Volunteering: Doing well by doing good

Sam Johnson and Dr Billy O'Steen
Volunteering: Doing well by doing good

National Volunteer Week (21-27 June) is a great time to acknowledge what volunteers both receive and give to our country. 

Sam Johnson (Student Volunteer Army founder) and Dr Billy O'Steen (Associate Professor of Community Engagement, University of Canterbury) look at the reasons why volunteering is so good for everyone involved.


From the ANZACs in World War I to the Student Volunteer Army in Christchurch after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, Kiwis are renowned for mucking in and punching above their weight when it comes to volunteering and responding to need.

The 2014 World Giving Report places us in the top 5 countries in the world, with over 58% of New Zealanders regularly donating money, volunteering time, or helping others out. This aligns with our country’s dependence on volunteers for essential services.

SEE ALSO: Restoring our waterways


We rely on volunteers for the following:

Billy OSteen

Dr Billy O'Steen

  • 54,134 jurors in the legal system

  • 14,081 members of the Defence Force to defend New Zealand and serve in peacekeeping missions around the world

  • 10,797 members of school boards to govern every school of every student

  • 7,000 members of volunteer fire brigades

  • 3,000 volunteer surf lifesaving guards

It is safe to say that everyday life in New Zealand is profoundly affected by volunteers and it is critical that we foster this spirit early on by inspiring and supporting young people to get involved in their communities.

As demonstrated by the 11,000 members of the Student Volunteer Army, you don't have to be an expert to contribute. All it takes is a desire to help and a willingness to work within a framework that provides guidance and safety in order to maximise impact.

Pull out quote Volunteer


Helping others helps yourself

In addition to the altruistic reasons for volunteering and the benefits for those who receive assistance, we know that it is also valuable for the volunteer in a number of ways.

  • Volunteering provides individuals with opportunities for professional development of essential employability skills such as problem solving, communication, and teamwork.

  • Helping communities also provides volunteers with a sense of personal identity in terms of competence, autonomy, and relevance.

  • If that’s not enough, research shows that volunteering will improve one’s wellbeing.

These benefits of volunteering were highlighted to us in our recent meeting with Prince Harry. He said that in his work with military veterans, he has observed that they long for certain aspects they had in the service – camaraderie, a sense of purpose, and feeling useful.

This links to a quote by Lord of the Rings and Hobbit director Peter Jackson: “New Zealand is not a small country but a large village.” We think that he was endorsing the central role of volunteering in New Zealand by implying that villagers and Kiwis are connected to and reliant on each other.

For this National Volunteering Week, we encourage you to look around your neighbourhood and find a way to contribute to it by volunteering in a way that both inspires you and improves the lives of others. Happy Volunteering!

SEE ALSO: Restoring our waterways


About the authors

Billy O'Steen

Billy O'Steen has been in education and public service for over 20 years. He has been at the University of Canterbury since 2005 and was previously at several universities in the US. He credits his educational philosophy of experiential learning to time spent as a white water raft guide and working with Outward Bound. Since 2011, he has worked with the Student Volunteer Army in establishing community engagement as distinguishing feature of UC.

Sam Johnson

Sam Johnson is one of New Zealand’s most inspiring young citizens. Farm boy – turned disaster recovery guru, Sam has a record of challenging the status quo, shattering stereotypes and literally shifting mountains with a few friends.

Awarded Young New Zealander of Year for his leadership, Communicator of the Year for his honest media commentary and a Sir Peter Blake Leadership Award to remind him never to rest on success; in Sam’s world, there is no moment worth missing out on.

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