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This page is devoted to the management of volunteer programs in health care settings.

~October 2009~

Ubuntu:  Essence of mankind?

For this month’s issue I borrowed a recent posting dated 8-26-09 from the on-line discussion group arnova-l@listserv.iupui.edu (a service of the Association for Research on Nonprofits and Voluntary Action- http://www.arnova.org/) because it struck me as pretty profound.  Thanks to Vinay Kumar for sharing these thoughts.  They are in italics

Ubuntu: The Essence of Associations
Vinay Kumar, Senior Director
Marketing General

Outside of my professional life, I volunteer lot of my time coaching and counseling men and women from various walks of life. In one of those settings, I recently came across a word that I had never heard before.  I looked for its English equivalent and was not able to find anything that came close even.  I was very moved by the word and it's meaning.  And since it captured for me the essence of associations, regardless of type, I wanted to share it with you.

The word is Ubuntu and it's a classical African concept.  It means:

Human generosity, interconnectedness, community, bringing people together to work together on issues of common interest, toward a higher good.  People, objects and events are all connected. Everything is in an ongoing state of relatedness.  Dynamics of cooperation support system. The interconnected web holds and honors all equally.  Everything affects everything else. If I shortchange you, I shortchange myself.

Upon further digging, I found the following statement on Ubuntu, made by Archbishop Tutu:

"A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.

One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu - the essence of being human.  Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation.  It speaks about our interconnectedness.  You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality - Ubuntu - you are known for your generosity.

We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are profoundly connectedness and what you do affects the whole world.  When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity."

While Vinay Kumar talks about associations, this strikes me as equally appropriate when contemplating volunteering.  Volunteer managers have all been taught McClelland’s theories of motivation:  Achievement, Affiliation and Influence.  While this theory certainly enters into successful placement, every potential volunteer is motivated by something unique.  Maybe the common thread behind the motivation is Ubuntu:  the need for humans to be connected and help one another.  Simple, really.

With the simple thought that people wish to volunteer because they want to be interconnected in whatever way, the work of the DVS takes on new meaning.  If Ubuntu is a factor, the very actions of how people are welcomed, treated, supervised and talked to brings with it responsibility.  While you may think that you are just doing your job (whether it’s the interview, the placement, the birthday card, the friendly chat or whatever), never doubt that you are having an impact on another person’s life.  What could be considered part of daily work activities might just be the thing that provides meaning into the life of a volunteer. 

And the responsibility for that should not be taken lightly.  No matter how busy, harried or overworked you are, remember to stop, take a breath, remember Ubuntu and truly focus on the person, staff member, and patient, family member or volunteer that you are currently dealing with.  Is that not what you would expect if the roles were reversed?

So with the quest for humans to be interconnected, is it any wonder that web-based social networks are taking off?

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The author of the Heath Care Volunteer Programs column is Mary Kay Hood MS, Hendricks Regional Health, Danville, IN (317) 745-3556. With a BS degree in biology from Marian College and a Master of Science in Management from Indiana Wesleyan University, Mary Kay has been involved in volunteer management over twenty years with a zoo and in the health care field. During that time, she completed the Management of Volunteer Programs course offered at University of Indianapolis, several supervisory training programs as well as the Indiana Hospital and Health Association’s Management Institute offered by the Executive Education Program, School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. Mary Kay served on the Nonprofit Training Center of United Way from 1993 to 2006. During that time, she taught many workshops also facilitating speaker arrangements for the Basic Volunteer Management series. Additionally, she has presented at various national and international conferences. Mary Kay served as president of the Central Indiana Association for Volunteer Administration (CIAVA) from 1993-1997 and the Indiana Society of Directors of Volunteer Services (ISDVS) from 2006-2008. She was also the recipient of the 1995 Outstanding Director of Volunteer Services Award and the 2002 United Way of Central Indiana Volunteer of the Year Award. Most recently she served on the Steering Committee for COVAA resulting in the formation of a new national membership organization for those in volunteer management, the Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement (AL!VE). With several published articles, she is also author to two books: The One Minute Answer to Volunteer Management Questions and The Volunteer Leader as Change Agent.

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