Olumide Akerewusi is a lifelong volunteer. His volunteer involvement in his early days influenced his career path in fundraising and social impact. Mide is the founder and CEO of AgentsC, a social impact organization primarily interested in the idea of equity philanthropy. He helps social impact organizations optimize their fundraising and their ability to engage philanthropists and organizations to support their work. He is often called upon to advise on how to create more equitable forms of giving and his work is valuable in helping to strengthen and sustain the non-profit sector.
Volunteer Canada sat down with Mide to get his perspective on the current state of volunteering in Canada. Our Q & A led to an interesting discussion on how we define volunteerism in Canada and how it differs across other countries and cultures.
- Will you talk a little about why volunteering is so important in this current context?
Volunteering was a steppingstone to getting my first job, I graduated during a recession in the early 90s in the UK and discovered that many institutions were not interested in hiring black folk, outside of jobs involving manual labour. While unemployed and looking for work, I decided to volunteer and I discovered that I was doing a lot of fundraising, donor relations and stewardship. I also gained experience in writing letters to donors.
Since then, I have never stopped volunteering and it has been parallel to my career development, it continues to contribute to my professional interest in fundraising and I have applied that learning to my professional life. Work and volunteering have always been closely linked for me. The more I appreciate the importance of giving back, the more I want to give back.
I would love to see many more people link the power of volunteering with the power of career building, and the power of career building to the power of volunteering.
- How do you define volunteering?
Giving my time, my knowledge, my interest, my passion, my financial resources, to causes and issues that are important to me. Becoming an investor in the livelihood of other people, being generous with those things that are at my disposal, to share with others in this understanding that we have this shared humanity.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”Dr. Martin Luther King
Volunteering helps us tackle injustices more than any other practice. Unless we can collectively come together and tackle the issues and problems of our society, these injustices will never be solved. It’s a misnomer that institutions are the worlds greatest problem solvers – it’s people on the ground (civil society, registered charities, activist groups, volunteer groups, humanitarians) that are the ones keeping the fabric of our world together. Volunteering gives you the power to do it – it is your free will; it is all within your control – when we volunteer, we enrich our souls by helping others.
- Why do you think volunteering will matter in the future?
Volunteering matters in the future as much as it has mattered in the past. Volunteers have played a role across every sector of our society – like keeping corporations and governments accountable, executing major movements such as the civil rights movement, and demonstrations such as Black Lives Matter, which have catalyzed the global conversation about systemic anti-Black racism.
We need to extricate ourselves from constant conflict, so unless volunteers are mobilizing to heal our world, we are going to be at a very dire place. There will be no time in our human existence that we won’t need volunteers – people to uplift the dignity of those who are oppressed, those who are marginalized.
The beauty of volunteering is that you can choose where your intersection is. That spirit of protest is intertwined in volunteering, today we call it activism, but that is an entirely volunteer led initiative.
- What types of infrastructure supports does Canada need to consider as it pertains to the ways people want to contribute and volunteer in the future?
I think the current Canadian infrastructure is counterculture to volunteering. The culture of volunteering in Canada is very different than my African culture and British culture. My #1 observation is that white Canadian culture is solitary. It prioritizes the individual rather than the community, so volunteering can help people in Canada connect with their communities. In the UK, volunteering forces you into collective action, protesting and standing up for rights. On the African continent, and other parts of the global south, volunteering leans towards helping our neighbours. Wherever or however volunteering is practiced, it involves a community of like-minded people who share the same aspirations. It encourages you to think about the broader community and takes you away from self-preoccupation.
Time is probably the most equitable asset – and part of the challenge in our society is how to figure out how many of those hours we want to invest in the lives of others and who we consider to be a volunteer.
Is there something the government or employers can do to support volunteering? Yes. I would like to see more people volunteering with and for Black-serving, Black-focused, and Black-led causes. But I don’t believe we can rely on governments and corporations to set our mandates for volunteering. We are the community; we have the responsibility to volunteer and build our communities.
- Anything else you want to share from your perspective as a leader in this field?
Volunteering from the perspective of the black immigrant in Canada, it is important that we also try to understand how different communities and cultures view volunteering. The term “volunteering” might not be common in many places, but the act that we label as volunteering is.
The idea of “volunteering” does not exist in many immigrant cultures in Canada – instead, (as in my case), it exists as a way of life. There are concepts and words around the world that describe what it means to be in community – what our responsibilities in community are. There are concepts about our role in society, to help others in society. The word that comes to mind is the Bantu term – Ubuntu (I am because we are). So, for charitable, corporate, and government institutions seeking to engage diverse cultures in Canadian volunteering, those invitations need to be culturally appropriate to those you are inviting. There are many ways to view, understand, and engage in volunteering. One of those ways is to learn how Black people practice Ubuntu, and apply this concept to your volunteering strategy/practice.
At Volunteer Canada, we seek to learn about the many and varied volunteering experiences of Canadians. Join the conversation, and share your story, at empathyinaction.ca.