By Mallika Desai
The virtue of volunteering
In today’s world where bad news about the environment, political and climate refugees and hate politics abound, volunteering means more than ever. Benefiting not just the doer, volunteering benefits cascade to individual recipients and communities as well.
Global estimates place the number of volunteers worldwide at 970 million. Factoring in the hours, that equals over 125 million full-time workers – according to a study published by John Hopkins University. Approximately one in four volunteers contribute their time and skills through organizations and the rest do so directly, helping their neighbors and communities. In terms of economic impact, estimates place the value of volunteer work at US$ 1.348 trillion or 2.4 per cent of the entire global economy.
The time and expertise volunteers provide make an immense difference. The truth of the matter is, the non-profit world depends on volunteers to fulfill its mission.
According to the Corporation for National Community Service, 62.6 million Americans volunteered 7.8 billion hours of their time in 2017, creating an estimated value of $184 billion. If this is the impact that can be generated by 25.3% of the American population, imagine the difference more of us could make.
Volunteering benefits the volunteer too with a range of mental and physical health boosts. 60% of hiring managers see the act of volunteering as a valuable asset when making recruitment decisions, according to a study performed by Career Builder.
Volunteer-based organizations like Earth Law Center
Here, Earth Law Center (ELC) has transformed to become a volunteer-based organization. In 2018, over 200 of us volunteered with about 100 very actively. Many of our volunteers have gone on to a successful career change or entry into law school after their time at ELC.
We come from various walks of life. Some of us volunteer full-time and others part-time. We all bring different skills and expertise to make a unique contribution. What we share is a passion for doing something to address the environmental crisis of our day.
Over three dozen undergraduate and law school interns joined us over the summer as well as talented graduate students like Melannie Levine who spent her externship with ELC.
Let me introduce you to a few of ELC’s dedicated volunteers.
Meet Constanza Prieto
Constanza, a lawyer from Chile, has volunteered with ELC for over a year as the Ocean Rights Lead. As team lead for the Whales and Dolphins Sanctuary Uruguay initiative, she supervises four interns and volunteers and collaborates with the River Rights team when needed. Constanza brings with her incredible experience in human rights, economic, social and cultural rights and indigenous peoples rights. With a keen interest in environmental law, she chose to volunteer with the ELC to build on her experience and capabilities in the field.
When asked about volunteering, Constanza shared: “I think everyone has different motivations to volunteer and every single one is valid. For example, to acquire relevant experience in the field, because you are retired and you want to share your knowledge and experience, because you are looking to contribute towards a solution to the environmental issues, because the environment is your passion or because you want to do something meaningful in your life. You just need a little time in your calendar, some motivation and engagement, and a desire to learn. You will be surprised by the impact of your work and how this volunteering experience can change your professional perspective and the way you see the world.”
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Meet Ben Allen
Ben has managed social media for ELC since December 2017 while he worked full time at an environmental education non-profit called Population Education. Ben chose to volunteer with ELC because of the organization’s philosophy that calls for inherent rights for nature. Since then he’s enrolled to earn his JD in environmental law at Vermont Law School and still finds time to manage ELC’s web page (thank you, Ben!).
Ben raved about his time with ELC: “I remember always being perplexed by people who were okay with animal testing, or fine with unfettered development and the extraction of natural resources in the name of human progress. Working for ELC allows me to promote the rights of nature and protect the Earth with an eco-centric approach that values all life and ecosystems. My experience has been incredible. I've learned so much about the inherent rights of nature, Earth Law approaches, and the nuanced conservation challenges we face today. I’ve also gained practical skills and have done work that is fulfilling and meaningfully contributes to ELC's mission. I also must say that Darlene, the ELC staff, and my fellow volunteers have been fabulous to work with: sharp, passionate, and quick to help or support you.”
Meet Helen George
I began volunteering after completing a certificate in copyediting at UC San Diego Extension. In editing circles new editors are often advised to gain experience by volunteering for charities.
Finding a charity that recognizes the need for an editor is easier said than done. Fortunately for me, Earth Law Center is very active in communicating its mission to the public. There has been lots of editing for me to do. Over the past year I’ve worked on everything from blog posts to long reports.
Volunteering for Earth Law Center has also given me to the opportunity to try structural editing, sensitivity editing and line editing. Earlier this year I used my experience with Earth Law Center to support my successful application for intermediate level membership of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders.
I’ve volunteered in many places and in many ways over the years. I’m really impressed with how Earth Law Center makes active use of volunteers and provides them with the chance to grow professionally.
Editing Earth Law material is interesting. I strongly recommend volunteering with ELC to anyone seeking experience in editing or in copywriting.
Meet Caroline Abid
Caroline has led the Coastal Communities initiative at ELC since the beginning of 2018 as Environmental Policy Lead. With a background in environmental consulting, she wanted to put her skills and time in service of a broad environmental cause and found ELC. Caroline led a variety of different ocean rights initiatives for ELC. Now Project Officer for the Sustainable Wildlife Management Programme – Africa, Caroline travels to places like Madagascar and builds on the experience of her time at ELC.
Caroline shared: “Rights of nature is an innovative way to include the protection of our environment in a legal framework. I am convinced that environmental issues are one of the most important and challenging issues that we are currently facing, so the more people can put their skills at the service of this cause, the more chance of success we have. Volunteering with ELC has been a very positive experience for me, particularly to learn more about environmental initiatives worldwide. The management team is very collaborative, helpful and open to any suggestions which makes it all the more fulfilling.”
Meet Mallika Desai
I myself have been volunteering with ELC as the Newsletter Lead for nearly a year now. Like my fellow volunteers, I have found the experience to be incredibly educational and meaningful.
Developing content for the newsletter based on the various initiatives and projects that are being worked by ELC has opened up a world of insight for me into how we can in fact legally fight for the Rights of Nature. My contribution to ELC to help raise awareness for the cause gives me a sense of purpose.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily details and a busy life with hardly a free moment to spare. Yet true contentment comes from the recognition of our connections, and honoring that with the choices we make in our lives. For me, this means finding important causes to support. You may have found other ways to give back.