Returned Australian Volunteer Network conference wrap up
The inaugural Returned Australian Volunteer Network (RAVN) conference, Valuing Volunteers: Bridge Builders & Change Makers, was held on 3–4 December in Melbourne. Almost 300 returned Australian Government-funded volunteers and friends of the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program converged on Etihad Stadium to reconnect, hear from inspirational Australians, share their experiences and learn how to make the most of their volunteering experience.
Video: Returned Australian Volunteer Network Conference 2016
The two-day conference was officially opened by the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator the Hon. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. Minister Fierravanti-Wells thanked all returned volunteers for the contribution they have made, and continue to make, in communities in Australia and abroad. She also emphasised that Australian volunteers have played a crucial role in supporting and facilitating the changing role of development assistance throughout the region.
Just one of the highlights of the conference was a moving keynote speech by world renowned plastic surgeon, Dr David Chong. Dr Chong explained his motivation to volunteer six months of the year with Operation Smile and The Mercy Ships, fixing facial deformities in children in developing countries.
Panel sessions tackled issues including how to set up a NGO, what it means to be truly inclusive in disability inclusive development and how to leverage your volunteer experience to entice prospective employers.
Leading researchers, including returned volunteer Dr Peter Devereux, presented their findings on international volunteering and the Sustainable Development Goals. Delegates were also inspired by Samantha Gash, adventure athlete, lawyer, social entrepreneur and National Crusader for the League of Extraordinary Women, who just returned from running across India, raising awareness about barriers to accessing quality education for girls in developing countries.
Some returned volunteers facilitated sessions, including ABC Lateline's David Lipson, who volunteered in Mongolia in 2006 and 2007, and triple J's Nas Campanella, who recently completed an assignment in Fiji, while others participated in panel sessions, including Ben Clare who has completed three Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) assignments across the Pacific, and Cassidy Fitzclarence, who volunteered in Indonesia and who is currently a Director for the NGO Bottle for Botol.
An array of organisations participated in the conference village, including, Australian Red Cross, Red R, OXFAM, Indigenous Community Volunteers, the Crawford Fund, Bottle for Botol, Climates, Coffee Industry Corporation, GHD and Volunteering Victoria. Their attendance provided returned volunteers with insight into other pathways to volunteering once back in Australia.
A group of 16 returned volunteers were successful in applying for a Fellowship which included travel to Melbourne, accommodation and conference registration. Fellows were invited to share their winning entries through poster presentations outlining how they are continuing to contribute to Australia's aid program.
The conference concluded with nine returned volunteers pitching their ideas to the audience for the coveted Host Organisation Revisited Prize. The prize included a trip back to the country where they completed their AVID assignment and a $5,000 grant for their host organisation. The ecstatic winners were Elizabeth Grover who volunteered in Bhutan at Wangsel Institute, Bhutan's only school for the deaf, and Brad Timms who volunteered in South Africa at Eco Children. Elizabeth's host organisation will use the grant for training staff, developing sign language resources and installing flashing lights to alert students in emergencies. In his pitch, Brad told the audience he would set up a fundraising page to raise up to $2,500, which he would match dollar for dollar to use in addition to the grant. The anticipated $10,000 would enable Eco Children to set up a number of libraries in schools across South Africa.
The Valuing Volunteers conference was organised by DFAT with support from our AVID program delivery partners Scope Global and AVI.