Changing face of Minnesota volunteerism

Friday, April 23, 2010

Immigrant volunteerism sometimes slips under the radar, according to a recently-released study by Dr. Mai Moua, who teaches at the Humphrey Institute and also is associated with Leadership Paradigms. From September 2008 to August of 2009, Moua researched Hmong, Latino and Somali immigrant and refugee communities for the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA).

Hmong, Latino and Somali communities already volunteer but do not call it volunteering. Volunteer activities are part of family and community life, such as helping one's neighbor with a sick child, cooking for guests at funeral, driving to or helping with a doctor appointments.

"MAVA is a state wide volunteer program that provides training and technical knowledge for excellence in leadership." said Mary Quirk, project manager for MAVA. "Volunteerism in the Midwest is the third highest in the nation (percentage of volunteer involvement) with Nevada being first and Nebraska second."

The face of Minnesota has changed over the last 25 years, reflecting a more non-European population. "The annual immigration rate in Minnesota is three times the rate of 25 years ago." according to Dr. Mai Moua from Leadership Paradigms.

Diversity in languages, thinking and cultural practices pose serious challenges to mainstream volunteer organizations as they try to recruit, manage and involve volunteers from immigrant and refugee communities. "Non-profit leaders must expand their involvement to reflect this new face of Minnesota." said Moua.

Relationship building and trust is core to immigrant communities. Hmong relationships are kinship, tribal and clan-based. For Latinos, families and community are at the core of their relationships. And with Somalis, tribal and religious influences are the norm.

The research relied on 29 individual interviews from the Hmong, Latino and Somali communities, and on focus groups, surveys and literature studies. The research summary makes 11 recommendations for non-profit organizations to engage volunteers from immigrant communities including the following:

1. Organizations need to clear about why they want to involve immigrants or refugees.

2. Relationship building is of core importance, not the outcome of the project.

3. Relationships with volunteers should include whole families, not just individuals.

4. Organizations need to learn about barriers to volunteering, and to understand needs for childcare, cultural brokering by children, running family errands, etc.

5. Organzations need culturally competent staff to work with volunteers.

For more information about the research, obtain a full report by contacting

Quirk said, "We need to reflect the wisdom, knowledge, and skills of our population in Minnesota. For those wanting to volunteer is an excellent site with 910 opportunities."


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