Volunteerism at Root of Civic Engagement

Sevaun Palvetzian

Sevaun Palvetzian

Our guest blogger this week is Sevaun Palvetzian, the Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance. 

Sevaun held a number of positions in the Ontario government prior to joining CivicAction–most recently as the Director of the Ontario Place Revitalization project. 

She has also been involved in a wide range of civic initiatives–from serving as Chair of the Board of Directors of Katimavik Youth Services to being a member of the Advisory Board to the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance.

April 6-12 is National Volunteer Week. CivicAction is powered by an incredible network of established and rising leaders who volunteer their time taking on the region’s toughest economic, social and environmental issues.

This diverse group of civic-minded individuals go beyond the demands of their profession to seek positive change. Their many contributions benefit a variety of communities and inspire others to do the same, proving that we are stronger as a region when we work together. Their positive impact is felt across a spectrum of issues, from accelerating regional transportation, to enhancing economic performance, to fostering inclusion and resilience.

While we have many examples of wonderful volunteers at CivicAction, I’d like to share the work of our Emerging Leaders Network (ELN) – a network of 800+ rising leaders who share a passion for city-building and take action on the issues facing our city region.

Last month at our ELNshowcase, project teams presented the work they’d done in just a few short months on the issues of employing people with disabilities, improving energy efficiency in residential towers, putting unemployed teachers to work, training Aboriginal youth on media, and others. Between their demanding careers and family commitments, the project teams and the advisors they enlisted have all been volunteering their time to develop these projects.

Why? Because they are passionate about the issues they chose to tackle and because they love this city region and want to see it thrive.

While we love CivicAction’s volunteers, they are hardly alone in their efforts.  Across Canada and around the world, volunteerism is a critical component of civic engagement.

According to Statistics Canada, over 13.3 million people – accounting for 47% of Canadians aged 15 and over – did volunteer work in 2010. They devoted almost 2.07 billion hours to their volunteer activities: a volume of work that is equivalent to just under 1.1 million full-time jobs.

The John Hopkins Institute conducted a study on volunteerism around the world and found that:

  • Approximately 140 million people in the 37 countries studied engage in volunteer work in a typical year—representing 12% of the total adult population of those countries.
  • If those 140 million volunteers comprised the population of a country, it would be the 8th largest country in the world.
  • Those 140 million volunteers represent the equivalent of 20.8 million full-time equivalent jobs.
  • Volunteers make a US$400 billion contribution to the global economy; that would make it the 7th largest economy in Europe.
  • Volunteer input represents 68 percent of total private philanthropy in the countries studied.
  • Volunteers represent 44 percent of the nonprofit workforce in those countries.

That’s a huge impact!

As we salute today’s volunteers, I encourage us to think about the next generation of volunteers and how trends in digital or micro-volunteering may alter how and why they volunteer.  Judging by the first ten years, I’m confident our volunteers will help to inspire and guide us along that journey.