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Husky Volunteers for Social Care

George Clark, March 2000 - SRDS

This short article maps out those mechanisms which are evolving to ‘harness volunteers4’ to the task of building a more vibrant and democratic civil society. This includes, but is not delimited by, those well resourced initiatives which are designed to effectively channel the enormous potential for compassionate volunteering in the social care sector. George Clark lives and works in rural NE Scotland where he is involved as a volunteer with several community-led, economic development initiatives1. He recently attended three national conferences concerned with partnership working, active communities and volunteering2. It became apparent that the concept of the Third or Voluntary Sector needs unpacking in that those organisations that speak for The Voluntary Sector in Scotland3 do so from a less than comprehensive point of view. As such their representative validity, and thus the democratic significance of national consultation processes, is suspect.


bulletEffectively channelled compassion
bulletHusky Volunteers
bulletCaring Communities

Effectively channelled compassion

Disease, old-age and death cannot be removed by legislation. The suffering they cause can, however, be made more bearable through compassionate social care.

These are increasingly the times of nuclear and single-parent families. Traditional patterns of community based care are fast disappearing and there is need of alternative systems. Given the extent of human suffering the mechanisms for providing adequate levels of care will have to be staffed by local volunteers if it is to be affordable. To be maximally efficient and effective such volunteering needs to be well managed.

Management options range from internally-led (bottom up) to externally-driven (top down) with partnership (middle in) at the counterpoint. The different options have implications concerning levels of ‘participation’ and thus for ‘empowerment’ and ‘commitment’ and thus, crucially, for ‘sustainability’.

Across the range of options it is useful to think in terms of agency (those who feel the need and take the lead), agenda (the aims, objectives and implementation plan) and organisational structure. If we are in search of excellence5 there is presumably a preference for lean, flat hierarchies with power, responsibility and control of budget located as close as possible to the points of delivery.

The following analogy provides food for thought in terms of the options: note that options include the possibilities of Eskimos being nought but tinsel clad Huskies and, at a deeper level, of the sledges being our time-limited, corporeal frames (whether political, phenomenal or physiological).

Husky Volunteers

Eskimos move around their snow filled world on sledges drawn by Huskies. Huskies are biddable and willing but have no part in deciding how the sledge is built, what it carries, or where it goes.

Huskies are the passive instruments driving the Eskimo agenda. Without Huskies the Eskimo world would collapse. Huskies are rewarded by the joy and satisfaction gained from their selfless participation in tasks well done.

In the more enlightened Eskimo cultures ‘expertise’ is required before individuals are allowed to manage teams of huskies. The task is too important to be left in the hands of well intentioned amateurs and ‘obviously’ the Huskies could not be left to organise themselves.

Were it not for Huskies Eskimos would have to find other ways to move their sledges. If Eskimos had to pull their own sledges the work would not get done. Huskies might be replaced with robots but they would be mechanical and what role would there then be for Huskies?

Caring Communities

In earlier times care in the community was part of what community meant. That spontaneous pattern has been shattered by the modern tendency towards selfish individualism. But this is a recent and reversible social phenomenon intimately linked to capitalist consumerism and the culture of self-centered independency which it creates.

We are conditioned into being selfish. Selfishness is not built into our genes. People are designed to be happy and to avoid suffering. The capacity for compassion is within us all6. The task is to revamp the conditioning process such that, at the community level, people are willing and able to move beyond childish dependency and selfish independency to a mature, compassionate and pro-active interdependency.

Interdependency demonstrates itself in the ability and willingness of people from different backgrounds and with different interests and priorities to work together in harmony for the common good. This road can be made only by walking it7.

To whom or to what are volunteers to be harnessed?

How is the Voluntary Sector to be defined and validly represented?

Is there an emergent fourth sector which is community-led?


1. www.sixvillages.org.uk/pdl www.banffshirepartners.co.uk   www.acforum.co.uk

2. (A) ‘Local Rural Development: Effective mechanisms for a new century’ Scottish Executive Rural Affairs Department – 17 February 2000 – Battleby, Perthshire. (B) ‘Supporting Active Communities in Scotland’ – 02 March 2000 - Edinburgh. (C) ‘Realising Your Potential – encouraging lifelong learning in voluntary organisations’ - SCVO – 8-9 March 2000 - Edinburgh

3. Mainly SCVO and VDS according to The Scottish Executive’s, Voluntary Issues Unit’s The Scottish Compact – Good Practice Guides Consultation Document (Para 6.6.5)

4. a phrase used by Donald Dewar at the Supporting Active Communities in Scotland event

5. see Peters TJ & RH Waterman In Search of Excellence; Harper & Row 1982

6. So at least says that remarkable Nobel Peace Prize winner – the Dalai Lama. See in particular his (1999) Ancient Wisdom, Modern World – ethics for a new millenium; Little Brown and Company.

7. See Korten DC (1990) Getting to the 21st Century – voluntary action and the global agenda; Bookmark



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