Universities should hold Volunteering Day, give out awards

Universities could do a much better job starting with a  step-by-step scalable approach. It is a matter of fact that very few universities in the country have a dedicated centre or unit for the promotion of volunteerism among  students. -  NSTP/EIZAIRI SHAMSUDIN

Universities could do a much better job starting with a step-by-step scalable approach. It is a matter of fact that very few universities in the country have a dedicated centre or unit for the promotion of volunteerism among students. – NSTP/EIZAIRI SHAMSUDIN

IN a recent programme organised by the Asia-Pacific University-Community Engagement Network (APUCEN), I had the chance to reflect on the role higher education institutions have to emerge better and stronger from the pandemic.

The concept of “build back better” is a nice slogan that can help policymakers, educators and members of civil society focus on what really matters and come up with strategies and approaches that transform local communities into engines of sustainable development.

Universities not only are powerhouses for applied research that could be used on the ground through a new commons approach to commercialisation, but they are also, at least theoretically, engines for community engagement as they are in a unique position to support transformative changes locally.

Student societies and clubs are often at the forefront of community efforts, but they are often left without much support and guidance. Volunteerism is an essential tool for Malaysia to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). People who think of the SDGs as a gimmick or a nice branding exercise are dead wrong

Even more conscious and well-intentioned citizens who believe in the importance of the goals but act as if the obligation to pursue them lies only with the government are dead wrong. It’s everybody’s responsibility to work to achieve them.

Universities could do a much better job starting with a step-by-step scalable approach. It is a matter of fact that very few universities in the country have a dedicated centre or unit for the promotion of volunteerism among students.

This is a common feature in the best universities in the world, especially in the Anglo-Saxon countries that happen to host also the best higher learning institutions.

It’s not that universities in Malaysia are not carrying out service learning programmes. They do, but the point being made here is that they are not leveraging enough the potential of the students already committed to social causes nor are they doing enough to involve and engage the vast majority of students not yet interested in volunteering.

To be fair, one of the main concerns emerging from the APUCEN talk was the universities’ lack of resources to scale up
their work in the field of community engagement through volunteerism. My proposal is to start small through doable actions that won’t bankrupt the institution.

Actually, my challenge is to be as creative as possible in using the few resources available and here we can learn from the spirit of ingenuity of the same clubs and associations that so far are taking the lion’s share of most of the community engagement activities.

The universities can start updating their strategies to enlist volunteerism as a key asset. If such an endeavour is too complicated, the department of student affairs can start giving more time to supporting these clubs and associations.

Ideally, a desk office could be set up to give time and advice to the same groups.

For example, their work and achievements should be celebrated and recognised with stories and interviews of them published in official media channels, especially social media.

Would it be impossible to organise, to start with, a university volunteering day where all volunteering efforts carried out by students are celebrated?

Is it too easy and too simple? Then you could step up and organise an annual volunteering week in which awareness programmes and onsite visits are organised to better understand the impact of volunteerism.

What about organising a volunteering award within a university? If you reflect well, this is a doable and actionable idea that does not require financial resources but just a commitment from the university to work hard, no matter the financial constraints, on the promotion of volunteerism.

In addition, teachers from all backgrounds and expertise should be encouraged to embed a spirit of true service in their lesson plans. Networks like APUCEN can be useful platforms to share experiences and learning where each university could have a peer institution as a partner to carry out new joint service initiatives.

Commitment to volunteerism and civic engagement comes before investing in them. Let’s not forget that if we really want to achieve the SDGs, doing and promoting volunteerism is one of the smartest things to do.

Universities should not shy away from such a responsibility and opportunity.

By Simone Galimberti.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2020/09/624816/universities-should-hold-volunteering-day-give-out-awards

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