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The spirit of volunteerism

Last May 2019, I joined a one-month volunteer work as a class assistant and documenter in the annual training of the Mindanao Peace-building Institute (MPI). It consisted of classroom-based and field-based courses—the ones I was assigned to include fundamentals of peace-building, monitoring and evaluation for peace-building practitioners, and indigenous peoples’ culture-based conflict resolution practices and their potential contributions to mainstream peace-building in the Philippines. As depicted by the titles given to the courses, the organization provides training to peace-builders around the world who work in various contexts of peace and conflict. 

Though it was not directly related to my current field in social entrepreneurship, I simply came to the training to offer my skills in documentation. I was even asked briefly during the training, “So what are you doing here?” To which I replied, “Exploring.” 

That question and answer stuck to my mind along the way; I think it somehow represents my current journey as a young professional. For one, social entrepreneurship is still a developing field and has many nuances in the mainstream debate. I, on the other hand, would naturally try to explore something further to better understand it—even though I end up in something that seems unrelated at first sight. 

Simply put, much like how social entrepreneurship is still evolving and understanding itself, I would say I am in the same situation. I want to immerse myself into different things to understand the field better (while, of course, trying to earn a decent income on the side). These are exciting times for social entrepreneurship, me, and all others who pour their hearts out into this field. 

In this process of exploration and discovery, I find that volunteerism has been very helpful to my journey.

Apart from my previous volunteer work with MPI, I also work as a part-time volunteer in another non-profit organization. Through these various forms of volunteer work, I’m able to expose myself beyond my regular job. 

If I had a main advice to young professionals like me, it’s to keep exploring and rediscovering themselves until they find that ‘sweet spot.’ It’s not a smooth process—in fact, I often find myself laying in bed at night overthinking what my next steps would be. My next main advice is to just relax and take a breather, because many other people are experiencing the same things. It is, indeed, a shared experience that we should not rush or pressure ourselves into. 

Volunteerism sounds like a very noble term. We start to imagine an individual working for philanthropic causes, or an individual putting themselves in unfamiliar situations to help others in need. If you look at the technical definition, it basically means “the act or practice of doing volunteer work in community service.” These are all true. 

But I’ve come to realize that volunteerism is also about the self. We help others in need because it makes us happy, it gives us purpose, and at times it provides a transcendental feeling. It reminds me of what many people ascribe with today—self-care and self-love. Like what I learned in the annual training of MPI, we need to have inner peace and love first before we can start helping others with the best version of ourselves. 

It also helps to reflect that volunteerism is not always about setting very high obligatory standards on ourselves. When imposing obligatory standards, volunteerism starts to feel something technical—it starts to feel like a bullet point on a to-do list. This is why I started looking at volunteerism as something that simply gives me joy. 

The next time that young professionals out there like me engage in volunteer work, try not to treat it as a form of obligation. When treated with joy, volunteerism starts to feel like a constant stream of psychological flow. 

Ian Benedict Mia is a research and technical assistant in the Center for Business Research and Development (CBRD) of De La Salle University, and is a junior fellow of the CBRD-Social Enterprise Research Network. He is engaged in several volunteer works, one of which is with Alexa Mira Society Inc. He believes that social entrepreneurship and sustainability can be catalysts for positive systemic change in the world. You may contact him at [email protected] The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.

Topics: Green Light , The spirit of volunteerism
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