It’s Volunteers’ Week. This national event takes place 1-7 June every year. Claire Donaldson, Early Careers Policy and Engagement Strategy Lead for the Digital Skills and Inclusion team at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) explains why we should be celebrating volunteering in all its diversity.
So why should we celebrate?
- Ordinary people are doing extraordinary things because they want to make a positive impact on society.
- Volunteering can raise self esteem, help you meet new people, and grow your skill set and experience.
- In 2015, volunteering contributed more than £22bn to the UK economy.
- In 2016/17, 19.8 million people in the UK (37% of the population) volunteered formally at least once a year and 11.9 million people (22%) did so at least once a month.
- There are 165,801 voluntary organisations in the UK.
- Lots of volunteering also takes place within the public and private sector.
This February DCMS partnered with The Girls’ Network to hold an event to match 20 girls from Bishop Challoner School in Shadwell with 20 DCMS volunteer mentors. Charly and Becca set up the award-winning mentoring programme in 2013 when they were secondary school teachers, and witnessed the multiple barriers facing girls in their classrooms. They wanted to take action and address:
- the pressure to conform to ideals;
- a lack of confidence or self-belief;
- a lack of professional female role models in their networks.
Charly and Becca believed that the girls needed a greater access to opportunities, but also the confidence to seize those opportunities and the skills to thrive in them.
The Girls’ Network mentoring was soon in high demand, and now operates matching in Brighton, Portsmouth, London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle. The initiative matches volunteer mentors from across the public, private and third sector with more than 1,200 girls each year.
100% of girls on the programme last year reported feeling more confident in themselves and in how to get to where they want to go.
Teachers saw 89% of girls demonstrate more resilience and self-motivation at the end of the year.
Developing careers for everyone
Part of my policy and engagement work in the Digital Skills and Inclusion team is to support the effective implementation of the Careers Strategy for the tech sector. From my research and discussions with teachers, students, parents and carers it’s clear that initiatives such as The Girls’ Network are important in raising aspirations, breaking down stereotypes and highlighting diverse career paths and the skills needed to fully participate.
Mentoring the next generation
So I was excited to go along to the matching event and become a part of their mission to inspire and empower girls from the least advantaged communities by connecting them with a mentor and a network of professional female role models. What better way to inform my policy than to jump in and get involved!
The matching event began with a speed networking session, which allowed each mentee and mentor to meet. It was a great exercise in focus and listening, and the energy and excitement of getting to know so many new people was exhilarating. We were then paired up and my mentee Hannah and I exchanged contact details and arranged our first one-to-one session. Our journey together will be supported throughout by The Girls’ Network, including through great resources on their website and a mentor support forum. Hannah and I will meet every month for the next year, but we can always be a part of The Girls’ Network.
Yesterday evening I met up with Hannah at the British Museum to continue to get to know each other and share our interests and skills. We explored how to bring curiosity and creativity into our study, work and everyday life. We also discussed inspirational role models and it was great to hear Hannah name her Mum alongside Malala Yousafzai, J.K. Rowling and Michelle Obama. (Oh and we finished writing this blog post too!)
My experience with The Girls’ Network has been brilliant. I decided to put myself forward for this opportunity as I truly believed that it would be very helpful and beneficial to me in all aspects, whether it’s school wise or outside world wise.
I thought having someone more experienced in life beyond school to discuss things with would be really helpful to me in the short- and long-term. I love the versatility of The Girls’ Network, how all women and girls can come together and talk, and ask for advice and share different opinions on topics. I also enjoy how it allows young girls to expand their horizons and to think about their future and what they want to make of it.
I really do believe that The Girls’ Network opens many doors for young girls like me and I look forward to making the most out of this opportunity.
So as we celebrate the good stuff that’s happening in society through the contribution of volunteers you may decide to join them, as a mentor or as a volunteer in all its diversity. You can find out more about Volunteers’ Week at https://volunteersweek.org/, The Girls’ Network at www.thegirlsnetwork.org.uk and other opportunities through the National Council For Voluntary Organisations www.ncvo.org.uk.
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