I believe that we can measures public engagement in natural resource management or conservation is through the level of volunteerism in the community. By volunteering means you care for one specific issue in the community. It is also means that more people involved in volunteering activity for specific issue indicates public exposure to the issue is high which means public are more likely to participate. In line with community challenge in public participation, volunteering becomes one of the aspects that I keen to observe during my fellowship in the US. Before came to Oak Ridge, I have so many questions on volunteerism in US, questions such as: what motivates the volunteer, kind of supports or incentives from the government to garner volunteerism spirit in the community.
Now some of those questions were answered through my meeting with Jason Scott, CAC Americorps Program Director and …. from Keep Anderson County Beautiful. Both organisations use volunteerism as foundation of their work. CAC Americorps is US federal government program to foster civic engagement on poverty, environment and as well as infrastructure issues in East Tennessee. It is a part of national wide program called Corporation for National Service Program that established trough National and Community Service Act of 1990. CAC Americorps act as an intermediary institution for federal program in East Tennesse. In simple words, CAC Americorps receive federal funding, design specific program in East Tennessee, recruiting volunteers, then allocating grants and assigning volunteers to program implementer such as local government and civic organisations.
While Keep Anderson County Beautiful (KACB), is a volunteer based organisation focused on beautification, littering prevention, as well as waste management in Anderson County (include City of Oak Ridge), Tennessee. It receives funding from donation and grants from both federal and state government to implement its program.
Specifically to the volunteerism, CAC Americorps openly recruits young american age 18-25 to be a member of Americorps for 1 – 3 years. As an incentive to attract membership, Americorps would provide members with various benefits such as capacity building, stipend allowance, as well as student loan support. During 2016 to 2017, CAC Americorps managed more than 5000 volunteers. A fantastic number of volunteers! Similarly, KACB also recruits high school students to be volunteers in their activities/programs. KACB does not provide incentives its volunteer, however the incentive to volunteer is because the State required high school student in Anderson County/Tennessee is to do maximum of 8 hours volunteering before graduate. In relation with motivations to volunteering, from the discussion with Jason and .. it was revealed that some of the volunteers motivation besides the incentives are: chance to contribute to a bigger cause than themselves as well as chance to improve capacity and networking. However, I would argue that the motivations were resulted by the incentives that introduced to the volunteer applicant on the first place.
To sum up, volunteerism in the USA is very well institutionalised. Key factors to institutionalised it are through support from the government like legal basis/regulation, and introducing various benefits as incentives for volunteer candidate. I think it would be great if I could applied these findings with some tweaks and adaptation to design volunteer program in marine conservation management in Indonesia. Well, surely it would be one of the action plans for my community challenge.