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Economy and volunteering

Page updated: 29 December 2020

In the section on ‘economy’, it was highlighted that a growing economy does not necessarily translate to everybody having better lives. 

In particular, with real wages having stalled and inequality having grown for much of the past 3 decades, peoples’ sense of available resources (both time and money) to dedicate to volunteering in New Zealand has shrunk. 

This said, the good news is that, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, both of these have been heading in the right direction, signalling that perhaps the NZ public’s appetite for volunteering may pick up again in the future.

Might inequality of volunteering reflect inequality of participation outdoors?

It is one thing to say that the SAR sector’s traditional volunteers are facing new pressures and demands on their time; that is a practical reason for seeking to diversify the SAR volunteer base. However it is by no means the only, or even most important reason. 

There are currently major inequalities in terms both of how different demographics (different ages, ethnicities and genders) participate in the outdoors. The current over-reliance on white, middle-aged males reflects this broader inequality of access to the outdoors. 

Most volunteers are participants first

People tend to volunteer in activities relevant to their own lives, those of their families and communities.

It is quite simply unrealistic to expect people to volunteer for activities to which they have had no exposure in the rest of their lives. 

For example, few people currently volunteer for school boards who do not have children at the relevant school themselves. 

Again, few people volunteer for sporting organisations who have not themselves participated at some time or who have children doing so. 

In other words, the need to recruit a more diverse array of SAR volunteers is part of a broader challenge to make the outdoor participation relevant and accessible for all New Zealanders. 

So, to attract diverse volunteers, maybe promote equal participation outdoors?

Furthermore, as efforts to support a broader array of New Zealanders to participate outdoors gain momentum, arguably the case for attracting a more diverse workforce will become even more pressing. This means that increasing participation in the outdoors and attracting SAR volunteers increasingly become entangled in the same core objective: understanding and attracting diverse groups.

For example, if more Māori, Pasifika, Asians, older people and females participate in the outdoors, it will become even more relevant to understand and influence their participation habits and perceptions.  It may be that strategies needed to influence these different groups to participate outdoors safely are very different from those needed for middle-aged New Zealanders of NZ European descent.

In summary, as participation rates (hopefully) in the outdoors become more equitable, it should become easier to recruit and retain a more representative volunteer workforce.   

Both of these trends should help to avoid a spike in demand for search and rescue and improve the chance of operational success by embedding good safety practices in diverse communities.

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