1. Introduction Volunteering transcends physical and cultural boundaries and exists in some form in most societies. But talking about volunteering across cultures is complex because the concept itself has different meanings depending on cultural, political and social settings. In this reflective piece, I will explore the concept through the lens of my life’s journey across cultures and boundaries. Although, I was born in Rwanda, he undertook part of my third level education in Kenya, lived in Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo) and paid visits to Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda before emigrating to Europe. I have been living in Ireland since the mid-1990s and has travelled widely within the European Union and beyond. My contribution will focus on voluntary activities in East Africa and in Europe with particular focus on Ireland. This contribution will also reflect on why some of the voluntary activities undertaken by migrants in western societies are often not captured by methods used in measuring volunteering within the framework of scholarship on social capital.
Volunteering can be formal or informal; it can be documented or undocumented. Volunteering has different meanings in different cultures and hence studying the phenomenon is very complex. As a young person growing up in a society where oral tradition was the norm, I was perplexed by the fact that volunteering seemed natural and people did not get any gratitude for their time and or labour. It is by looking at my culture that I realised that the embeddedness of volunteering stemmed from the Ubuntu worldview which emphasises the need for cooperation and reciprocity in society. I later see how after independence, people’s propensity to volunteer was exploited by presidents Julius Nyerere and Jomo Kenyatta in Tanzania and Kenya respectively. Volunteering and cooperation became the backbone of Ujamaa and Harambee policies.
Emigrating to Europe also opened my eyes, when it came to volunteering. Volunteering was a pathway that I found useful in making connections and feeling at home in Ireland. In paying a closer look, I found volunteering in Ireland and in the ‘West’ was in general formal and documented and above all recognised. Conscious of individualism associated with the economic boom, the Irish government established a Taskforce on Active Citizenship to explore how to foster the volunteering and activism spirit within the Irish population. This was on top of the process of Social Partnership that brought together the government and other actors to discuss economic and social policy.
Since the collapse of Irish economy following a decade or so of economic boom (widely known as the Celtic Tiger), the Irish society is soul searching and exploring the values that should underpin the way forward. Interestingly enough the values that are being flagged are similar to the Ubuntu wordview’s tenets underpinned by the need to be each other’ keeper. Volunteering is here to stay and interest in researching social capital in the last two decades highlights why this is the case.
2. Ubuntu Worldview Volunteering as a concept is not something that crossed my mind before moving to Europe. Volunteering was part and parcel of my upbringing in other words it was a given i.e. taken for granted. This stems from the fact that volunteering is embedded in the Ubuntu worldview that is based on the maxim “I am because we are, We are because I am”. Ubuntu (humanness) philosophy was brought to the academic arena by the work of John S. Mbiti (1969, 1970 and 1990). It is argued that Ubuntu is the “art of being a human being” (Bhengu, 1996:10). Furthermore Ubuntu is defined as “an ancient African world-view based on the primary values of intense humanness, caring, sharing, respect, compassion and associated values, ensuring a happy and qualitative human community life in the spirit of family” (Broodryk, 2002:56). Ubuntu “asserts that the common ground of our humanity is greater and more enduring than the differences that divide us. It is so, and it must be so, because we share the same fateful human condition. We are creatures of blood and bone, idealism and suffering. Though we differ across cultures and faiths, and though history has divided rich from poor, free from unfree, powerful from powerless and race from race, we are still all branches on the same tree of humanity” (Mandela, 2006:XXV).
Ontologically Ubuntu depicts “human being as ‘being – with others’” (Louw 2001:1 quoted by Forster 2006). Ubuntu philosophy suggests that “to be human is to belong to the whole community, and to do so involves participating in the beliefs, ceremonies, rituals and festivals of that community” (Mbiti, 1992:2). Although Ubuntu strongly encourages communitarianism, individuals are encouraged to be active. “The enjoyment of life implicates that a person is aware of the value which gives joy to life and how to pursue this, especially being the master of life, as a person in the milieu of community and society” (Bhengu 1996:64). Ubuntu also implies active participation (Shutte, 1993:46-51). “Being in a community is not a matter of belonging only, the truest form of being in community of ubuntu is to participate” (Forster, 2006:310 emphasis in the original). Furthermore true or genuine Ubuntu “incorporates dialogue, i.e. it incorporates both relation and distance. It preserves the other … without letting him[her] slip into the distance” (Macquarrie, 1972:110; Shutte, 1993:49, 51 quoted by Louw, 2001:26).
Ubuntu worldview informed the oral tradition in Rwanda and hence my formative years. It formed a base for my transition from oral to written tradition achieved through education. A combination of both the oral and written traditions allowed him to appreciate volunteering both in East Africa and the West as well as between formal and informal volunteering. Furthermore, it allowed him to appreciate how volunteering is embedded in cultures where timesheets are not common and the opposite is the case where most practices are formalised. To embark on this journey in the following section, we will look at my recollection of volunteering practices in Rwanda especially during my youth and the society’s transition from oral to written tradition.
3. The Volunteering Practices in the Context of Ubuntu
Proverbs are used in cultures with oral tradition to pass knowledge and wisdom from one generation to another. I vividly recall my interactions with my paternal grandmother where proverbs and story telling were omnipresent. Proverbs that used to dominate these interactions include: Akanwa karya ntikaguhe kavuza induru ntiwumve - when a mouth that eats and forgets others cries no one hears. Another one with a similar meaning that often came up in discussions was - Ruriye abandi rutakwibagiwe - Death that takes away others does not forget you. Two other proverbs that my grandmother, Sarah Kandinga often used are: Urukwavu rushaje rwoka abana - an old rabbit relies on his/her children to survive and Ahatari umwaga uruhu rw’urukwavu rwisasira batandatu - where there is no hatred, the hide of a rabbit provides a sleeping mat for six people. These proverbs highlighted the importance of solidarity in the Rwandan society especially in my pre-teen years. I was taught the importance of being my neighbour’s minder. The importance of achieving humanness through being part of the community is enshrined in another Rwandan proverb: Umutwe Umwe wifasha gusara ntiwigira inama - One head can help itself to go mad but does’t offer itself counsel.
Beside story telling and proverbs, I witnessed many forms of volunteering practices in my youth. They included helping families to take the sick to the hospital before modern forms of transport were widely available. In the absence of ambulances, the sick were carried to the hospital in ingobyi – a traditional stretcher, which sometimes required up to twelve men to take the sick to a hospital up to 25 kilometres away from his/her home. Likewise, if and when a person in the community needed a hand to build or refurbish their home, members of the community would support the family through free labour or provision of building material. I also recall that when I was growing up, harvest time was a time when community spirit was in its fulsome. It would have been difficult for a poor family, unable to pay full labour cost, to harvest sorghum before predators started helping themselves to the harvest. It was often the case that people in the community joined up and harvested as a group on each other’s farms. This was important in responding to changes in weather or indeed to avoid losing their harvest to birds and other pests.
The community spirit and volunteerism were also very visible at the time of birth of a baby, death of a family member or a wedding. In my youth I observed how neighbours, family and friends joined in sharing the joys associated with the arrival of a baby or a marriage and in the sorrows following the death of an individual in the community. In the case of birth, the community ensured that the needs of the baby and the mother were catered for through visits, gifts, washing up and so on. Likewise, marriage was a time of coming together and demonstrated the metaphor that the woman got married to the family and the community rather than just the groom and his family. Apart from dressing up for the occasion, the community offered gifts, free labour (for cooking and transport among other things) and, more importantly, mentoring for the newly wed. Death also brought the community together. Besides helping with the funerals, the community joined the family of the deceased in a mourning period that lasted for a week and ensured that the family was fed during the period. On the seventh day, when there was a celebration to mark the passing of the deceased, the community attending the ceremony dealt in public with all the outstanding issues including debts. Sometimes the debts were forgiven as a sign of solidarity. Likewise, on some occasions, people who owed debts to the deceased paid up their debts. Because the society was patriarchal, wives were often not aware of all the creditors and debtors and on the day everyone was expected to come clean or forget about the credits or debits of the deceased.
Likewise, in the absence of formal banking especially in rural areas, revolving credit schemes were common features of East African economies. This may include, for example, a group of twelve people coming together and agreeing the amount of money the individuals would keep aside month and then give it as a lump sum to a member of the group every month and go around the group in the twelve month period. This system is also called tontine and is similar to some aspect of the Grameen Bank championed by the Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh. Some of the elements of tontines have emerged in the Rwandan Diaspora communities in countries like Belgium. Another aspect of the revolving credit scheme, which has lately been formalised, involved for example groups of women who could not afford to buy a goat or a cow on their own approaching for example a funder through third parties, such as NGOs, and were assisted in accessing grants to buy some livestock (not enough to go around the group). Anyone in the group who didn’t receive an animal from the grant would receive one of the first born female calves born to livestock purchased from the grant received by the group. The beneficiaries paid off their debts through the livestock they gave back to the group.
The use of folklore, proverbs and story telling to cultivate the spirit of cooperation and solidarity within the community was an important experience in my youth. Another important element of culture linked to volunteerism that comes to my mind, is the fact that grandchildren were encouraged to lend a hand to their grandparents. This could include fetching water from the well, gathering firewood and occasionally spending some nights at their grandparents’ houses. This was understandable in the context in a culture where old age was venerated and associated with wisdom and commanded respect. Spending time with their grandparents also offered children the freedom to discuss issues that would have been taboo to discuss with their parents. One that springs to my mind is sexual education which would have never been part of discussions between parents and children. Volunteering and helping grandparents fulfilled a number of roles, including learning, keeping them company and offering social protection among other things.
Many of the forms of volunteering discussed in this section are informal. After independence the East African nation states formalised the traditional forms of volunteering and solidarity and in most cases this provided platforms and slogans to link traditional practices promoting solidarity with economic development. In the following sections we will pay a closer look at two formalised volunteering schemes: Harambee in Kenya and Ujamaa in Tanzania. There were other versions of formalised volunteerism in other east and central African countries, including Umuganda in Rwanda and African Socialism in Zambia among others.
4. Formalised Forms of Volunteering Practices in East Africa While volunteering is taken as a given in east African countries especially in the rural areas, as highlighted earlier, the situation is different in cities because city dwellers are likely to be more individualistic and less likely to adopt communitarian lifestyles. However, in the East African cities there are traits of communitarianism especially in poor neighbourhood where life is difficult and every now and then people go to their friends and relatives to look for timely help in their hour of need. In affluent neighbourhoods, such as gated communities, traditional forms of communal lifestyle are difficult if not impossible to practice. Since independence, new forms of formalised communitarianism have emerged, partly thanks to the upbringing of some members of the elites in rural areas. Let us pay a look at some forms of formalised volunteering.
One of the main proponents of drawing on African cultures to develop newly independent post-colonial nation states was Mwalimu [Teacher] Julius Nyerere. Nyerere was not alone in his postulations of African socialism and the appeal to what some critics have summarized as a non-existent idyllic vision of a traditional Africa of manifest harmony and communitarianism (Boesen et. al, 1977; Freyhold, 1979; Ergas, 1980: 387-410). Kwame Nkrumah's agenda for "social revolution", Leopold Sedhar Senghor's "negritude" and Kenneth Kaunda's "Zambian humanism" all reflected similar attitudes among these postcolonial African leaders (Ibhawoh and Dibua 2003:62). In the following sections, we will pay a closer look at two policies promoted by African elites in post-colonial Kenya and Tanzania i.e. Harambee and Ujamaa. There are other initiatives in other countries in East Africa and I hope that this piece will inspire members of East African and indeed other African diaspora communities to look back and explore how some of these policy tools have impacted on their propensity to volunteer after arrival and settlement in the West.
4.1. Harambee It is argued that the word Harambee was used by porters in coastal areas of Kenya such as Mombasa, Lamu and Malindi and later spread across the country (Chieni, 1998). Subsequently, “the word [Harambee was] … adopted as a political slogan to symbolise the unity of man to help achieve a worthy end. It encourages … [people] to give their best in order to complete any task at hand for community development” (Chieni, 1998). Prior to the official adoption of the concept, different names were used to describe the concept across Kenya, these included: Ngwatio in Kikuyu, Konyir in Luo, Obwasio in Luhya, Mwethia in Kamba, and Ematonyok in Maasai (Chieni, 1998).
The late Jomo Kenyatta (first Kenyan President) popularised the concept as a mobilizing slogan. On June 1st, 1963, he urged Kenyans to “work harder to fight … ignorance, sickness and poverty”. He went on to “give … the call HARAMBEE … [and further called] all [to] work harder together for … Kenya”. He expanded on the concept and the need for pulling together on December 13th, 1963, day of the state opening of parliament and said “Our moto ‘harambee’ was conceived in the realisation of the challenge of national building that now lies ahead of us. It was conceived in the knowledge that to meet this challenge, the government and the people of Kenya must pull together. We know only out of our efforts and toil can we build a new and better Kenya. This then is our resolution” (quoted by Chieni, 1998). Harambee is different from many forms of conventional volunteering in so far as volunteering in the context of Harambee is done through fundraising. The money raised is then used to implement a community initiative. In terms of amounts raised in recorded Harambees; in 1991, 26 million Kenyan Shillings (Ksh) were raised. The figure increased to Ksh 142 million in 1992. In 1993, the amount raised declined to Ksh 60 million and increased to Ksh 1.35 billion in 1997 (Waiguru, 2002:7-8). Between January 2000 and September 2002, a total of Ksh1.53 billion was raised from a total of 1,314 Harambees countrywide (Transparency International, 2002:4). Between January 2000 and September 2002, 761 education related Harambees were reported; they included “collections for primary schools, secondary schools, colleges, polytechnics and universities; fundraisings for school fees for individuals and district and constituency bursary funds; library stocking and overseas studies”. Church and religious projects accounted for 210 Harambees; health, water and electricity accounted for 9% of the total of Harambees reported. Furthermore, 63 Harambees were reported “for personal and private purposes including funeral and sport” and 75 Harambees had no stated purpose (Transparency International, 2002:5).
The concept of Harambee has attracted interest in the media, academia and aid agencies. Chieni (1998) identified four main principles of Harambee, these are: (1) bottom up development strategy - this means that people at the community and grassroots level participate actively in the planning and implementation of the local development projects; (2) participation is guided by the principle of collective good rather than individual gain - what this means is that the end product benefits the public rather than just an individual; (3) the choice of the project is supposed to be guided by the felt needs of the majority instead of leaving the task to the government and other change agents whose priorities in terms of project selection may not be those of the people, the ultimate beneficiaries; and (4) the project implementation is supposed to maximize the utilization of local resources such as labour, funds and materials which would otherwise have remained unmobilised or expensive.
Researchers have been looking at the impact of Harambee in promoting development and social cohesion in Kenya. Waiguru (2002) identified the urban-rural divide and how Harambee can be used to level the playing field for the periphery (rural areas) on the centre (city). Moreover, she also highlighted the fact that well-off districts benefited more than poorer areas. She further noted that fact that politicians benefited very significantly from the Harambee movement. Notwithstanding the achievements of Harambee, Waiguru (2002:8-10) identified a number of limitations of Harambee. These include: (1) political patronage - in the 1980s for example it is estimated that former president Daniel Arap Moi contributed 1% of the total funds raised and around 5% of funds raised in the 1990s. Furthermore, in the 1990s, 100 principal donors accounted for 16% of the reported Harambee contributions; (2) Harambee was elections driven in the 1980s and 1990s - two election years (1992 and 1997) account for 60% of the decade’s total (the year 1992 accounts for 26% of the funds raised in the first half of the decade (1990-94), and 1997 for 60% of the funds raised in the second half (1995-99)); (3) lack of transparency and accountability - many of the beneficiaries could not be traced as many of the self help groups were formed ad hoc during elections and disbanded afterwards; and (4) ethical concerns – including the usage of harambee to further politicians’ careers and the use of the harambee movement as a campaign vehicle during election time - members of parliament used harambees to justify their more than 150% increase in income (to approximately US$ 6,400 per month), despite Kenya’s economic predicaments because their constituents expected them to contribute to harambees.
Despite its limitations, a number of push factors explain the resilience of Harambee in Kenya. A number of fundamentals for successful harambee were identified, these include: (1) projects initiated by local communities to increase their access to government resources by pressuring government support; (2) that perceived benefits of Harambee are very attractive to local people and unattainable through normal government development process; (3) that local people are becoming increasingly self-reliant and are organising themselves successfully for self-development; and (4) that national level leadership and local level leadership are generating motivational themes and ethics to make Harambee a philosophically acceptable principle and way of development (Mbithi and Rasmusson, 1977:145).
It is argued that Nyerere's philosophy of Ujamaa was rooted in traditional African values and had as its core the emphasis on familyhood and communalism of traditional African societies (Ibhawoh and Dibua 2003:62). Ujamaa "was supposed to embrace the communal concepts of African culture such as mutual respect, common property and common labour" (Osabu-We, 2000:171). The ideal society, Nyerere (1967: 16) argued, must always be based on these three essentials: there must be equality, because only on that basis will men work cooperatively; there must be freedom, because the individual is not served by society unless it is his; and there must be unity, because only when society is unified can its members live and work in peace, security and well being. These three essentials, Nyerere further contended are not new to Africa; they have always been part of the traditional social order (Ibhawoh and Dibua, 2003:62). The challenge was how to extend these traditional values to the modern postcolonial setting. It was in meeting this challenge that Nyerere postulated Ujamaa - his version of African Socialism - as an answer. Since Western-style capitalism was seen as incompatible with the aspirations of the newly independent African states, and indeed, the underdeveloped world, a more desirable alternative was socialism (Ibhawoh and Dibua, 2003:62). Nyerere further argued that "no underdeveloped country can afford to be anything but socialist" (Nyerere, 1961: 2).
Critics of Ujamaa suggested that self-reliance implied isolationism. Moreover, Nyerere (1968:319) argued that “self-reliance is a positive affirmation that … [Tanzania’s] own development … [would depend on the country’s] own resources” (Nyerere, 1968:319). Furthermore, as part of the implementation of Ujamaa, cooperatives and Ujamaa villages facilitated by the government emerged. Although there were critics within and without, there is evidence to suggest that “peasant farmers were quite willing to cooperate, and had in fact formed various self-help organizations in response to colonial exploitative policies” (Osabu-We, 2000:166-7 quoted by Ibhawoh and Dibua, 2003:68). Over time shortcomings of Ujamaa policies became apparent and eventually Tanzania embraced globalisation therefore becoming an open economy.
Solidarity and other virtues of Ubuntu are still important in Tanzania today. It is easy to dismiss the merits of solidarity and volunteerism but, as outlined above, when someone is sick and the hospital is miles away from the village where one lives, it is important to help each other out. Likewise, as I learnt from my parents, sometimes in order to access education when there are no schools in the village, pupils have to rely on family and friends who live closer to the centres of education. Role models are also needed and their contribution to development can’t be overstated. Interestingly enough my parents met because my father who was attending a school close to my grandparents’ house (on my mother’s side), befriended my maternal uncle and eventually my father was taken in by his future father and mother-in-law as his home was tens of miles away from the school. There is no doubt that such experiences are taking place 50 years on in rural Tanzania despite the shortcomings of Ujamaa as highlighted above.
5. Formal Volunteering Practices in Ireland
On arrival in Ireland in 1995, I noted contrasting differences between volunteering practices in East Africa and in Ireland. My interactions prior to my migration to Europe with ‘Westerners’ and other nationalities helped him to develop cultural competences needed to adjust to life in the West. In many ways, my induction began when I was twelve years old and was advised that home was where I was at any moment in time as I was just about to go to a boarding school and away from my family for an extended period of time for the first time in my life. As a result of my socialisation with ‘Westerners’ through my education and professional life in Africa and my grandmother’s wisdom, after my arrival in Ireland, I joined the local mainstream Church and started volunteering with aid agencies. In doing so, I started formally volunteering in Ireland for example by doing some translations for an NGO working in a French speaking developing country that needed to translate reports submitted by their partners in English for their stakeholders. I also assisted other migrants I came across through the local Church. Overtime my volunteering developed and eventually found myself working in the voluntary sector as a professional bridging the gap of the so called ‘Irish experience’ sometimes used by employers to exclude migrants from the labour market. Experience on the Irish labour market is valued unlike experience outside the European Union and other developed countries.
While working in social inclusion inner city Dublin, I discovered that volunteering was common in Ireland too. I noticed this through the work of neighbourhood watch, residents’ association, school management committees, homework clubs in socially deprived areas and so on. The main difference was that volunteering in Ireland is recognised and formal whereas in East in some parts of East Africa it is informal and taken for granted. The question therefore is, what is the difference between Irish volunteering and practices in East Africa? Beyond the personal experience of volunteering, in Ireland, there are formal mechanisms of volunteering akin to Ujamaa and Harambee as I discovered. These include mechanisms like social partnership and the taskforce on active citizenship. In the following sections I will expand on this.
5.1. Social Partnership Ireland has historically had a strong civil society. It was in this context that the government engaged in the social partnership process. In recognition of the importance of getting civil society involved in policy making, the social partnership model emerged to assist the elected representatives and the executive in developing policies to address the challenges Ireland faced in the pre-Celtic Tiger years. Social Partnership describes an approach to government where interest groups outside of elected representatives play an active role in decision-making and policy-making. This form of participative democracy enables social partners to enter discussions with government on a range of issues and to reach a consensus on policy in relation to employees’ rights, the minimum wage, social protection, public sector pay, industrial relations and so on. From 1987 Social Partnership became an important basis for government planning and policy-making in Ireland. The origins of Social Partnership were in the extreme economic and social problems during the 1980s. In 1987, trade unions, employers and farmers were called to meetings that led to the national agreement, the Programme for National Recovery. This was followed by the Programme for Economic and Social Progress (PESP) in 1991; the Programme for Competitiveness and Work (PCW) in 1994; Partnership 2000 (P2000) in 1997; the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness (PPF) in 2000; and Sustaining Progress (SP) in 2003. The most recently concluded partnership negotiations that resulted in the Towards 2016 agreement in June 2006 (Government of Ireland, 2006:57).
The collapse of the Celtic Tiger triggered a debate on the role played by social partnership in the economic boom experienced by Ireland in the 1990s and the early parts of the 21st century. In post Celtic Tiger Ireland, the merits and the legacy of social partnership have been questioned. It is unlikely that this mechanism will be promoted in the future as it is blamed, rightly or wrongly, for inflating the economy by increasing the public sector wage bill which in turn made Ireland uncompetitive. The public Service Agreement 2010 – 2014 (also known as the Croke Park Agreement) that resulted from talks between the government and the public sector unions on pay and efficiency has attracted criticism in the media and opposition parties and might became a watershed in as far as it is seen as a hindrance to economic recovery. Other critics of the social partnership process point out that involvement in the process is by invitation only and question the role played by social partners outside the powerful employers and trade union representatives in the process in the first place. Accusations of cronyism have been about some of the actors. This, coupled with the unpopularity of the Croke Park Agreement, is likely to bring to end the social partnership model that Ireland was accustomed to between the late 1980s and the collapse of the Celtic Tiger at the end of the last decade.
5.2. Taskforce on Active Citizenship Cognisant of the fact that economic development led to individualism and therefore less volunteering and the fact that traditional structures such as the Church, political parties and trade unions among others did not have stronger membership as was the case in previous decade; the Irish government established a Taskforce on Active Citizenship to advise on how to harness civic spirit and active participation. The Taskforce conducted a nationwide consultation process to hear people’s views on what it meant to be an active citizen in 21st century Ireland. It produced a set of recommendations in its final report in March, 2007. According to the taskforce “Active Citizenship is about engagement, participation in society and valuing contributions made by individuals, whether they are employed or outside the traditional workforce. In practical terms, this engagement and participation may mean membership of a resident’s association or political party or lobby group, or volunteering to help out in a local sports club, or caring for a family member or neighbour, or simply being active and caring about the local neighbourhood, the environment as well as larger global and national issues” (Taskforce on Active Citizenship, 2007:2 emphasis in the original).
The Taskforce on Active Citizenship (2007:3) summed up that there was a lot of evidence of the benefits of social networks and engagement, including:
helping to address more effectively many social and economic problems, as individuals and civic organisations are involved in finding and implementing solutions
creating real economic and social benefits as high levels of interpersonal trust reduce the costs associated with extensive rules, contracts, litigation and bureaucracy
generating networks of support and connection, both within social groups and across groups
benefiting the individuals who participate in voluntary activities and community organisations
strengthening the quality of decision-making through the democratic process and the sense of belonging of individuals and communities
leading to a healthy and varied range of voluntary and community organisations which is good for democracy
The Taskforce made other recommendations covering many areas of the Irish civic and political life as well as specific recommendations to accommodate ethnic and cultural diversity in Ireland (for details, see: http://www.activecitizenship.ie/UPLOADEDFILES/Mar07/Taskforce%20Report%20to%20Government%20(Mar%2007).pdf). Since the publication of the report a number of volunteer bureaus were set up to encourage civic involvement. Critics argue that active citizenship is anything but volunteering. This explains why the issue of accountability became pervasive in Ireland after the bailout by the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund in 2010 following the recession that resulted from the collapse of the Celtic Tiger.
As recommended by the Taskforce, an Active Citizenship Office was established under the Department of the Taoiseach (Prime Minister). The Government Chief Whip, Mr. Pat Carey T.D. (member of the Irish Parliament), was assigned special responsibility for Active Citizenship and appointed a Steering Group to oversee the implementation of the Taskforce’s recommendations in October, 2008.
Solidarity and other values associated with the Ubuntu worldview emerge very strongly whenever there is social and or economic difficulties in a society especially when people realise that there is so much they can do on their own. At this moment in time, when Irish society is looking for a moral compass, values associated with the so called ‘traditional societies’, can be brought to bear as society seeks answers for things like overspending, over-borrowing, poor planning, greed and other ills of the last decade in Ireland. The eight virtues of the ideal person with Ubuntu: “kindness, generosity, living in harmony with others, friendliness, modesty, helpfulness, humility and happiness” (Broodryk, 2006:4) have some resonance with the discussions I have been privy to, in the last three years in Ireland. Reaching out to others, integrity, diligence, accountability, taking responsibility, volunteering and being each other keeper are values that the Irish are calling for in the current economic crisis and these values are at the centre of the eight virtues of Ubuntu philosophy as discussed earlier.
6. Volunteering and Social Capital in Countries in Multi-Ethnic Societies As discussed above volunteering is part and parcel of people’s daily life in East Africa especially in rural areas. Likewise, in Ireland and other countries of destination for migrants, there are efforts to get people civically active as demonstrated by the institutionalisation of social partnership and the taskforce on active citizenship. Likewise, we discussed how political elites tapped into the citizenry propensity to volunteer and instituted Harambee in Kenya and Ujamaa in Tanzania. In Ireland as well as in other ‘Western’ societies, the concept of social capital has gained prominence in the last decade in recognition of the need to engage the citizenly in economic, social, cultural and political development to compensate the decline in membership of political parties, Churches, Trade Unions and other traditional institutions that enjoyed large membership before the latest stages of modernisation epitomised by globalisation.
It is argued that, “the theory of social capital is, at heart, most straightforward. Its central thesis can be summed up in two words: relationships matter. By making connections with one another, and keeping them going over time, people are able to work together to achieve things that they either could not achieve by themselves, or could only achieve with greater difficulty. People connect through a series of networks and they tend to share common values with other members of these networks; to the extent that these networks constitute a resource, they can be seen as forming a kind of capital” (Field, 2003:1). Some social scientists focus on the instrumental implications of social capital. They argue that, “social capital is a metaphor about advantage. Society can be viewed as a market in which people exchange all variety of goods and ideas in the pursuit of their interest” (Burt, 2000:1-2). While such an approach might have relevance to some extent, if the motives of all those involved in voluntary associations were to be judged in the instrumental context, our society would be at loss. There are many more reasons why people choose to be civically active, limiting people’s intentions to what they can as individuals draw from the associations takes away from the many hours of unpaid voluntary work.
Bourdieu suggested that, “social capital is the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalised relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition — or in other words, to membership in a group — which provides each of its members with the backing of the collectivity-owned capital, a ‘credential' which entitles them to credit, in various senses of the word” (Bourdieu, 1986:248-9). For him, “the volume of social capital possessed by a given agent…depends on the size of network connections he can effectively mobilize and on the volume of the capital (economic, cultural or symbolic) possessed in his own right by each of those to whom he is connected” (Bourdieu, 1986: 249). Social capital is “the sum of the resources, actual or virtual, that accrue to an individual or a group by virtue of possessing a durable network of more or less institutionalised relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition” (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992:119).
It is argued that social capital lowers crime rates (Halpen, 1999; Putnam, 2000), better health outcomes (Wilkinson, 1996), improves longevity (Putnam, 2000), fosters better educational achievement (Coleman, 1988), enhances greater levels of income equality (Wilkinson 1996; Kawachi et al., 1997), improves child welfare and lower rates of child abuse (Cote and Healy, 2001), promotes less corrupt and more effective government (Putnam, 1995), and enhances economic achievement through increased trust and lower transaction costs (Fukuyama, 1995). Membership of voluntary associations is associated with trust and trustworthiness, reciprocity, sense of efficiency, co-operation, and acceptance of diversity, inclusiveness and common action (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2003).
Social scientists have identified implications of migrants’ and ethnic minorities’ social capital. These include, affecting the destination of migrants (Boyd, 1989; Koser, 1997; and Bauer & Zimmermann, 1997), providing social capital for entrepreneurship (Light & Bonacich, 1988; Zimmer & Aldrich, 1987; Portes, 1995; Sanders & Nee, 1996; and Cobas & DeOllos, 1989), providing occupational niches for employment (Bailey & Waldinger, 1991; and Hondagnew-Sotelo, 1994), and sharing resources that provide access to job opportunities in their new land (Anderson, 1974; and Fernandez-Kelly, 1995).
It is argued that “social capitalists” amongst refugee communities draw their expertise from “the package of customs, beliefs and practice from before their dislocation which continued to serve them in diasporic adjustment” (Loizos, 2000:132). There are two stages in the formation of social capital in migrant communities linked to their settlement in the countries of destination. These are associated the “virtual” or “soft” (“in order to share vital experience”) social capital with the pre-acquisition of long term immigration status and “hard” or “convertible” (“necessary to satisfy material needs”) currency resource-based social capital with post-acquisition of stable immigration status (Zetter et al., 2006:18). The question, one has to ask is whether or not migrants, in this case people from East Africa, continue to engage in traditional forms of volunteering in diaspora. This is an important and pertinent question especially following comments by one of the leading scholars on social capital. Robert Putnam (2007) recently suggested that immigration in the short term decreases social capital in the receiving society. This prompted me to pay a closer look at what is happening in the East African Diaspora communities in Europe and further afield.
One of the issues this raised in my mind was the questions used by social scientists to measure social capital. Questions such as the following are often used: asking interviewee, if s/he or a member of the family is a member of an association or an organisation. Another one used is to ask people if they attend meetings or volunteer their time. Asking the interviewees where they go to seek information or advice. Ironically when I spoke to a member of the Sudanese diaspora in Ireland, it transpired that just like in Rwanda, people are not expected to give thanks for meals and visitors don’t need to tell people in advance that they will be calling to someone’s house. So when someone calls to a house, the host is expected to feed them before they return home. Likewise, those who carried the sick on traditional stretcher during my youth did not see what they did as voluntary work and would certainly answer no if asked if they had worked for free. Also most of the associations in many parts of rural East Africa are not formalised. Tontines and home help groups to assist members of the community at the time of harvest are not seen as formal structures but part and parcel of membership of the community. One would wonder if people from the East African diaspora were to be asked if they are members of an association, would they remember to mention among other things home visits to the sick in their networks or raising moneys to repatriate the remains of a member of the community who died in Ireland. Likewise, until very recently, I was not aware that East Africans were running networks and funds to support members of the Diaspora in paying for funerals of relatives left behind. Interestingly enough this information came into light when I was doing fieldwork for my PhD and this information came from people whom I thought I knew very well before formally interviewing them. Likewise, just as in the case of harambee, members of the East African Diaspora are supporting those they left behind through providing money to pay for education and to cover healthcare costs of their family members. While others are involved in fundraising activities to fund development projects in their countries of origin and in other African countries. This shows why ‘Western’ tools used to measure social capital should be adapted to be able to uncover the richness of social capital among the Diaspora networks in the societies concerned.
7. Conclusion Exploring volunteering in the context of immigration presents an opportunity to see what happens when people move in transnational spaces as part of the big picture of globalisation. As highlighted in this opinion piece I explored how my youth, upbringing and education influenced my understanding of volunteering in the transnational context. My experiences in Rwanda, in Kenya and other countries in East Africa highlighted the differences in the understanding of volunteering in the rural and urban settings in East Africa. Volunteering in rural areas of East Africa is embedded in the Ubuntu worldview that emphasises the need for solidarity and participation as core values in achieving humanness. These very values were tapped into by East African leaders after independence and formed the backbones of Ujamaa and Harambee policies. Although the merits and politisation of the two policies have been questioned, there is no doubt that some aspects of these policies were successful if not least the fact that Ujamaa policy enabled Tanzania to overcome some of the ills of tribalism that marred many countries in post colonial Sub-Saharan Africa. Likewise as discussed earlier Harambee has been very successful in Kenya especially where projects were driven by local actors and used to access resources from the government and other potential supporters. Members of the East African diaspora don’t therefore come to Ireland and Europe without volunteering experience. Moreover their understanding of the concept of volunteering is somewhat different especially when it comes to the recognition and acknowledgement of volunteers.
On arrival in Ireland, I got involved in mainstream organisations and took volunteering opportunities that came my way. This helped my acquisition of Irish experience, enhancing my cultural competence and furthered my integration process. During my research endeavours, I realised that members of East African Diaspora communities were undertaking many volunteering activities that would in many ways not been obvious to those studying them with ‘Western’ research tools especially those tools that are not culturally proofed. I am also aware of the renewed interest in volunteering in ‘Western’ countries and more so in Ireland in the aftermath of the collapse of the Celtic Tiger. The calls for the community spirit are loud and clear in media and public discourses as society looks at ways to overcome the recession. Times of economic turmoil often lead to a questioning of values that underpinned the previous economic boom and without any doubt at this moment in time, people in Ireland are keen to replace greed with solidarity and individualism with collective good and transparency. Volunteering is one of the corner stones of a post Celtic Tiger Ireland that is seeking to work towards sustainable development.
Volunteering and fostering a community spirit transcend borders, be they physical, emotional, cultural or otherwise. As highlighted by scholars of social capital, volunteering is the glue that enables people, like myself to find their space and home thousand of miles away from their place of birth. If anything volunteering whether formal or informal, recognised or unnoticed, rewarded or unrewarded, has been, is and will remain a very important pillar in our societies. If we could put a price tag on the work volunteers do, we could add its value to the national budget. Until we do, volunteers will never get their due recognition.
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