Volunteering Australia and Settlement Council of Australia have released a report on their National Survey on Volunteering and Settlement in Australia. Volunteering among the CALD Community brings a strong diversity dividend to both the volunteers and the organisations engaging with volunteers. Volunteering brings strong gains to the settlement process and personal well-being.
The report sets out the key findings and makes recommendations to support volunteering in the settlement sector. Volunteers are the lifeblood of Australian communities. More than 5.8 million Australians are volunteers – that is 31 per cent of the population. It’s more than double for refugees and migrants, with our research indicating that 65 per cent supported their communities through their volunteering work within the first 18 months of their arrival to Australia.
Volunteering brings social inclusion, community resilience, participation and social cohesion to communities. It also helps to ward off isolation and loneliness. Many volunteers in the settlement sector are from a migrant or refugee background. They have benefited from the volunteer work of others in their communities and use their lived experiences to help other new arrivals.
Key insights from the report:
- 65 per cent of new arrivals engaged in volunteering within the first 18 months of their arrival to Australia.
- People mainly volunteer as a way to contribute to society, make friends, improve their English, and/or gain local work experience.
- There are personal and professional benefits from volunteering.
- Organisations gained many benefits from their volunteers.
- More than two-thirds of organisations surveyed reported that they and their volunteers need more formal support, and would benefit from funding for training programs, supporting material, and from forming new partnerships and sharing resources.
There are many benefits to having a more diverse workplace that is reflective of the Australian cultural and linguistic landscape. Research from McKinsey12 has found that companies that are more diverse are more likely to improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making. Further, companies that are more ethnically diverse are 35 per cent more likely to perform better than their industry partners.
Anecdotal evidence from the settlement sector further reinforces the benefits of diversity in organisations. Many SCoA members report that engaging volunteers or employees with lived experience, common stories or shared languages, is something that is highly valued by the newly arrived communities they support.
Gains to Settlement from Volunteering
For new arrivals to Australia, such as recent migrants and refugees, having skills and qualifications recognised is vital to attaining employment. Volunteering is important to gaining local work experience or an Australian referee. This was also emphasised by survey respondents who stated, “Volunteers have benefited by: learning about, and gaining a greater understanding of different cultures, skill acquisition, workplace experience which may be useful in paid employment (especially useful for recent migrants or refugees without Australian work experience), providing the volunteer with a written reference, or Australian referee to be used in their resume for job applications.”
Volunteering can be particularly valuable in helping people from diverse backgrounds to engage with the workforce and build key employable skills. This is significant for those who are culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) or refugees, who can face multiple barriers to finding paid employment, such as discrimination, and are often excluded from the labour market.
While volunteering provides no financial incentive it does promote community connections and a strong self of positive self-worth by preparing refugees to enter the workforce. Volunteering has been found to have direct positive benefits for new arrivals physical and mental health, improved access to healthcare and promoted cultural and social integration. These factors have a direct correlation to successful settlement and has subsequently improved the overall wellbeing of individual wellbeing. A strengths-based approach demonstrates how volunteering is a critical tool to seeking both purpose and ongoing personal and professional development.
Social Connections and Community Cohesion
Evidence indicates that people who volunteer are happier and healthier individuals. Recent studies have indicated that 96 per cent of volunteers say that engaging in volunteering “makes people happier”, while 95 per cent of volunteers say that volunteering is related to feelings of wellbeing. In fact, only a few hours of volunteer work has an impact on an individual’s happiness and mood, and sustained volunteering is associated with better mental health. The experience of helping others provides meaning, a sense of self-worth, a social role and health enhancement. Volunteers have also identified personal benefits from their involvement in volunteering activities including, “improved wellbeing and a community connection, and (they) believe they have made a notable contribution to common good.”