The Spirit of the SBTF: A Global Network of Self-Starters

I’ve recently been reflecting on what makes the global SBTF network possible. Not surprisingly, it all has to do with active volunteers. They are the ones who make this global initiative what it is. Indeed, we are all volunteers and have other professional, academic, personal etc., commitments. But we find and make the time to contribute to this remarkable initiative when we can. Still, there’s something more going on here.

One of the characteristics of the SBTF that has most amazed me since we first launched in 2010 is the pro-active attitude of many volunteers. This is a quality I very much admire, encourage and try to emulate. I believe that this self-starter spirit is absolutely core to the SBTF global network. The network excels when individual volunteers take the initiative based on a gap or need that they perceive. This is especially true when volunteers spring into action as soon as they see a need and confer a plan of action. Each volunteer comes with her or his own expertise and skills, and each has so much to offer during and in-between deployments. But only when they take action does this volunteer network grow.

Several dozen new volunteers have joined the global network in 2012 alone. But this blog post is not only for them, it is for all of us (myself included). I hope it serves as a useful reminder about what makes this volunteer initiative so unlike any other. There will always be room for improvement vis-a-vis how we work: from our protocols and workflows to the technology we use and the training we provide. That is why I invite all volunteers both seasoned and new to think outside the box and seize the initiative. You propose your own role at the SBTF and you decide how active you want to be. The sky’s the limit.

It should come as no surprise, then, that some of the most active volunteers in the SBTF have subsequently been hired by organizations partly as a result of their volunteering efforts. Indeed, the skills that volunteers learn by joining the various SBTF teams are becoming increasingly sought-after. But it is more than just the skills that organizations are attracted to, it is the professionalism and leadership roles that volunteers undertake. Indeed, I have personally written several letters of recommendation for a number of SBTF volunteers and have also served as a reference multiple times.

That said, volunteers join the SBTF for many different reasons; and, to be clear, this not about quantity (time spent volunteering) but rather quality and creativity. We’re not looking for volunteers to burn themselves out, but to rather do what they most enjoy doing within the context of the SBTF. So if you’ve identified a gap or a need that ought to be addressed, then please post your suggestion on our dedicated Discussion Forum. If you’ve got a brand new idea that you think will improve our volunteer work or find that we need to make some important policy changes vis-a-vis the network, then do speak up and propose a solution that you’d be ready to take the lead on. Even if it’s just a hunch or a fleeting thought, always feel free to drop me a line and/or share your suggestions in our discussion forum.

Standard practice, in this respect, is not only to describe the perceived gap/need but to do so in a timely manner and to propose a concrete, realistic solution to address it—and then offer to help implement the solution with other volunteers. This is absolutely key.

We are swift and action oriented, not spectators who criticize other volunteers long after identifying a gap and doing nothing about it.

It is this self-starter and can-do attitude that drives the spirt of the SBTF. We are focused on the now and we’re forward looking. We provide constructive criticism but only when we’re ready to take ownership of the solution. Remember, we are all volunteers with limited time. Criticizing other volunteers for not doing x or y long after the fact is just not how we work. Offering a solution on how to do x and y, and offering to take the lead in designing & implementing the solution is why the SBTF continues to thrive.

 

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