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Volunteers undervalued - Jamaica earning millions from those who give of their time

Published:Saturday | April 11, 2015 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju

Volunteerism is very much alive in Jamaica among all age groups and at every level of the society, but especially in inner-city communities where its impact is particularly felt by the poor and needy.

However, the Council of Voluntary Social Services (CVSS), the umbrella organisation which co-ordinates the activities of member groups, has expressed disappointment that the impact of the volunteer work done by individuals and organisations is not being fully.

This is because Jamaicans have become so accustomed to some of these volunteer activities that they take them for granted or do not understand the full impact.

The CVSS believes the time has come for the work and worth of volunteers to be quantified in order to raise awareness about the decisive and sometimes life-changing and life-saving impact this has had and continues to have.


Monetary value


The Jamaica 4-H Clubs, which depends heavily on volunteers, has been putting a monetary value on their contribution which, for the fiscal year 2013-2014, it estimated at $190 million, and $256 million for the 2014-2015 financial year.

"We certainly don't add that to the GDP (gross domestic production) of the country, and if we were to, we would be seeing some different figures. And, in fact, I'm seeing where voluntary contribution to the

4-H has outstripped the support from Government and others," executive director of the Jamaica 4-H Clubs, Ronald Blake, told a Gleaner Editors' Forum last Thursday.

According to Blake, the system used for the calculations put a $2,000 per hour rate on the work of its volunteers, most of whom are tertiary trained.

Describing the voluntary sector as the soul of the society, Clare Bernard, executive member of the CVSS and an officer at the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), noted that it "ensures that, that which the Government cannot do for those who are marginalised and disadvantaged, somebody else is stepping in to bridge that gap".

Bernard pointed to the pivotal role of volunteers who built the pre-primary education system in Jamaica, before turning to their role in health education and community development.

"The voluntary sector has borne a big portion of the burden, so to speak. It pretty much led the way, in terms of HIV, in diabetes prevention and cure, and so, that's a very important element and role for the voluntary sector.

"When you think about the state of a Jamaican economy where resources are diminishing but the needs are growing, and the Government cannot do it alone, and so the voluntary becomes an important partner to the State.


Partnership critical


It needs somebody to work with it, and it also needs somebody who knows the people at the community level to make that critical connection that has to be made," added Bernard.

"Even in the national development plan Vision 2030, partnership is one of the guiding principles, and in that discussion on partnership, it mentions the voluntary sector and faith-based organisations assisting in creating the change at the community level that will foster the long-term broad-based development of the country," noted Bernard.

Meanwhile, social entrepreneur, Dr Henley Morgan, wants to see a monetary value put on the work of volunteers, just like is done in other countries. According to Morgan, this would help people to better appreciate the work of volunteers.

"The truth of the matter is that, in the United States, the voluntary sector contributes about six to nine per cent of gross domestic product, and until we start thinking of it like that, it has no appeal. No reference is made to it in the annual budget."

He continued: "I suspect that in Jamaica, the contribution is close to three to four per cent. Now when you start thinking of value in the way the rest of the world thinks about it, which is in terms of monetary value, then you can move it more towards talking about it not just as a grant, its an investment. It's not where the outputs are ill-defined, we talking about return on your investments."