The Call of a Global Movement on International Volunteer Day

Dec 5, 2017

This post is by Gared Jones, senior vice president of global at Points of Light.

Through our network of affiliates in more than 200 cities across 35 countries, we are witnessing a dramatic awakening and proliferation of changemaking. Pictured here is André Cervi, co-founder of Points of Light's affiliate Atados, reading with children in Brazil.

In the American South in the summer, right around sundown, there is an awakening of fireflies that fills our neighborhoods with light. You can look across yards, soupy with humidity, and witness an asynchronous cacophony of flashing lights.

Gared Jones

As the temperatures now drop, I am reminded of these fireflies … and how easy it can be to forget them. Even in summer, you actually have to go outside. And you have to look.

On International Volunteer Day, Points of Light is recognizing volunteers in communities around the world who answer the call to serve, every day and especially in times of need. However, for most of us this is a day like any other. I would like to invite you to go outside and take a look!

What you’ll see, and what we at Points of Light are seeing in neighborhoods across the 35 countries where our global network of more than 200 affiliates operates, is a dramatic awakening and proliferation of changemaking. Hundreds of thousands of individuals doing something to brighten their communities.

This video shares some of our story:

However, it may not be what you think. It is not big and flashy. It is not of the world’s grand achievers or most important names (though they play a part).

It is ordinary, everyday Joes and Janes, Joses and Juanitas, Sumitas and Sanjays. It is folks coming from places of humility – young people, mothers and fathers, programmers and back of the house hotel staff, small business owners and micro-entrepreneurs – humility cauterized by empathy.

It is folks stripping away all the things they’ve got (or think they are) in order to do something good for someone else. It is folks taking the smallest steps to act, to risk doing something different – just once – that can unhook a lifetime of inertia.

I recently had the privilege to serve as a jurist for the iVolunteer Awards, recognition for extraordinary individual, nonprofit and corporate volunteering, given by Points of Light’s affiliate in India. What I saw in their finalists is the same inspiration that we are seeing around the world: a shift from volunteering toward changemaking. We’re seeing that volunteers are increasingly understanding that they are solving social problems. And they are bringing their passion and creativity fully to bear in tackling them.

The Volunteer Hero Award winner was a young woman named Krupali Bidaye, who organized India’s first-ever Hijra Empowerment Mela. She and her group brought together members of the often ostracized transgender community from across India to participate in entrepreneurial activities, livelihood skills training and community building. The Mela included 30 stalls (the salon and food stalls nearly sold out) and more than 1,500 participants. In an innovative twist, Krupali and her team introduced “family meets,” through which they connected groups of transgender individuals to 70-80 families across five states to participate in sharing sessions in people’s homes, designed to breakdown biases and build understanding. Crazy. Revolutionary!

So where is all of this headed?

How about this – imagine the most challenging place you can think of. Perhaps it’s a low-income neighborhood, a slum, a refugee camp. Perhaps it’s a poorly resourced elder-care center, hospital or orphanage. Those pockets of darkness illumined by the United Nations’ Global Goals.

Now imagine, just for a moment, that you’re on the outset of life, the eve of life, and you’re about to show up “next time” around.  Just imagine that life works that way.

The opportunity for us in this life – on International Volunteer Day and the days to follow – is to create the window for ourselves in the next one.  So that should you show up in one of these places next time around, you can find your way back here …

On International Volunteer Day. Stepping outside to take a look. Witnessing the light of thousands of fireflies … of thousands of points of light. Considering your next small step to act. For one of us in the elder-care center, the hospital, the orphanage; the struggling neighborhood, the slum, the refugee camp. 

Stripping away a few more layers in the process.

I invite you to join us.

On International Volunteer Day, we celebrate the power of volunteers to tackle tough challenges, create change, and build stronger, more vibrant communities. Take the first step to becoming a changemaker in the world around you – find your local Points of Light affiliate and get involved. And, take the opportunity to shine a light on the people and causes that inspire you to serve – share the story of volunteers who have found their passion and turned it into meaningful change, using #IVD2017.

Amanda Knowles