by Gillian Smith
This week marks National Volunteer Week, the perfect time to highlight the connection between volunteerism and citizenship.
As the Institute for Canadian Citizenship’s (ICC) Executive Director, I’m equally passionate about citizenship and volunteerism because citizenship is the most important thing Canadians share, and each volunteer effort (big or small) made by citizens strengthens communities, building a better country.
All Canadians have a responsibility to be active, engaged citizens, but many of us aren’t sure how to do it; this is understandable because for most, the concept of citizenship isn’t top of mind. Take a moment to ask yourself – when was the last time you thought about what you do to be a good citizen?
Most Canadians automatically associate being a good citizen with legal responsibilities: obeying the law, paying taxes and voting. Although these are undeniably important, much more is involved.
Last year, the ICC collaborated on Canadians on Citizenship, a national survey asking what it means to be a good citizen in Canada. The responses revealed that Canadians also see giving back to one’s community, civic participation and respecting and accepting difference as vital measures of a citizen. These findings position citizenship in a more tangible, relatable way: citizenship is a series of everyday acts that contribute to the life of a community and to our country.
What’s more, Canadians on Citizenship demonstrated that not only is this textured understanding held by all residents of this country, but we all believe that everyone can be a good citizen, regardless of whether your family has been here for four months or 400 years.
Volunteerism is how every Canadian can live up to the challenge of being an active citizen. When you give time, talent or treasure, your actions benefit your community and create a ripple effect that reinforces our country’s overall capacity to accept and include.
Added to the challenge of active citizenship, Canada’s demographics are changing, and changing fast. Did you know that, today, our labour force would shrink without new Canadians joining the ranks? Or that by 2030 – at the latest – Canada’s net population growth will rely solely on immigration?
These facts are crucial when considering the future of volunteerism. Who will be our future givers?
Citizenship is the uniting common denominator and volunteerism is a means to connect Canadians and build a stronger Canada.
If we don’t act now to create an inclusive, welcoming space that allows everyone to fully participate, we risk harming the foundations of our stable, successful society. We must get involved in our communities and embrace our roles as active, engaged citizens.
This is the citizenship-volunteer connection, and how we can ensure our great country grows ever stronger.
Gillian Smith is the Executive Director & CEO of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship. To learn more about the Institute for Canadian Citizenship visit icc-icc.ca. You can also follow them on Twitter, @ICCICC.
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