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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Responding to Crystal Hayling's, "Whose Volunteer Experience is this Anyway?"

Access the blog post here: http://www.effectivephilanthropy.org/blog/2011/01/whose-volunteer-experience-is-this-anyway/

In her blog at the Center for Effective Philanthropy, Crystal Hayling questions the motives and expectations of people and their volunteer experiences. Hayling discusses the phenomenon of donor/giver centered approaches to philanthropy work, based on her own personal encounter with woman at a cocktail party fundraiser. Crystal listens to a woman talk about how disappointed she was when her children went to Cambodia expecting to lead a library building project for a village, only to be sidelined by locals who directed the building process themselves. This conversation made Hayling really think about the purpose of philanthropic work, and how some might be misled in thinking that volunteering is all about experiencing some form of self-fulfillment. Hayling concludes that once the volunteer experience becomes centered on some alternative end like personal growth, you are crossing a line and forever preventing any chance of lasting social change. A strong emphasis on the donor/giver will taint the volunteer project in a deeper, more profound way.

I completely agree with Crystal Hayling and I think that her article is something every potential volunteer needs to read before embarking on their missions. It is so easy to get sucked into only thinking about yourself, in any given situation. This is just how people are engineered. But for something like philanthropic work, which one would think demands the complete removal of self for the greater good, you would expect differently. At least I did. But even as I am beginning this journey, preparing for my summer with Nest in India, I have done a lot of thinking about myself. I admit that it's hard not to.

Creating "lasting social change" is no easy task. Even if someone is able to completely remove him/herself from the philanthropic work, which is also not so simple, the solution is never guaranteed. But if all of us, all of the future volunteers out there, were to know how important it is to remove the self out of volunteering, I feel like we could be that much closer to finding solutions. I do think that this (at times) subconscious mentality of potentially gaining something out of helping is poisonous to the very goal that we are trying to reach. Maybe this is the biggest obstacle that we have to face before we can get anywhere.

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