Giving Back: ICMA Members Reflect on Volunteering Internationally

ICMA offers members a number of opportunities to volunteer internationally. A couple of members share their experiences in honor of Volunteering Month.

Apr 18, 2019 | BLOG POST

by Rebecca DeSantis, content and engagement coordinator, ICMA

ICMA has a long history of member volunteers stepping up to help create better communities. As highlighted in a recent PM magazine article, pro bono volunteers have been an integral part of ICMA’s global programs throughout the past 30 years.

Local government leaders from all career stages in our membership, as well as many subject matter experts from across the country, have donated time, knowledge, and experience to communities worldwide. Isabelle Bully-Omictin, director of Funded Projects at ICMA, explained in the PM article that volunteer work can span a range of times, locations, and durations. "Assignments can range from one- to two-day workshops to three-month commitments, and whether the support is short- or long-term, pro bonos leave a lasting impact on the people they interact with and the programs they support," writes Bully-Omictin.

Whether it means offering assistance in creating solid waste management systems, helping communities prepare for disasters, or lending expertise to students of public service abroad, our members are involved in this important work. Volunteers often participate in additional experiences because they found the volunteer work mutually beneficial. Many share that they gain a new perspective and new connections after volunteering on a project. 

In honor of Volunteering Month, we asked a couple of members who have volunteered internationally to share a little bit about their experiences.

Jay Gonzalez, Ph.D.

Mayor George Christopher Professor and Chair, Department of Public Administration, Edward S. Ageno School of Business, Golden Gate University

"Professionally, I always underscore to students that public service is about giving yourself in service of others. My ICMA volunteer work is my public service. Because I practice what I preach through ICMA’s USAID-SURGE (Philippines), USAID-ENGINE (Tanzania), and ICMA China Center projects, I feel that it has improved my classroom teaching at Golden Gate University’s Executive Master of Public Administration Program, where most of our students are working professionals from the San Francisco Bay Area’s rapidly growing cities and counties.

Together, my students and I validate whether the theories and concepts I have them read actually work in real-world practice, especially in the challenging cross-cultural scenarios of Asia and Africa. My students and I enjoy discussing what worked and what did not work and how to develop better solutions or strategies. For instance, I shared with them the difficulties of crafting an inclusive public-private partnership for an innovative zero-waste policy for Zanzibar Urban Municipality. How would they navigate through these challenges? What did I do?

But I think the biggest benefit for me is more than professional. The ICMA volunteer work is personal. It is about giving back. I came to the United States three decades ago based on the generosity of the American people—a State Department scholarship. Through ICMA, I feel that I am giving back to my adopted homeland by ensuring that hard-earned tax-payer money used for USAID is utilized in an efficient and responsible manner. I wanted my ICMA help to have a deep impact on the poor and marginalized—the type of Philippine surroundings where I grew up.

As Filipino American, I feel I know how the people we are helping in Tanzania, China, and the Philippines are feeling because I was once in their shoes. I once ate with my urban slum neighbors from packages labeled “Food for Peace” and “From the American People.” Thus, I feel that I could provide them better advice because of this shared experience and deeper understanding of the culture, especially in the Philippines at the SURGE program. I cherish the feeling that I am giving back professionally and personally."

Tony Mazzucco

ICMA-CM, general manager, Norwood, Massachusetts

"Recently the town of Norwood volunteered to host two YSEALI (Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative) professional fellows through ICMA.  The program, sponsored by the State Department, selects communities to host young professionals for a month with a focus on sustainability and governance.  We prepared a month’s work of visits and activities for our guests and kept them busy almost every day. However, keeping guests busy for a month was a struggle.

The benefit to the community and my organization was immense.  Staff throughout the organization enjoyed showing off their departments and parts of the community and the region to our guests, as well as learning with and interacting with them. 

Elected officials and community members loved the idea of the community hosting and put together a number of lunches, dinners, and coffee hours, and made our guests feel welcome. My staff benefited immensely from the professional opportunity of interacting with professionals from southeast Asia but also from being able to step a little outside of their normal duties and take on the role of hosting visitors.  We were also able to have employees from departments that normally do not get to interact that much work collaboratively on projects with our guests.  

For the time and only a minimal dollar amount (the program is funded by the State Department) our community invested, we received a huge payback in staff morale, learning and professional development, and community involvement and pride."

Want to keep the celebration of Volunteering Month going? Download ICMA's How to Build a Successful Volunteer Program. This adapted guide will help communities build successful volunteer programs.


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