The True Value of Volunteer Emergency Services: Their Role in Building Social Capital and Disaster Resilient Communities.

Traditionally the value of our organisations are measured on saving lives, protecting property and infrastructure, the delivery of first aid/medical treatment and recovery support. Whilst many have measured the economic value of their services, the true value of a service can only be fully realised when the wider impacts  and spill -over effects’ that providing that service has on the community is fully understood.  Usually an attempt to convey these are made by most through the identification of broader activities such community education, training provided to members/public, engagement of youth and general development of   good’ people.

The National Compact (2010) and Productivity Commission (2010) signify a federal government commitment to recognise and promote the social contribution of third sector organisations. Whilst both identify various methods of measurement of social impact, they also acknowledge current limitations in measuring program specific outcomes rather than longer-term or broader social impacts. Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) has partnered with the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) to identify and value activities contributing towards SLSA’s social contribution to the wider community. In doing so a potential method and model of social impact at the meso level for community based organisations in Australia has been developed.

Ms Vanessa Brown, People and Development Manager, Surf Life Saving Australia, recently presented this research at the Australian & New Zealand Disaster and Emergency Management Conference held at the Mercure Hotel, Brisbane 28th to the 30th of May 2013.  The research results have defined SLSA’s social capital and human capital contribution to the wider community through individuals (volunteers) and the organisational itself.  Contributions through aspects of personal belonging; development of citizenship values; giving back to the community; connections with other local community organisations; meaningful networks; advancement of human capital through training, team and leadership skills clearly demonstrating the broader value of volunteer emergency service organisations and their resulting role in developing disaster resilient communities through their social impact.

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