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Finding Our Voice - Fiona Dawe - AVMConf2013
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Finding Our Voice - Fiona Dawe - AVMConf2013

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  • 1. AVM CONFERENCE SPEECH Finding Our Voice! Courageous thinking for individuals and organisations Good morning! I’m honoured and delighted to have been asked to do this – a chance to re-connect with the world of volunteering, which has been an abiding passion for over 30 years. I am also genuinely delighted to be part of this special conference and to be able to celebrate 120 scintillatingly varied expressions of the phenomenon we call professional Volunteer Management. You do such an important job, although it often can be a bit marginal, invisible and unsung. Why is Volunteering Management not held in quite the same esteem as other roles? The responsibility, skills, innovation, creativity and flair needed to inspire, motivate and deploy volunteers is of a very high order. Volunteer Managers can get lost alongside the fundraiser who brings in the money, and the practitioners at the coal-face who deliver services for beneficiaries and manage frontline operations. So many people in the world just don’t get it, do they? And some who think they do, because they’ve been a volunteer ... It’s a bit like “I’ve had brain surgery, so I’d like to volunteer as a brain surgeon.” We all know how important volunteering and volunteers are. We know the facts and figures about their impact – the economic value of it – so how come it is often somehow invisible? Two questions were given to me as part of the briefing for today. What advice would you give to help Volunteer Managers have legitimacy in their organisation? How can Volunteer Managers influence within an organisation? You know what they say about advice: People often love giving it, BUT no-one likes taking it - in fact we usually hate it when people tell us what we should or ought to be thinking or doing – and most often, we never take it... VITAL SPACE Fiona Dawe CBE fiona@vitalspace.org.uk vitalspace.org.uk 2 Farnaby Road Bromley BR1 4BJ T 020 8466 7302 M 07969 598 548
  • 2. AVM CONFERENCE SPEECH Finding Our Voice! Courageous thinking for individuals and organisations So I have no advice to give. I do instead have some thoughts and questions which I hope will be useful in thinking about why we might find ourselves in a position where we feel we don’t have a proper voice and where we need to find it, reconnect with it and most importantly- use it! I have worked as a volunteer (still do), with volunteers and in the world of volunteering for practically my whole career and I have noticed a few things that can get us down. I am not going to think about how we might find our voice from the outside in, but from the inside out – so I’ve been thinking about the personal and about leadership. If we are to exercise leadership as Volunteer Managers, we need to know and value ourselves, so we can be our authentic selves. If we don’t, the chances of us being able to influence our way out of a paper bag, far less our organisations, or indeed, the wider world, will be pretty slim... In the words of Meister Eckhart (1262-1328): "You should be less concerned about what you have to do and more concerned about what you must be. For, if your being is good, your work will be of great value." One thing I’ve noticed is that organisations can find themselves playing out the story of their beneficiaries – A good friend, who was a pretty effective CEO of a charity providing services for children and adults with learning disabilities, told me this. She was complaining to her mentor about her disappointment and frustration at being – yet again - excluded from consultations. The organisation was always assessed as very good or excellent, and clients and families were happy. So why was she consistently marginalised, excluded, an afterthought? VITAL SPACE Fiona Dawe CBE fiona@vitalspace.org.uk vitalspace.org.uk 2 Farnaby Road Bromley BR1 4BJ T 020 8466 7302 M 07969 598 548
  • 3. AVM CONFERENCE SPEECH Finding Our Voice! Courageous thinking for individuals and organisations Her mentor asked “I wonder how people with learning disabilities are often treated and I wonder how they experience being able to influence things?” So what is your organisation’s story? Does that kind of story shed any light on how volunteers, volunteering and your role are looked upon? You hear a lot these days about “getting the narrative right” – we’re very influenced by stories and the things we collectively tell ourselves. So what different sort of story would you begin to tell inside your organisation which would re-frame the narrative? As part of my work as an Advisor for the Social Justice Committee at the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, I chair one of their special initiatives “Supported Options Initiative for young people with irregular or undocumented status”. As a part of this, we invited Carlos Saavedra from “United We Dream” and the DREAMers movement in the USA. He, together with a large coalition of organisations (which had many struggles and differences of opinion to overcome within themselves, by the way) worked for many years to change the way Americans saw undocumented Latino migrants. And last year, President Obama enacted the Deferred Action Policy – they are well on their way to legitimising the status of thousands of young people. They did it by volunteering and telling stories – not drily campaigning against existing policy. They played the longer, more systemic game of changing the perceptions of ordinary fellow Americans. They created a movement. VITAL SPACE Fiona Dawe CBE fiona@vitalspace.org.uk vitalspace.org.uk 2 Farnaby Road Bromley BR1 4BJ T 020 8466 7302 M 07969 598 548
  • 4. AVM CONFERENCE SPEECH Finding Our Voice! Courageous thinking for individuals and organisations Firstly, they empowered themselves, by telling their own stories and talking about what they were for, what their dreams and aspirations are and celebrating who they are and what they stand for. Secondly, their stories and identities as aspirational students, rather than criminals, humanised them in the eyes of the country they saw as their own. This took some courage in their case as they were, or are, technically illegal. But they found that it is safer being transparent - especially when people could see that they were beautiful human beings with a heart, a mind, a passion for learning and achieving and a commitment to their country – what’s not to like? This is such a different story to the negative view of “leeches on the backs of the state” who ought to be “sent back where they belong”... They advocate for themselves and don’t let others define who they are. I find their story and approach really inspiring. I saw the power of it when Carlos was telling his personal story in a room full of undocumented young people who began to grow bigger in their seats. A couple of them stood up at the end and declared their status out loud (for the first time) and outlined what actions they would like to take. I don’t think they would have done that if Carlos had given them advice and told them what to think or what plan of action to adopt. So what might we learn for ourselves and our role from this story? What are they modelling that we could embrace? As he South African writer Philip Adam said: “The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. The paths to it are made, not found; and the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destinations.” VITAL SPACE Fiona Dawe CBE fiona@vitalspace.org.uk vitalspace.org.uk 2 Farnaby Road Bromley BR1 4BJ T 020 8466 7302 M 07969 598 548
  • 5. AVM CONFERENCE SPEECH Finding Our Voice! Courageous thinking for individuals and organisations One of the ideas that I work a great deal with in my current work as a Thinking Environment consultant is: Assumptions. Now these can be very useful things – indeed essential in many cases. In the absence of complete certainty it can be really helpful to make assumptions (based on best guesses) when you’re thinking about what to pack to go on holiday, or to draft next year’s budget, for example. However the ones that are not helpful are those which block us and stop us doing things. They are untrue limiting assumptions which we live as if they were true. So my next series of questions are: What does the world assume about Volunteer Managers that can limit their influence and self esteem? (Ask audience to think about a couple of assumptions) Of those assumptions, which one do you think is most limiting? Say its ..... Do you think that assumption is, in fact, inherently true of Volunteer Managers? What are your reasons for thinking so? Reasons... What would be your words for a liberating TRUE assumption about Volunteer Managers? True Liberating Assumption ... If YOU knew (insert True Liberating Assumption ) what would change for you? And what else? If the WORLD knew (insert True Liberating Assumption ) what would change for the world? VITAL SPACE Fiona Dawe CBE fiona@vitalspace.org.uk vitalspace.org.uk 2 Farnaby Road Bromley BR1 4BJ T 020 8466 7302 M 07969 598 548
  • 6. AVM CONFERENCE SPEECH Finding Our Voice! Courageous thinking for individuals and organisations I am a fan of David Whyte a poet and philosopher. He talks of 5 courageous conversations. These questions represent five simultaneous levels of conversation that he believes are essential to the art and discipline of leadership. Thinking this way may help to get volunteer-involvement in your organisation better aligned with its mission. And if it is already, then it might help to get the perceptions of different parts of the organisation altered in terms of how they view volunteers and their role and contribution – and therefore the role of Volunteer Manager too. 5. What is the courageous conversation we are not yet having with the unknown future - the world that lies over the horizon, but has not yet been fully articulated? 4. What is the courageous conversation we are not having with our clients or the society of which we are a part? This in effect is the future, now, the currents of people and events that flow around the organisation and the endeavours of the individuals who make it up. 3 What is the courageous conversation we are not having between the different divisions and international cultures within the organisation? What prevents us from taking another step in working together? 2. What is the courageous conversation I am not having in my immediate workgroup, or with my immediate superiors, associates and subordinates? What is the courageous conversation I can personally initiate to start things moving in this immediate circle? 1. (The private conversation.) What is the courageous conversation I am refusing to have with myself, in my own heart and mind with regard to my work, and the present life threshold on which I find myself? What is the courageous conversation I am not having with my partner or spouse, my children or loved ones? VITAL SPACE Fiona Dawe CBE fiona@vitalspace.org.uk vitalspace.org.uk 2 Farnaby Road Bromley BR1 4BJ T 020 8466 7302 M 07969 598 548
  • 7. AVM CONFERENCE SPEECH Finding Our Voice! Courageous thinking for individuals and organisations This last question, though asked privately, is an essential foundation for all the other courageous conversations. It is very difficult to be passionate or sincere about the outer, more abstract, strategic, questions, if a leader has neglected his, or her, own primary questions with regard to work and the part their work plays in the drama of their own story. Benjamin Mee – the man who bought Dartmoor Zoo (his life’s been made into a film called “We Bought a Zoo”, Matt Damon plays him) said: "You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it." I’m sorry if you’re disappointed that I have only posed questions. However, I know that our minds work best in the presence of great questions. I hope some of these are good questions for you. I also know that we are all more than capable of thinking well for ourselves, as ourselves, and if we do this, we will not only empower ourselves, we will also come up with amazing ideas and solutions that noone else could. No one said any of this would necessarily be easy, but if we don’t step up to the challenge, who will? And in any case, it’s our job! I’ll end with Barack Obama’s words: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek". ENDS FD 23 Oct 2013 VITAL SPACE Fiona Dawe CBE fiona@vitalspace.org.uk vitalspace.org.uk 2 Farnaby Road Bromley BR1 4BJ T 020 8466 7302 M 07969 598 548