Maybe it’s because I studied under a bunch of Libertarian professors in university but I have never been comfortable with the idea that government should have the exclusive right to try and solve all of society’s challenges. A couple of years ago a friend of mine had occasion to see the IWK hospital up close and personal as his child required the specialized services. He really appreciated how they helped his child and decided to get involved in fundraising for the organization. He came up to me and another guy and asked about our interest in supporting the cause. The other guy quickly stated “that’s why I pay taxes” and refused to offer any support.
I believe we rob ourselves of something very important when we outsource all of the good stuff in the local community to the ‘government’. My daughter recently did a video documentary about several charitable organizations in Moncton and I drove her around while she taped interviews and got footage. I was reminded just how many volunteer-led organizations there are and how important they are to the well functioning of Canadian society.
The data from Statistics Canada has not been updated since 2013 but the figures that year were not particularly encouraging. New Brunswick had the second lowest volunteering rate in the country (only ahead of Quebec) and the rate was down significantly from the past two survey periods.
A closer look at the data by age group finds that 25-44 year olds in New Brunswick volunteer considerably less than their counterparts across the country (as measured by the share who volunteer) and, strangely, those aged 55 to 64 – among whom only about 1/3 actually volunteer compared to 56% among the 15-24 age group.
As New Brunswickers get older this should open up a golden opportunity for us to give back. We are more affluent now than ever before. We will live longer than at any time in history. It can’t all be about eating, golf, TV, easy chairs, vacations and drinking coffee at Starbucks. Only one in three 55-64 year olds do any kind of volunteering at all in New Brunswick? We can and must do better.
In the modern world we try to achieve meaning in many different ways. We travel the world and expose ourselves to different experiences. Hiking in Tibet or laying on the beach in Cuba may give you a thrill but you might also find the meaning you are looking for right here at home volunteering at a soup kitchen, helping a child learn to read, coaching youth sports, teaching Sunday School or by helping an immigrant family adapt to their new country.
Why does a blogger about economic development care about volunteering? Glad you asked. We need to grow our economy in the coming years. That will require more young people to stay and build their careers here and it will require the attraction of tens of thousands of young people and families from abroad. In addition, we have many challenges – on the ground, right now like literacy, obesity, child poverty, etc. We need mentors, we need teachers, we need charitable givers, we need those willing to give a helping hand. It makes society stronger and strengthens the conditions for economic growth.