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Voluntarism is one of the most effective ways to engage in society because it helps individuals, gain skills, build stronger networks, gain new experiences and access new opportunities. However, the opportunity to access opportunities to volunteer effectively are not available to all.
Over the past few years, I have taken the time to distil the formula that led to my professional positioning and current level of experience and expertise and realised that I have gotten to the place I am in today because I saw an advert seeking volunteers at my local MPs office. I had just failed to get into the university of my choice and was so shocked by that revelation that I decided to take a year out to recalibrate, resit a couple of exams and then apply again. To justify my choice to my parents, I promised that I would spend the year volunteering. It wasn’t a promise I had taken very seriously and really rather considered it as an offer of self-punishment for having not secured the grades I needed.
Before I actually experienced formal volunteering, the only type of volunteering I was familiar with was volunteering at church, which is valuable and a fantastic opportunity to give back to my own community, but the access that I was able to gain outside of my community through volunteering is what got me here. Advocating for voluntarism in the black community is about access. Voluntarism was not something I was taught in any sphere of my life, to see as an opportunity to achieve and access greater things. Before I started my role, I was more than prepared to sit in an office and file documents one after the other for hours on end or otherwise stare blankly into a computer screen while proofreading long policy and regulation manuals that I couldn’t possibly have cared less about. However, my volunteer managers had something much more interesting and dynamic planned for me.
I admit before I started the role, for which I was properly interviewed, I had no real understanding of how MPs helped people or that MPs helped people. I didn’t engage with local services, and my immigration status actually specifically forbade me from doing so. Giving back to a system that had already been so difficult to navigate and had put such a strain on my parents as they sought to exist within it, make a living and adequately provide for their children, seemed nonsensical. Yet there was treasure hidden in the beige and brick walls of the MPs office, manned primarily by old ladies with a deep love for strong black tea and digestive biscuits. While there were moments of filing documents and proofreading proposals, there were many more moments that I spent speaking with constituents of the borough who had real problems and were hoping for real solutions.
For six months, while I rarely saw people that looked like me sit in for meetings with the MP or his senior staff, I still felt seen and supported in those offices by people who were committed to ensuring I gained skills that would help me excel in the future. I learned about time management, customer management, project planning, budgets, database management and I soaked it all up. My enthusiasm for the opportunity must have come across because after those first few months, a job became available in the Westminster office and it was offered to me. My first real job made me the sole breadwinner of my family at that time, and the youngest professional employee of the House of Commons that year. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was enough to help out my family in our time of need. That voluntary opportunity came at a time that I needed it most and provided teaching that became so beneficial to me from that point on. More than that, it was that experience that taught me to choose first the thing that helps people, and secondly find the people that will seek to help you and third, weigh the financial reward that it promises. Those values have remained the core of my entire professional career.
Over the past 10 years in the workforce, I have sought to imbibe those values in everything I have done, which invariably led me to the world of technology and social entrepreneurship. Perhaps not inevitably, but sincerely. My passion is to ensure that every Black person around the world has access to the tools and resources they need to become the fully realised most functional version of themselves. Unlike other demographic populations around the world, Black people, no matter the geographic location of our bodies, typically find ourselves disadvantaged in terms of social mobility and access. The two spaces that affect the development of our world more than any other are civil society and technology. Hence, for the past few years, here at Do it Now Now, we have been asking and seeking to provide answers to the question, “what do Black people need to succeed in this day and age?”, because if you help the lowest-ranked or least likely to succeed in a space, do so, you are inevitably building up the rest of the population that could seek to utilise those services in the future. That’s why we start from the Black perspective and have worked with many organizations to help them develop strategies from that perspective as well. By working with some of the leading organisations in the world, like Google for Startups, the British Council, PwC and others, we have learned, adapted and evolved as an organisation to better support Black people into better circumstances.
I am excited to announce that I have an opportunity to do something extraordinary over the next few years. I have recently been appointed as a Trustee and Director of the Royal Voluntary Service in the UK. As the name suggests, the organisation, backed by The Royal Family, has a rich tradition of voluntarism that started with the second world war during which they engaged women to volunteer their time to the war effort; leading to a revolution that forever changed the country’s workforce as women became aware that they too are capable of work in all its forms. Today, Royal Voluntary Service is the leading voluntary organisation in support of the NHS and care facilities in communities across the country.
I am honoured to have received the invitation to join the Trustee Board because I recognise the opportunity it will provide me to utilise my learning in a new context (which is always a joy), but also help an organisation that has such an incredible influence over an integral industry understand the needs of Black people (who are typically a proxy for other people of colour groups and people from low-income backgrounds) when it comes to engaging in voluntarism in the formal volunteering sector. One of our key goals as an organisation is to significantly contribute to the increase of formal voluntarism within the Black community in the UK. Currently, according to the Office of National Statistics. 48% of the UK’s Black community would like to be formally involved in their community, yet only 8% are doing so. We’d like to see this number rise (particularly for young people) because, as I hope my story exemplified, formal voluntarism bring real benefit to those who engage in it. It provides work experience, professional references, the opportunity to see the world through a new lens, and to get accustomed early to navigating the White spaces every Black person needs to learn to navigate to survive as a minority.
Bayo Adelaja | Chief Do-er at Do it Now Now | This is how I got here