Volunteering Cannot be Taught


Many years ago, when Mother Teresa began her work in Pune, I saw her one day pick a beggar from the street and admit him in her Missionaries of Charity. That Mother Teresa did it is palpable but not when my tenth standard classmate joined her a few years later and continues with her work in Mumbai even now. What motivates these people? Why do they want to give up ‘good’ things in life for this journey, has no easy explanation.

I recall a dinner with a family on a rainy day, several years ago. The kids were watching a TV serial, and a typical family dinner was being laid out when the electricity went off suddenly. The kids were the most disappointed. Someone cribbed how their housing society members were a useless bunch of people for their poor maintenance work. Another took off on city management.

A couple of minutes passed and the lady of the house quietly appeared with a candle, her daughter followed, and so was the little boy! There were three candles lit in the room. The mood changed a bit for the better. The power came back after about 15 minutes and the things went back to ‘normal’. I wonder why some people simply get into action, however small, while others sit back and complain? What is their driver? Where is its source?

At the workplace, why does someone naturally closes a running tap? Why do I switch off the lights after a meeting, and not anyone else? At the Taj Mahal hotel at Mumbai when a terrorist was randomly firing bullets, a staff member waited in the way for over fifty guests to escape. He took the bullets on himself. The big question is: can we create a process, a rule-book, a method to teach or spread these good acts of behavior?

We are all aware of the work done by the Brahma Kumaris, Ramakrishna Mission, the other worldwide volunteering bodies. When one asked about how volunteering works at the Art of Living, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said, “We do not make or sell products or services here. We help each other to find meaning and purpose of our lives.”

I believe that people are driven by a mission or inner source more than by a rule or external norm. In corporate volunteering, it is usually about passion and not mandate; it is for inner satisfaction more than for position or money. A company into e-learning created a program for children with special needs; an IT company provided strategic speed to the country’s literacy mission several times with a multi-lingual adult literacy programme! These innovations are many and the possibilities are certainly humungous (please see: http://samasource.org/ and http:// desicrew.in/).

When we wanted to put all these wonderful ideas into a single process, I remember a senior HR executive’s words: “Don’t make it too stifling to kill, and don’t keep it too loose – do it gently like holding a pigeon.” I have observed that volunteering results in deep organizational learning, builds reputation for the company while developing new insights for the employees. Corporate volunteering is the bedrock for tomorrow’s leadership and talent engagement.

People are constantly in search of deeper meaning and purpose in what they do. At the end of the day, like Edmund Hillary, executives would like to say – ‘It’s not the mountain I conquered, but myself!’


anand By Anant G. Nadkarni

Previous articleEcologies of Urbanism in India
Next articleDeep in Sustainability


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here