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COMMENTARY: The Yukon needs empathy in action now more than ever

Megan Conway & Bruno Bourdache

Megan Conway & Bruno Bourdache

Volunteer Bénévoles Yukon & Volunteer Canada

The last two years have generated a wave of empathy in action – a surge of public interest in volunteerism and grassroots activities. Yukoners stepped up to support each other in new, innovative and creative ways. From finding new ways to support people in need, celebrating frontline workers, helping neighbours, and not hesitating to fill sandbags for flood victims, we expressed our empathy through volunteering. During National Volunteer Week (April 24-30), we celebrate and encourage the contributions of the nearly 50 per cent of Yukoners who volunteer – their actions, understanding, and genuine concern for the world around them.

Canada needs empathy in action, now more than ever.

Empathy is the vital emotion that helps people relate to others and is at the heart of healing, creating more resilient individuals and stronger communities. By volunteering, we help develop empathy by building our awareness around different experiences. People from diverse backgrounds and life experiences are connected in formal and informal settings, creating opportunities to address challenges together. Through empathy, we understand the world around us, and often ourselves, with greater depth. Building on the lessons learned during the pandemic, our capacity to work creatively and collectively contribute to a vibrant, inclusive society and is how we will strengthen the volunteer sector in the Yukon.

Supporting empathy also means an honest reflection on addressing the real and hidden barriers to volunteering that limit full participation and risks exclusion in our social institutions and communities.

Prior to the pandemic, four in five Canadians engaged in some form of volunteerism – as mentors, coaches, organizers, supporters, community builders, fundraisers, board members, caregivers, and good neighbours. During the pandemic, the Yukon saw a decrease in events, direct service delivery and fundraising opportunities as many organizations postponed or canceled their activities. This placed significant operational strain on the Yukon’s voluntary sector and it will take some time for the sector to rebound. Yet, these organizations have found new ways to engage and continue their work, with many volunteers finding ways to volunteer their time, whether in-person or virtually.

At the same time, Yukon organizations are facing volunteer fatigue – resilient and tireless, volunteers are worn out. It is hard to maintain empathy when volunteers are exhausted. We must find ways to reduce the burdens on volunteers, including the continued use of hybrid services, virtual adaptation of programs, and continuing to be technologically innovative.

This is why rebuilding volunteer infrastructure is essential to COVID-19 recovery. The Yukon’s non-profit sector contributes 6.2 per cent to the territory’s GDP, constituting $181 million in economic impact and Yukoner volunteers contribute thousands of volunteer hours annually. The development of a National Voluntary Action Strategy will strengthen and innovate volunteering infrastructure across Canada. Building in flexibility and adaptability will help minimize any negative effects of future events. This includes collaboration with national and provincial governments.

And to every volunteer, community organization, volunteer centre and workplace that engages and supports volunteers, we offer a heartfelt thank you this National Volunteer Week. As our social recovery moves forward, we encourage you to continue putting your empathy into action.

Dr. Megan Conway is President and CEO of Volunteer Canada. Bruno Bourdache is Executive Director of Volunteer Bénévoles Yukon.