I wish I understood WordPress (the software I use for this blog) and the human brain (the other software I use for this blog) well enough that I could create three columns of text enabling us to read three articles simultaneously.
Lacking that, however, let me settle for inviting us to hold the following three thoughts in tension:
1. Egyptian protesters are self-organizing as volunteers to provide the basic civic services normally provided by the government while the government itself is in a meltdown.
“We want to show the world that we can take care of our country, and we are doing it without the government or police,” said Khalid Toufik, 40, a dentist. He said that he also took shifts in his neighborhood watch, along with students and workers. “It doesn’t matter if one is a Muslim or a Christian,” he said, “we all have the same goal.”
“I am glad, that they are all on the streets to protect us from robbers,” said Hannan Selbi, 21, a student. “We are sure that it’s in the interest of the government to create chaos.”
Soon after Mr. Mardini’s [one of the organizers] first tentative steps, committee members were recognizable by the simple white armbands they wore, often just strips of fabric. They created logos and distributed fliers asking for more help from the public. Some wear photocopied pieces of paper on their chests like marathon runners’ numbers. Mr. Mardini wore a badge that read simply People’s Committee in red Arabic. But the way people walked up to him and began talking, it appeared he needed no introduction.
The civic enterprise is now divided into four branches: traffic, cleanup, protection and emergency response.
2. Jobs that today we implicitly assume can only be done by professionals were once done effectively by volunteers with surprisingly little special education.
Theda Skocpol’s magnificent Diminished Democracy: From Membership to Management in American Civic Life opens with the epitaph on the gravestone of the very ordinary William Warren Durgin of North Lovell, Maine, born December 18, 1839, died January 27, 1929. The tombstone summarizes his most ordinary life by, of all things, detailing his volunteer service (Grand Army of the Republic, Grange, Odd Fellows), leading Skocpol to note:
In the early-twenty-first-century United States, it is almost impossible to imagine a humble man like Warren Durgin belonging to the same nationwide voluntary associations as the high and mighty… Where once cross-class voluntary federations held sway, national public life is now dominated by professionally managed advocacy groups without chapters or members. And at the state and local levels “voluntary groups” are, more often than not, nonprofit institutions through which paid employees deliver services and coordinate occasional volunteer projects. In our contemporary world, it is much easier to imagine Warren Durgin as the client of a nonprofit agency, or as a recipient of charitable assistance, than it is to envisage him as an active member of any voluntary association.
3. Tracy Tucker at Mission Increase Foundation cites recent research indicating that volunteers give ten times more in donations than those who don’t volunteer.
Nonprofits that don’t sequence volunteering as a precursor to giving, take note of the research Tracy shares.
Nonprofits who do incorporate volunteering into their giving programs but who see volunteers as assistants supporting paid professional staff (rather than seeing paid professional staff as the equippers of volunteers), take note of Skocpol’s history lesson and the living history lesson that is contemporary Egyptian civic participation in the midst of chaos.
Train your volunteers to lead a national revolution, not just to fold newsletters.
Last word to the Times article–a picture and a description you may not see on the news but which may be the most remarkable lesson Egypt holds for the world this week:
Compared with the chaos in Cairo, Alexandria has seemed relatively orderly, though only relatively. In some neighborhoods the only building that has been destroyed is the police station, though there has been looting in others.
The streets are filled with volunteers.