I don’t volunteer to make my own life better. And I certainly don’t do it to make money. There is, on the face of it, nothing to be gained from giving your time up to help others – but of course, it is, as many people will testify, one of the most transformative things you can do with your life.
One of the most important lessons that I’ve learned in my own life is that true generosity is giving without expecting anything in return. And this is the approach that I’ve always taken to every volunteering opportunity I go into – that this is a chance simply to give something – time or expertise – to others. The fact that, in reality, it also makes you feel great is a happy by-product – but it certainly shouldn’t be your main motivation.
The work I’ve been involved in with the Omnia Foundation is a great example of this. Of course, all of the projects we’ve worked with have benefited from the time and expertise of the creative, entrepreneurial people I have with me here – but the process has been two-way. I really do believe that our organisation, as a whole, has been enriched and improved through the interactions we’ve had with our volunteering partners.
I’ve always believed that volunteering can be a fundamental cornerstone of mental well-being – whether I’m doing it myself, or if I’m creating the space for the people who work for me to do it for causes that they believe in. Quite aside from the people who you are helping directly through the support you are providing, there is the sense of self-worth that you get from seeing how your skills and abilities can be applied to helping others.
The situations you might find yourself in – whether it is building a well in a Senegalese village or sitting down for half an hour to chat with a lonely older person – will push you in ways that you might have never anticipated. By volunteering, you will discover things about yourself that you never knew were there – and this can be a hugely valuable experience, not just in terms of your personal life, but in your work too.
Here at OMNIA, I’ve always encouraged everyone to try to bring a creative approach to any problem – to look at challenges in a way that is unusual, and that breaks from the norm. I’m a firm believer that volunteering is a beautiful way to try and develop these kind of skills – to strengthen the creative muscles by fostering an open mindset.
When you step out into the world, and offer to take on something simply to help others, you’re building networks with other people – and developing those skills that will allow you to listen, collaborate and innovate in every part of your life. But you’re also building new connections within your own brain – exposing yourself to new experiences, to different ways of thinking, and to fresh perspectives and ideas.
A chance for development
Regardless of what stage of your career you’re at, we all have something new to learn, and I’ve always found that volunteering is a great teacher. Having volunteering experience also shows prospective employers not just that you’re happy to give your time up for others, but also that you’re self-motivating, and prepared to challenge yourself to learn new things.
But by spending time with other people, and giving to them without any expectation of any return, you’re also increasing your happiness levels. Neurologists have measured brain activity and hormone levels, and it’s clear that helping others is something that, as humans, simply gives us pleasure.
Ultimately, volunteering to help others in turn helps you to be healthier. By seeing how you can transform someone else’s life, simply through your own skills and abilities, is a huge boost to your sense of self-worth. It makes our lives – and of course, the lives of others – so much richer.