Wally Harbert: Do-it-yourself volunteering can change the world

If you're not up for conventional volunteering, you can achieve a lot instead through your own spending patterns, writes our online guest columnist

Wally Harbert
Wally Harbert

When asked whether they volunteer, many people respond by saying they are too busy. Research shows that this simple explanation is often an attempt to hide their determination to avoid exposing themselves to an activity that might subject them to humiliation or instruction from others. We have all experienced authoritative regimes – at school, at work and even on the sports field – so we are apprehensive about placing ourselves under the control of strangers in our spare time. 

Do-it-yourself volunteering is designed to circumvent this problem. Anyone can participate; the hours are flexible; there is no boss looking over your shoulder; you make up the rules as you go along; you do not need a Disclosure and Barring Service check; and it is as ethical as you like to make it. What more can a volunteer want?

I discovered DIYV by accident. In 2010 there began a vicious takeover bid for Cadbury’s by the American firm Kraft. As long as the chocolate was as good as ever, I did not care who received the profits. Then Kraft promised that if the takeover took place it would keep open the factory in Keynsham near Bristol, which had been scheduled for closure. It won the takeover battle and closed the factory anyway. When faced with a choice of increasing profits or keeping its word, the company chose profit.

Since then, not one bite of its chocolate has passed my lips. Admittedly, my boycott is unlikely to show in the company accounts, but if a million people do the same the company will be obliged to take notice. There are plenty of other good chocolate-makers around, although Nestlé is on my banned list because its aggressive marketing of baby milk is widely believed to have been responsible for illness and death among babies in developing countries. 

For nearly 30 years I eagerly opened my copy of The Times every morning. Then came the telephone hacking scandal and I switched my allegiance elsewhere. I am sure Mr Murdoch does not miss my support, but to continue doing business with his organisation would mean that I supported its deceitful practices. It is a sobering thought that it is within the power of the British public to close down News International in this country if it so chooses. I have made my choice. Will you join me? 

So if you avoid volunteering because you are afraid of being treated as the office junior, join the ranks of DIY volunteers and change the world with your own spending pattern. In his challenging book Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky showed more than 30 years ago how corporate bullies can be humbled by determined action.

Wally Harbert has held senior positions in the voluntary sector and is a former president of the Association of Directors of Social Services. His book Baby Boomers and the Big Society was published in March 2012 by Grosvenor House Publishing


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