Vanessa Diamond reflects on Points of Light conference
Among her many responsibilities as Vice President of Civic Innovations, Vanessa Diamond leads HandsOn Greater Richmond, the region’s volunteer and civic engagement hub and an affiliate of the worldwide organization Points of Light. Recently, Vanessa traveled to India along with 47 Points of Light leaders representing 26 countries for the annual Global Gathering conference. Here, she shares her experience.
There is so much to say about my trip to India. There is a constant HUSTLE there — of ideas, cars, people and commerce, with so many sounds, scents and colors. There is poverty like I couldn’t have imagined and then incredible, opulent architecture from more than 700 years ago.
Participating in a week-long collaboration session in such a vibrant place, and working alongside people from 26 different countries, was invigorating in a way that’s hard to describe. It makes your work feel like an adventure and opens you up to new ideas. We took this energy and channeled it towards answering one key question:
“Is it possible we could live in a world where it is impossible to sit on the sidelines?”
Natalye Paquin, President & CEO of Points of Light, posed this question to all of us during the conference. Her one big idea packaged in a few words sums up the focus of my career and our work here at the Community Foundation. The concept that we ALL have a role and responsibility to engage and address our communities’ most critical needs and help achieve our collective aspirations. What if? Every day we work to inspire action, educate individuals about community issues and create capacity to engage individuals in making positive impact in our community.
The questions we ask ourselves matter. They provide inspiration and focus our work forward.
The word choices we use matter. They signify intent, action and relationships. We heard from Anshu Gupta with Goonj, a nonprofit enterprise in India that recycles clothing into new products. This group is doing away with words like “donor” and “beneficiary,” and instead refers to everyone as a “stakeholder.” Their philosophy is that one person is providing the materials, and one person is extending the life cycle of those materials by giving them a new home, a new use. Everyone is bringing something vital to the table.
Our communities work the same way. We all have currency. Sometimes that currency is time, or money, or knowledge or experience, and ALL of that currency has value.
One presenter sparked discussion around the Edelman trust study and what it means for our work in volunteer engagement. We know from research that trust in institutions is waning, so we have to look critically at what it means to be an organization that people believe in and want to join. What does “trust” mean to governments, businesses, the media, NGOs, the public? Our work is building a movement, and that happens when people trust you. We need to build trust by showing up, listening and following through on our commitments.
During the conference, we talked about what a global network for volunteer civic action looks like by sharing what we do locally.
I presented on two of the ways HandsOn Greater Richmond is building collaboration in our region.
RVA Engage brings a range of stakeholders to the table — local corporations, businesses, institutions of higher education, civic leadership groups, and nonprofits — to build the relationships and the trust it takes to do intentional work that leverages our collective resources and effectively addresses community needs.
We’re also going out into the community and sharing our Give Back Guide to help individuals and organizations to reflect on what is most important to them and what they need to do to get involved. The guide is designed to help people build their “Civic IQ,” or their capacity to learn and understand issues before they take action, whether it’s with their dollar or with their time.
Our intentions and our actions are based on building bridges with relationships and resources that can create a world where everyone can thrive, where it is impossible for us to sit on the sidelines. I sometimes forget how incredibly powerful this work can be. I left India reminded, inspired and frustrated by the scale of work and in awe of the innovative ideas and programs people are leading across the world. That tension of frustration and inspiration is where I gain my energy and am urged to create and DO.
If you are interested in working with HandsOn Greater Richmond as we continue to build a culture of service and philanthropy in the Richmond region, contact Vanessa at firstname.lastname@example.org.