Shortage of volunteers: the network was ill-prepared

Pénurie de bénévoles: le réseau était mal préparé

Pénurie de bénévoles: le réseau était mal préparé

Volunteers of Resilience Montreal gave food and aid to the homeless, march 27 in Montreal.

May 3, 2020 4: 00


Shortage of volunteers: the network was ill-prepared

Samuel Lamoureux

Doctoral student in communication, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)

Consuelo Vasquez

University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM)


Since the beginning of the health crisis caused by the coronavirus, the government increased the number of calls to the volunteer. That is, using different web platforms (I volunteer, volunteer connector) or even of the speeches of the national leaders, celebrities and artists, all citizens are called to give of their time to help the most vulnerable, support community organizations, or even come to the rescue of health care systems overwhelmed.

Yet, though generous, the response to these calls was not enough. Why ?

The reflections carried out by our research group Volunteer movement allow us to formulate the three elements of responses.

The turn to neo-liberal welfare State

If the previous companies were supported by different social structures of mutual support or solidarity (the family, religion, community), ours is strictly regulated by the law of the market, therefore the exchange and profit. To compensate for the blind spots of this market, the States have therefore created systems, public, health and education, in particular, to support the most vulnerable.

In times of health crisis, we should therefore expect that these public systems are supporting all the effort of necessary care. However, the network seems to be anything but prepared. The staff shortage everywhere, especially in NURSING homes who care for our seniors. There is a shortage of equipment. The employees are exhausted. The idea is to ask for volunteers to intervene to take the place of the labour-crippled. Add to this the public responsibilities that the State was left in the hands of the non-profit sector or community, such as supporting more vulnerable people.

But if the western States did not have as much spending reductions in public services in recent years (the multiple waves of austerity that began in the government Couillard in the case of Quebec, Harper, in the case of Canada), if the managers of the ministry of Health had not applied a strict scientific organization of work to hospitals to streamline, segment and normalize the tasks of the staff — as if the health facilities could adapt their functioning to that of an assembly line in a Toyota factory — if our leaders had not forced community-based organizations to compete for the little resources available, and we probably wouldn’t need as many volunteers to support the efforts of the public service and take care of our fellow citizens.

The turn to neo-liberal welfare State thus explains the scarcity situation that has led to this call massive volunteer work. A call which, although it is unstructured and widely distributed, does not bear the fruit expected. Why ?

The professionalization of the volunteer

It is necessary to first mention the strong tendency for large organizations to want to “professionalisation” of volunteering. Instead of being regarded as a gift of self, long-term, volunteering is perceived primarily in terms of competence, performance and professional career.

Compared to the work said ” professional “, the volunteer is thus conceived as a form of unpaid work, and the amateur who must be “professionalized” to improve its performance. Follow strategies of management by the organizations to recruit volunteers that meet very specific needs (skills in accounting or communication, for example) instead of creating broad calls for the mobilization and then training the volunteers recruited.

Three consequences of this professionalization are to denounce :the injunctions of productivity which were previously employees of the private sector, the standardization of practices volunteers, and a focus on the skills of volunteers. Result : the voluntary commitment becomes highly formalized and oriented towards the development or the mobilization of expertise, thus weakening his sockets, relational, interdependent, and policy.

It is therefore not surprising that the spontaneous initiatives of mutual assistance are more limited, and those that are emerging, for example in times of crisis, are under pressure to standardize their practices. Add to this the strong instrumentalisation of volunteering, seen by many as a way to enrich his CV or to gain a first or new experience of work.

Commit to thrive rather than help

To this must be added the individualisation of the practices of volunteers. Since the early 2000s, many new forms of volunteering are, in fact, appeared, deconstructing the commitment to classical in the long term. The micro-volunteering or volunteering, episodic refers to, for example, the short-term commitment. The volunteers are called “USB” connect and disconnect them when they want to in the projects that motivate without worrying about engaging with an organization in the long term.

Then, the volunteer said reflexive means that the individual is at the centre of the implication : it is a way to express their talents and receive praise, or to live a “volunteer experience” dear to the self-development. The most striking example is that of the volontourisme by which young people engage voluntarily in humanitarian projects in countries emerging to take their summer vacation.

This shows an individuation of the volunteer contemporary which is seen as a tool, often one-time, experiences and skills and not as a service to its community. The impact of these new forms of volunteering, which are more volatile, is already being felt by community-based organizations, and even more in times of crisis. Despite several efforts on the valorisation of volunteering, such as volunteer Week, we find that there is a lack of recognition of the involvement of volunteers in the population, and particularly among young people. Hence the crying need to renew the banks of the volunteers.

Let’s hope that this crisis that we are experiencing will remind us of the importance of community values and solidarity, and will strengthen the social fabric weakened by the logic of the market. Thus, during a possible emergency situation, we will be the first to coordinate our efforts citizens to come to the aid of the poor because the networks will already be in place and solidarity in our relations with others.

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This text first appeared on the website of the franco-canadian of The Conversation. Reproduced with permission.

Pénurie de bénévoles: le réseau était mal préparé


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