  .Although I often feel the same in the pursuit of speaking truth to power. I recently resigned from the board of my own association whom I feel lacks the independent voice to stand on their own feet and be proud of the fact! (More to come on that in a future blog perhaps!) And this was about our ability to have our own voice within the volunteering sector itself and nothing to do with Government! Naturally I worry that if we had the same situation as Jayne describes the silence from the Volunteer Management sector would be deafening also.

History will judge us not only by the action we took but by the silence and inaction. We live in an era where our Volunteer Management Associations are needed now more than ever. But instead of being the strong voice representing us, instead of them being a beacon of light, instead of being proudly independent, they are not just seen as irrelevant by others   - they are irrelevant.

I fear that Jayne's call to arms may fall on deaf ears. What she speaks about is really important. What she warns of is serious and has implications not just for her beautiful country but for countries around the world. But in the echo chamber of Volunteer Management we seem to be more concerned about what our titles should be and what super heroes we are on November 5th. It simply doesn’t cut the mustard anymore!

Meanwhile volunteer activists around the globe take to the streets and are forming in groups (while our sector debates in conferences if these people are “true” volunteers!). New volunteer driven human rights organisations go from strength to strength. Globally, unions are growing louder. People are taking voluntary action in their communities harnessing the power of social media and technology. We have so much to learn from them.

When society looks back on our present in 50 years’ time they will look for the people who stood up to be counted. They will look to see who took action while human rights were being impinged. They will look at who cried out in protest when kids were locked up and when refuges were detained for years on islands. They will read about those that would not stand idly by while racism and fascism grew.

The future is already looking back at us and asking “What did you do?” Jayne Cravens spoke truth to power in her blog but is anyone listening?



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