Our first post for a while, this is a guest blog from the wonderful Liana Skewes, who combines studying for a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing, with working as the co-ordinator for Student Futures Online at FedUni AND being a fantastic fashion blogger! Liana has kindly allowed us to repost the following from her blog, which you can find here: http://findingfemme.blogspot.com.au
One of the most common misconceptions people have about me is that I’m an extrovert. This probably stems from the notion that extroversion involves being outgoing and introversion refers to reclusive behaviour. In fact, introversion and extroversion are about social energy, specifically where the energy from social activity comes from. Its no wonder when I’m confident, or energetic, or willing to have a go that people think I’m outgoing. Especially when I am often in positions of visibility, such as performing. Continue reading →
On this blog, we don’t tend to get political. There are plenty of people out there already writing about politics for a start, and we want to encourage everyone to develop as leaders and follow their passions regardless of their personal views. Sometimes though, a political story transcends politics to teach us some significant leadership lessons.
A few days ago, as I’m sure you’ve seen, the current coalition government of Australia decided not to allow their MPs a free vote on same-sex marriage. This means that if a vote does occur in this parliament, any MP who represents either of those parties will be obliged to vote against the right of individuals to marry a partner who identifies as the same gender. Whether they personally agree with it or not.
In a representative democracy governments will always legislate according to their own policies, we elect them to make those calls and are given the opportunity every few years to kick them out if we don’t agree with them. Does our government provide constituents with sufficient voice, given that surveys have indicated that support for marriage equality across Australia is sitting at around 70%? Wouldn’t a plebiscite in this term of government be an appropriate option?
My personal view, and one that is apparently shared by around 70% of Australians, is that someone in a modern, forward-thinking egalitarian society should be able to marry someone who identifies with any gender or none if that’s what they want to do. My sister lives in a country where same-sex marriage is legal and was able to marry her long-term partner (who happens to be female) a few years ago – it was a great day and she is visibly happier and healthier being able to live an authentic life as a result. This blog isn’t here to try to persuade you on marriage equality – you hold your views and I hold mine – I’m fine with that.
It’s OK that governments don’t consult the public on every decision – 70% have our chance in a year or so to change to a government that agrees with us on this. However, is it okay to not allow their individual MPs to vote for themselves or to truly represent their constituents?
Leaders fall broadly into two fields – those who try to persuade people of their point of view, and those who try to represent the point of view of the people. It is very easy to interpret the government’s action as an act of infantilising and neutering their own teams. If so, leaders run the risk of demonstrating both a lack of conviction in their own beliefs and their ability to persuade others to get behind them, and an unwillingness to lead on behalf of people who personally disagree with them. No wonder public trust for politicians is low – if you as a leader don’t trust the people around you to be able to make the right call, how can you expect others to?
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter – please leave a comment if you have something to say!
With the rise of social media and an increasingly connected world, we are also seeing the rise of online activism. Being able to stay curled up at home when it’s cold and miserable and still be doing something to help others is an incredibly attractive prospect. But is it really helpful?
There are numerous different ways to volunteer online, ranging from signing a petition for a cause through websites such as Avaaz, Change.org or GetUp! to volunteering writing or IT skills to a particular cause. It’s hard to say how much impact your signature will have on a petition, but nobody can deny that they can create change – Avaaz have successfully used their online campaigns to lobby governments and big business on 251,804,704 actions since 2007.
Another sort of online activism that receives a huge amount of attention is via Facebook. As easy as it is to ‘like’ a cause you are interested in on Facebook, studies have shown that engagement from this sort of social media is fleeting and does not lead to any sort of meaningful impact. At best, it is spreading awareness of a cause without a follow-on effect. Though that’s not a bad thing in itself, either. You liking a post by Amnesty may introduce one of your facebook friends to their great work. You never know!
There are real and long-lasting changes that can be made by online volunteers. You could volunteer through the UN Online Volunteering portal, which links volunteers up to thousands of different opportunities from hundreds of reputable not-for-profit and non-governmental organisations ranging from writing, translation and research through to training and project management.
Another cool online opportunity could be to help transcribe field notes, specimen details and dairy entries for exhibits in Australian Museums or help Operation War Diary to discover amazing stories about World War I by reading and tagging some of their 1.5 million diary pages!
Online volunteering cops a lot of flack for being a ‘soft’ option. But I think it’s safe to say that if done the right way it can and will make a difference to the global community.
I’m a pretty big fan of volunteering. I truly believe that volunteers have a huge impact on societies in terms of wellbeing, community health and the economy. Free labour is of course much cheaper than paying someone under the right circumstances. That being said, over the past few years I’ve been watching a new volunteering trend that I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with:
I’m sure you’ve heard the word before and probably know people who’ve been voluntourists themselves. The stereotype of a voluntourist is a middle-class Westerner with a high level of education who pays a company to head over to a developing nation or a remote Indigenous community and help out by building a house/working in an orphanage/teaching English for a short period of time. Essentially wealthy do-gooders who want to get a more “authentic” and feel-good experience out of their overseas holiday.
Unfortunately, this idea that Westerners can always help out those in “less fortunate” nations no matter what our skills and as long as we can pay our way is not only wrong, but incredibly harmful to the very communities we are trying to help. It sees us fall back into the trap of colonial missionaries who felt it their duty to tame the savages and educate them in the ways of the civilised world, without considering the beliefs and culture of the community they were entering. In particular, by young foreigners paying to come and complete tasks such as building mud houses, they are unwittingly taking these jobs away from locals who may well be more qualified to complete them and who would benefit from the employment.
This also creates an unequal power dynamic between the volunteer and the host community, in which the volunteer has a large amount of power over the locals because the locals must be grateful for the “sacrifice” the volunteer is making for them.
Another key issue with voluntourism is the lack of checks and balances in place for volunteers with some agencies.
In Australia we place a huge emphasis on responsible volunteering, which often includes police and working with children checks and codes of conduct (including rules for social media) for volunteers. Yet, it’s pretty common to see photos of a voluntourist hugging a smiling African kid on facebook accompanied by pages of comments stating “omg soooo cute, ur such a good person!!”
If a stranger came into a preschool in Australia and starting hugging and taking photos of kids we’d probably call the cops. Why is it ok just because we’re overseas volunteering?
At the heart of the matter, I personally don’t want to be idolised by a young child in Africa, Asia or South America. And I don’t want them to idolise any other young Western guy who rides in as a two-week white knight. I want them to look up to people from their own community, with their own values. I want them to see the fantastic things leaders in their own communities are achieving and think “I want to grow up to be like them”.
So does this all mean we can’t volunteer overseas or in remote Indigenous communities? Not at all!
But it does mean that we need to get smarter about HOW we volunteer overseas. We need to make sure that what we’re doing is good for everybody involved and not just ourselves.
To do this, End Humanitarian Doucheryhas compiled a checklist of 8 things to keep in mind when looking to volunteer overseas:
Ensure that you won’t be taking/displacing jobs that could be valuable to the locals of the community.
Assess the impact of the organization you’ll be working with
Ensure goals are LOCALLY driven.
Consider the sustainability of what the organization does.
Question and be wary of organizations accepting un-vetted/unqualified volunteers (& and don’t let that be YOU!)
Research management and transparency of the organization
Consider implications of your presence in the community (and your departure)
Question organizations that are spending disproportionate amounts of resources on catering to the volunteers
So volunteer away! But make sure you do it responsibly.
What are your thoughts on volunteering overseas?
Have you had any experiences with voluntourism and its positives/negatives?
To “pay it forward” is to respond to someone’s kindness by then being kind to someone else. Ultimately the idea of this is to create a wave of kindness amongst humanity. Imagine a tsunami, but instead of water and destruction there is kindness and happiness. That’s pretty cool.
Yesterday in Australia it was Pay It Forward Day, where you are encouraged to act with generosity towards others and set off the kindness motion. It is a day dedicated to doing something without expecting anything in return, which is awesome. But why are we only expected to notably act with such kindness on one day of the year? Why not pay it forward on 365 days of the year? Yes, it is important to actively recognise a powerful phenomenon such as this, but if we all practiced it as part of our everyday lives would it really be necessary to dedicate a single day to it?
Is it just an excuse for your kindness to be noticed?
There’s no extrinsic reward for paying it forward, you don’t get a lollipop or trophy for being kind, which is possibly why there is not a lot of kindness in the world. People are motivated by materials and receiving, they won’t pay it forward because there is nothing in it for them. Don’t feel bad, we all do it, it’s the truth of today. But don’t be fooled, there is something in it for you. It’s that wonderful feeling of internally knowing thatyou did something great and made a permanently positive impact on someone’s life. That’s the power you have as a human, you can change people’s lives. And you can do this by simply being kind, acting with generosity, being considerate, seeing a need and acting on it.
When you reflect later on in life, imagine the feeling of knowing that you contributed some goodness to this world, that you made someone’s life that bit better.
That feeling should be enough to not only pay it forward today, but every day. You should never underestimate the magnitude of your actions, so why fit all of your kindness into one day? And sometimes, kindness is kind to you. You might choose to help someone carry their groceries, and one day, someone might just help you. It’s like a kindness boomerang.
So I hope you did something nice for someone yesterday, that you received a kindness too and that you pay it forward today, not because that’s what were told to do, but because you are human and you can.
And then do it again tomorrow, then the next day, then the next and so on. Make ordinary lives extraordinary.
The concept of The Captain’s Pick (CP) has been thrown around a lot recently in the media, and this blog is going to be a quick look at what that actually means, and whether it’s a good idea as a leader to make one or not.
For the uninitiated, the Captain’s Pick (yet another sporting term stolen by politicians in a sports mad country: Shirtfronting, Down to the wire, Heavy hitter etc.) refers to a decision made, or to the selection of a candidate by a Party Leader without consultation with colleagues, the electorate or due political process (as appropriate). The most recent example of its use in politics has been Tony Abbot’s award of an Australian Knighthood to Prince Phillip – a man who is neither short of a few titles, or an Australian – without even mentioning it in passing to his cabinet, leading to ‘some’ dissenting voices.
With the exception of Dominic Knight literally everybody is giving the PM a hard time over it, and not just the ones you’d expect (Andrew Bolt and Rupert Murdoch both got involved). Of course, this isn’t the first time the CP has been thrown about by a sitting Prime Minister – Julia Gillard famously preferred Nova Peris over Trish Crossin in 2013 and got about as positive reaction as Tony has this time. When Kevin Rudd took over for the home stretch of the election campaign, he wasted no time in invoking the CP when choosing Peter Beattie for Forde.
Leaving aside the individual merits of either of the CP above because there are plenty of people debating them for us, is the concept of the CP such a bad one? Is it “an inherently weak Prime Minister’s way of trying to assert an authority that he no longer has” (Tim Dunlop), or indicative of a leader who “is prepared to kick arse all the way to the next election” (Gabrielle Chan)? Does it make a difference whether you are a Prime Minister, CEO or an actual sporting captain?
On the one hand, you could argue that it’s leadership by position, rather than deed – by making the CP, you’re essentially saying “no-one is going to reject my decision because I’m the boss” – it’s about perceived strength. Or is it about weakness? Maybe it’s more a case of “I really want to do this, but I’m afraid that I’ll get shot down so I’m just going to do it without telling anyone”.
On the other hand, don’t we choose our leaders partly because we want them to make decisions? By electing someone as PM, playing under a captain or working for the boss aren’t we saying “I trust you do make the right choices”? Imagine if Michael Clarke had to consult with all his teammates before he changed the field positions?
I think that’s the point – Michael Clarke does have the authority to make and enforce decisions based solely on his own judgement because the decisions he makes have to be made quickly and in the midst of a match. He is genuinely a captain, and no matter how much you love cricket, his choices are unlikely to affect that many people in a significant way. Whereas not only do Tony Abbot’s choices have a rather wider impact, but presumably the PM wasn’t under any pressure to Knight Prince Phillip. It’s unlikely he walked into his office on Australia Day and suddenly realised he had to Knight someone, Phillip being the first person that came to mind (although it might seem like that’s exactly what happened). Abbot had the time to think, consult with colleagues, judge public opinion. He could still have made the same decision, but at least then he would have had some back up. As it is, his party and strongest supporters have openly criticised him – it could end up being the single most damaging decision of his term in office, but it wasn’t the decision itself that was so bad (stranger people than Prince Phillip have been given honours) it was the fact that Abbot immediately owned it, totally – he turned himself into a figure of ridicule.
The problem with unilateral decisions is that you’re the one who has to wear it if they go wrong, so you’ve either got to be pretty confident it won’t or desperate. Gillard’s selection of Nova Peris had some pretty clear potential upsides electorally and so it can be argued that the pick was a risk worth taking. The main issue I have with Tony Abbot’s pick is that I can’t imagine what he thought was the best case scenario – there was never likely to be celebrations in the street at further recognition of an old man who has spent his life doing good things because his wife’s vast wealth means he can, so at best Abbot could have expected a national disinterested shrug.
A business leader who makes a CP in giving a high-ranking job to a friend or family member instead of going through a recruitment process generally does it in the reasonable expectation that they have the skills necessary to do the job well. If it turns out they don’t, the leader is probably going to lose their job. The football coach who consistently selects his son or daughter in the team has to be pretty confident that they are better than other players they could have chosen. If not, they’re going to lose the respect of the team and probably, ultimately, their job as a result when they turn against him. Both types of CP are justifiable on the assumption that they will bring about a positive result, and if not, the ‘Captain’ takes the hit (one more sporting idiom for you).
By making a Captain’s Pick that is so clearly full of downside Abbot has to be prepared to take the consequences. This is not the biggest or worst decision he has ever made, in fact it wasn’t a decision he particularly needed to make at all but it could prove the most costly – when even your most rabid supporters start to doubt (in private and in public) your judgement it’s difficult to get it back. A leader cannot lead if no-one is following, so what do you do if your Captain’s Pick turns out to be the wrong one?
What do you think about Captain’s Picks?
As a leader, have you ever made a decision you later regretted? What were the consequences, and how did you resolve the situation?
For National Student Volunteer Week (NSVW) 2014, we’ll be publishing a series of posts answering that perennial question – why should I volunteer?
Today, we’re looking at the skills you can gain and develop through volunteering. I’m a big fan of skills-based volunteering – In my experience volunteers often come in two main ‘shapes’: Those who are passionate about a particular cause or sector, and those who have specific skills and want to use them for social good, but may not mind who they help. Obviously there are shades of grey between these two, and some people who are both, but let’s keep things simplistic for this one! I’m going to call the first type Mary, and the second type Cal.
Mary loves helping young people – she benefited from the support of some amazing volunteers during her tough teen years, and wants to give back to the organisations that helped her, as well as using her experience to help others. She has been volunteering for ten years with a range of youth services including Headspace, MATES Mentoring and the Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY), and has taken on a number of different roles within those organisations – filling gaps where they needed extra help. Mary completed a Cert 4 in Youth Work whilst volunteering, and has found that not only have the things she has learnt in her course helped her to volunteer more effectively, but that the practical work she does through volunteering has benefited her learning hugely – placements are great, but there is no substitute for working in the field on a weekly basis. She finds that her experiences actually exceed some of the criteria for the Cert 4, and she is looking at developing her caseworking skills in the future – working with different agencies to meet clients’ overall needs more effectively.
Cal is a finance guy – he worked in a bank in the year before Uni, and is now about to finish a Bachelors in Accounting and Finance. He is passionate about making money work for people, and just as passionate about helping other people to make great financial decisions. During his first year of Uni, Cal started applying for internships and work experience in the corporate financial sector, but repeatedly found himself up against hundreds of other candidates even for data entry positions. Realising that a) He only stood a slim chance of landing a role and b) Even if he did it would most likely be mundane work which didn’t utilise his skills effectively, he headed to the Uni Careers Service, who pointed him in the direction of the Volunteer Program. With their help, Cal found a local disability support organisation who were looking for someone 2 days a week to develop an ICT-based accounting system, to replace the mass of receipts and hand-written records they currently had. Cal found that what he had learnt in his first year enabled him to test, demonstrate and recommend different accounting packages to the board, who gave him the go ahead to train others across the organisation to use it. Not only did his resume look in better shape as a result, but he decided to spend the next summer working with another local organisation who, impressed by what they had heard about him, offered Cal the chance to join them as a volunteer financial adviser, meeting with the board on a weekly basis. When he leaves Uni, not only will Cal have an impressive array of high-level (for his age) experience on the resume, but he has pledged to do Pro Bono work for at least 4 days a month at a Not-For-Profit financial management organisation.
Cal and Mary are not real people, of course, but they are based on real and realistic experiences of those who choose to volunteer – not only can you find a great volunteer role which uses your ‘day job’ skills and interests, but if you do a bit of research and talk to the right people, you can even find a role which enhances them.
For National Student Volunteer Week, we wanted students to have the chance to ‘upskill’ a little – We have run workshops on personal/social values and leadership and supporting asylum seekers/refugees in the community. We have also persuaded some of our awesome staff to volunteer their time to teach students new skills – knitting and playing the ukulele!
If you have an experience of a time when volunteering has boosted your skills in some way (could be for a job, or even a hobby), We’d love to hear about them.
If you’re a FedUni student looking for a volunteer role which truly uses your skills, or which will develop new ones, get in touch at L.firstname.lastname@example.org.