Volunteer Canada’s Panel Discussion on Volunteerism
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Ottawa, Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Thank you for this invitation to speak on a topic of great importance to me, and to all Canadians.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to those who have gathered here to discuss the changing landscape of volunteerism in Canada. I also want to thank Volunteer Canada for bringing us together, and for your important research on the volunteer experience in this country.
Before we begin, let me take a moment to look back at where we’ve been. Canadians have a truly remarkable history of volunteerism, both at home and abroad.
Early Canadians fully understood the extent of their dependence upon one another. The first governor of this land, Samuel de Champlain, said that his pioneering settlement at Port Royal would not have survived its first winter in 1605 were it not for the generous help of the local First Nations.
Later, the mostly rural inhabitants of our young country helped each other, as they built barns and communities in the hopes of a better life for their children. I still see examples of this, as neighbours combine their diverse talents and energies to help their communities in times of need.
Today, in dozens of countries worldwide, millions of people participate in the volunteer-led Terry Fox Run. Close to $500 million has been raised for cancer research to date.
Indeed, every school child in Canada knows about the Marathon of Hope. In his book, Terry, author Douglas Coupland remarks upon the thousands of names of everyday Canadians in the Terry Fox archives, and writes: “Collectively, those names testify to something divine – our nation, our home and our soul.”
Canadians are rightly renowned for their spirit of volunteerism.
Here at home, volunteers are involved in every aspect of our society. Canada has the second-largest voluntary sector in the world, and our social, cultural and economic well-being is directly linked to the countless donations of time and energy made each day by Canadians.
And yet, the circumstances in which we volunteer are evolving, and the demands are growing.
How will we meet these needs?
Since my installation as governor general, I have been inviting Canadians to join me in imagining our country as it could be. We strive for a smart and caring nation, where all Canadians can succeed, contribute, and develop their talents to their fullest potential.
To achieve this vision, I have set out three pillars: supporting families and children; reinforcing learning and innovation; and encouraging philanthropy and volunteerism.
I believe that a renewed spirit of philanthropy and volunteerism—of giving—is essential to creating the smarter, more caring nation we seek.
New ideas and innovative thinking will be crucial to our efforts.
The changing demographics of Canada present us with new opportunities for mobilization. Energetic and talented retirees are valuable sources of professional insight and experience. Their contributions are essential to the nation we aim to build.
We can also look to new Canadians as important contributors to civic life. Their international experience and enthusiasm for Canada can greatly enhance our volunteer potential.
It will also be important to find new ways to encourage youth volunteerism. Young people are filled with tremendous energy and idealism, and more than 55 per cent of youth volunteer their time—that’s twice the rate of adults.
We also know that those who volunteer early in life are more likely to continue. Adult role models are crucial, as demonstrated by the fact that young people who have a parent who volunteers are almost three times as likely to volunteer themselves.
Families and workplaces offer new avenues for generosity. And, in what has been termed a new world of active citizenship, today’s volunteers are broadening our idea of altruism. Can we shift our focus so that giving is understood as an act of citizenship, with reciprocal benefits for the donor, the recipient, and society as a whole?
In a democracy, everyone has something to give.
With globalization, many Canadians now direct their energies overseas, helping out in a multitude of noble causes worldwide.
As our world changes, so too does the nature of volunteerism.
Our challenge is to adapt, and always to preserve the spirit of giving. As we approach the 150th anniversary of Canada in 2017, the time is right for us to renew our collective pursuit of kindness.