Last week, the world's largest gathering of volunteer and service leaders from the nonprofit, government and corporate sectors, took place in New York City. For three days we explored, discussed and shared ideas and solutions in order to:
- Demonstrate that service is a strategy for solving community issues -- from economic recovery and education to health care and disaster response.
- Embrace and communicate the power of service to transform people, making them more astute, more empathetic, and more equipped to serve as a leader in the evolving marketplace.
- Underscore the power and necessity of collaboration -- from powerful coalitions like ServiceNation and The White House Office of Social Innovation to public-private partnerships.
- Inspire a new generation of change agents to embrace and engage in service.
The volunteerism movement is enjoying growing popularity. CEO of Echoing Green Cheryl Dorsey said, "We are at a stage that we have never been at before...there has been a groundswell around service." One year after the signing of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, we have made remarkable achievements, and the movement is at a tipping point. To me, this moment is critical -- we must harness the success and enthusiasm to date and continue to push the movement to new levels. Yet Patrick Corvington, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, emphasized that we cannot just expand for the sake of expansion. "We need to identify places where service is showing measurable results and focus on expanding and funding those programs," he said.
Service as a strategy for education reform
"Behind every great school are the volunteers, parents, local business owners and community who give because they understand the importance of education."
That was the theme U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan, NYC Chancellor of the Department of Education Joel Klein, PricewaterhouseCoopers U.S. Chairman and Senior Partner Bob Moritz, and others underscored on Wednesday during the education plenary.
They reinforced that volunteer time and passion must be effectively leveraged to expand learning opportunities for students. From after school programs to mentoring and tutoring, we must ensure that students are receiving increased learning time, both in and outside the classroom.
This is not just an education issue -- this is a talent and global competitiveness issue. As Bob Moritz said, "As businesses look to where they want to be located and the type of talent they want to attract, one key factor is how well their education system is doing--from kindergarten to college. These are incubators for our future leaders and ensuring a strong education system will ultimately lead to economic prosperity for individuals and communities."
Despite the barriers that exist, all of the session panelists agreed that "volunteers cannot accept no for an answer -- we cannot be afraid to break the mold and innovate." By starting small and gradually demonstrating the positive impact of new and different initiatives, organizations can gain both credibility and access to directly impact the education of students.
As Secretary Arne Duncan put it, "Together we have the chance to fundamentally breakthrough because every child has the right to learn."
Being accountable for making a difference
During the conference I participated in several thought-provoking sessions; I learned it's up to you, it's up to me, and it's up to all of us to create a world where everyone is empowered to make a difference. The crucial issues impacting America today will require collaboration and the commitment of our country's volunteers is vital to accelerating change.
As Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) smartly said, "Service is more than a cause -- it is a calling -- to make a difference in our schools and in our communities. "We can make this the volunteer generation. Our time is now."
Thanks for letting me share my experiences and learnings from this amazing conference and thanks to all of you for following my blog.
This is the last of a series of blog posts Shannon Schuyler penned around the National Conference on Volunteering and Service, the world's largest gathering of volunteer and service leaders from the nonprofit, government and corporate sectors.