In my early years at Volunteer Alberta (I’ve been here for over 5 years now), I spent part of my time presenting on volunteerism statistics. I would speak to nonprofit sector leaders about the volunteerism rates by age and demographic and the reasons why people volunteer and why they don’t. The whole purpose was to provide people with information that challenges assumptions and inspires new actions. After one of these presentations, in a smaller rural community, a couple of participants approached me, thanked me and then proceeded to let me know that as valuable as the presentation was, they did not see how the information applied to their experience or how it was going to help them. These community members were worried because it had become increasingly difficult to engage their neighbours, especially in volunteer opportunities. From their perspective, youth and young families were not volunteering, traditional institutions were losing funding, the volunteer base in the community was aging, and no matter what strategies these community members applied, nothing changed. I empathized with their challenges, but, at the time, I did not have anything of value to offer them that would make a difference.
I returned to the office confused and concerned. I was confused as to why we were presenting information to communities that seemed to make no difference in reality and I was concerned that communities were asking for something that I did not have. It was at that moment that I started on a journey to explore and unearth the root causes of volunteerism and engagement challenges facing rural communities. This has lead me down a number of paths and shaped a lot of my work over the years -- and it continues to shape me.
One of the things I’ve learned is that there are limiting mindsets/paradigms/ways of thinking that pull the levers of what is possible in community. They are often hidden from our view, in the back of our minds and hearts, yet inform us all at the same time. It is often called ‘the status quo,’ but is more accurately the operating assumptions we don’t think to challenge; the established way that doesn’t have to be the only way. Where communities are stuck or struggling, our operating assumptions are often an unchallenged stumbling block to change. I’ve learned that there are effective approaches to disrupt and disconnect from our set mindsets and that transforming community with new perspectives and mindsets can make all the difference.
I am excited to be joining ABSI Connect as the first Journeyman Partner. I am privileged to be embarking on an adventure to surface, advance and grow the Alberta social innovation ecosystem by bringing in the perspective of rural Alberta. I will be connecting with community and organizational leaders from Alberta’s diverse communities who are challenging, reshaping and transforming their communities. There are leaders throughout Alberta who are champions for mindsets and actions that are renewing and transforming communities. By illuminating the ways Albertans are addressing the complex challenges faced by rural communities, I hope to uncover unique patterns and approaches to amplify, expand our collective perspective on social innovation in the province and intentionally connect leaders across the province.
I look forward to meeting you!
By Annand Ollivierre