Volunteers are often considered the best partners for social workers in the Chinese context, especially community volunteers. As more and more importance is placed on community volunteer services, it is worth thinking about how to build community volunteering groups that are sustainable and well-organized. A case study in Shenzhen can help shed some light on this question.
The Wei Lan Hai An Community in Guangdong Province is a typical middle-to-high-end complex consisting of a residential area, schools and business area. There are 5,500 households in the community, with a total of over 20,000 people, most of whom have a high level of education and income.
This resident body posed a challenge to the community committee at the beginning. For example, although residents were concerned about community affairs and personal interests, they did not understand and were unwilling to cooperate with the work of the community committee. Thus, the committee decided the best way to engage more residents in community building was to establish a community volunteer team.
Building up the team
The first step to establishing a team was finding capable and willing residents to join. To attract more residents to community services, the social workers opened up many public areas such as playgrounds and the community library, as well as hosting events to identify interested people and ask them to join the team. They also accepted recommendations from community Party members or community Party leaders as well as self-recommendations.
Once there were willing candidates for volunteering, the next step was to help them develop a team spirit and learn how to work as a team. The Wei Lan Hai An Community came up with two methods to facilitate that. The first was to cultivate volunteer groups through shared hobbies. For instance, people who enjoyed practicing tai chi together might easily form a regular volunteer group. Another way was to form groups with residents interested in solving a particular issue within the community, which resembles a task or function-based group.
Moving on, the community committee started to work on integrating the different small groups into a larger volunteer organization. Usually, voluntary organizations developed within a community are relatively inexperienced in organizational development and management. Thus, the community committee provided experienced social workers as advisors to its volunteer organization, to help set goals and establish team norms and an organization structure.
After the Wei Lan Hai An volunteer organization was officially set up, the first problem it faced was funding. At that stage, the organization could not generate funding on its own. So the community committee encouraged volunteers to seek funding for their activities through various channels.
Currently, the Wei Lan Hai An volunteer organization is functioning smoothly and planning to improve its services and expand its impact. The main tasks for the organization have become establishing more training programs for volunteers and promoting cooperation between community volunteer groups and between different community volunteer organizations.