Celebrating Volunteers: Tara Waniganayaka
The value of volunteering
Tara Waniganayaka is an appointed director on the Boards of Volunteering Australia and Girl Guides Australia. She has mentored with the Beacon Foundation, 180 Degrees Consulting and the Women’s Justice Network, fundraised for White Lion and previously served on the boards of Acquired Brain Injury Services, Stepping Out Program and the University of Sydney Union.
As we celebrate National Volunteer week (20 – 26 May 2019), Tara shares with us some insights into why she volunteers for Girl Guides Australia and the value volunteering delivers both personally and professionally.
1. What drew you / inspired you to join the Board of Girl Guides Australia
In this day and age, the challenges of gender stereotypes and the systemic disadvantages faced by women are not a secret. These challenges and disadvantages are sometimes explicit (for example, a recent study found that there are more CEOs of ASX200 companies named Andrew than there are women) and at other times they are subtle. As a society, we’re now starting to tackle this head on, for example through quotas for women in senior management roles in the business world, or through lobbying our politicians to put more women in their cabinets. However. more broadly it’s clear that to fundamentally, permanently and systemically shift the experiences of women in Australia we need to start at the grassroots level and start early. Girls and young women need to be empowered and supported well before they enter the workforce (and even well before they enter high school), and more than anything else these girls and women need to deeply know and believe that they can achieve whatever boys and men achieve, whether that be at work, at school, in the community, at home or with their family and friends.
Girl Guides Australia does just that, and does it incredibly well. This organisation has a long history (going back to 1927 in Australia and back to 1909 globally) but achieves its very clear purpose by investing in the future – by empowering girls and young women to become confident, self-respecting, responsible community members. And how does Girls Guides Australia do it? A high ropes course is an exercise in conquering fear. Selling cookies for fundraising is a lesson in taking accountability. Road trips to Canberra to visit Members of Parliament are a practice in speaking up and advocating for what is right. And the list goes on.
As a young woman (and formerly a young girl!) it takes very little effort to appreciate the work of Girl Guides Australia, especially since my mum was a Girl Guide during primary school in Sri Lanka. It is a joy to be a part of such a great organisation.
2. What value does volunteering deliver on a personal level?
People choose to volunteer for a number of different reasons: to give back to the community, make a difference to the people around them, develop new skills, build on their existing experience, make new connections or gain perspective. Doing good is also good for you – a study in the US found that 76% of people who volunteered in the last twelve months say that volunteering has made them feel healthier, and 78% of people say volunteering lowers their stress levels!
For me, the answer is ‘D) All of the above’. Since joining the Board of Girl Guides Australia I have been able to give my time to a cause I am passionate about, contribute to and make decisions which impact the people around me, learn more about how organisations with federated structures operate, build my governance and risk management skills, meet some wonderful people, and fuel the fire to empower girls and young women in Australia. I like to think that I play a small, but meaningful, role in making our society better.
3. How has volunteering brought value to your resume / career opportunities?
Volunteering is the gift that keeps on giving – not only does it provide personal development opportunities, but it also is well-regarded by employers. Volunteering not only shows that you care about your community, but it also demonstrates that you have time management skills, can build strong relationships, can collaborate and communicate. Research conducted by LinkedIn in 2011 found that 41% of hiring managers consider volunteer work equally as valuable as paid work experience when evaluating candidates. Reflecting on my own experiences, I am yet to go to a job interview where my volunteering experiences have not come up in conversation, and often it’s the thing that my prospective employers remember me for above all else when I leave the room.
All this considered, the opportunity to join the Board of Girl Guides Australia was one I couldn’t refuse, not only as an opportunity to give back to the community, but also to develop professionally. Having previously served on the boards of a number of not-for-profits across a range of fields, including the University of Sydney Union, Acquired Brain Injury Services and the Stepping Out Program, I was looking for the next opportunity to build my skills in governance, communication and decision-making, and to further build out my understanding of the not-for-profit sector. Sitting on the Board of Girl Guides Australia also complements the skills I use at work day-to-day in strategy, prioritisation and organisational transformation.
4. Of your peers do you know of many who volunteer and can you talk a little to this from a generational perspective
There are several different numbers and statistics on youth participation in volunteering (which tend to sit around the 1 in 3 mark), but what is clear is that young people in Australia engage with volunteering in a myriad of rich and diverse ways. One friend of mine volunteers once a week driving the van at a local aged care home once a week, other friends volunteer once every few months by sitting on a Diversity & Inclusion or Sustainability committee in their workplace, and many friends volunteer once a year by fundraising through a charity run or bake sale. That being said, as a group there is a lot more we can and should be doing.
I think while people of my generation are passionate about volunteering and giving back to the community, they sometimes don’t know where to start. Searching for, choosing and committing to the right volunteering opportunity can be daunting, especially when you’re still trying to work out what you want your career to look like and are navigating all other mysteries life has to offer! I think the key thing to remember is that volunteering can be as flexible as you want and need it to be.
For young people looking to volunteer, I strongly encourage you to consider Girl Guides Australia (no surprise there!), but there are any number of other volunteering experiences that are waiting to be tapped into. Alongside Girl Guides Australia, I am fortunate to also sit on the Board of Volunteering Australia, so can heartily recommend their platform GoVolunteer which links up organisations such as Girl Guides with prospective volunteers for opportunities ranging from one day a year to a couple of hours a week.