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Uplifting the profile and practice of Volunteering in the community

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Volunteering provides a healthy boost to a person’s self-confidence and satisfaction in life. Doing good for others and the community provides a sense of accomplishment. Providing an inclusive, impactful and sustainable volunteering experience is the primary focus of Volunteer West.

Volunteer West is the only volunteer resource centre in the region that works across six local government areas and serves a population of more than 1 million people. Third Sector News talked to Marijke Fotia, Regional Programs Manager, and winner of the 2021 Third Sector Awards Emerging Leader of the Year about how Volunteer West uplifts the profile and practice of volunteering as a community building for social and economic wellbeing.

What was your driving force to continue making a positive impact despite the difficult times? 

For so many people volunteering is a way they stay connected in their community. It provides much-needed people power to so many community organisations. Like many people I struggled with working from home, supporting my daughter with remote learning and my own studies. Putting my energies into my work, providing opportunities for volunteer engagement professionals (both paid and volunteers themselves) to connect through virtual network meetings, helping them to set up virtual volunteering programs and connecting them with willing volunteers was something I could do. Volunteer engagement is in itself community building and hearing how my work was supporting both the paid and unpaid engagers of volunteers through the ongoing lockdowns in Melbourne is what drives me every day. 

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What tools helped you achieve your success?

The tools that have helped me achieve success are the people who support me and the practices of reflection and acknowledging vulnerability. 

Supportive CEO and Board – people who believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself and pushed me to stretch my thinking 

Finding and building networks of peers and colleagues – although most of the last year and during the pandemic I’ve been working from home, connecting with people online through virtual networks and communities of practice has been an amazing source of inspiration and support 

Reflective practice – utilising reflective practice techniques, including story-telling, in team meetings to build and grow projects and professional learnings. 

Partnership Brokers Association (PBA) Training and PBA Advanced Skills Training. I fall back on this training over and over again, and not just in building partnerships. The two training courses have shaped how I approach resolving differences, capacity building and facilitation. 

Acknowledging vulnerability – I’ve had to change the way I work due to chronic illness and acknowledging that with both myself and my team has made me a better leader. 

What can you say about winning the Emerging Leader of the Year in Third Sector Awards 2021? 

I was truly surprised to be announced as a winner in the Third Sector Awards. The past few years have been a real journey for me in understanding both myself and the community I work in. The people who engage volunteers, whether they are paid or volunteers themselves are often unseen or overlooked and I see my nomination as a way to champion the work they do. At Volunteer West I seek to raise the profile and importance of the volunteering sector and advance volunteering practice towards a person-centred, systems-change model for enduring impact, leveraging pioneering best-practice projects. I hope being a winner will help me to take this important work further than we ever believed possible. 

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