How To Volunteer, From A Person Whose Job Description Is ‘Help People’

Produced in association with La Trobe University.

We can all appreciate that ‘giving back’ to our community and the wider world is a good thing to do. Further than that, though, it’s a feel good thing to do. 
Not only that, from a purely practical point of view, there are a lot of ‘entry level’ jobs nowadays that require a whole lot of experience going in. Whilst that makes approximately zero sense, it is a reality and volunteer work offers a great way to get transferrable skills that will later impress upon an employer how bloody great you are. To use La Trobe University and their Aspire Early Admissions Program as an example, you can use your previous community engagement work towards your entry application to get into uni.

Though we may all want to get involved somehow and be the difference, getting started isn’t always so straightforward. We took the chance to digitally sit down for a chat with Hollie Gordon, the founder of “youth-driven social movement” Milaana.

Hollie started the company after seeing many of her peers wanting to make an impact but not knowing how; it created a way to connect students and help build their skills. As for how you can get amongst it, we asked Hollie for her top tips.

When did you realise that old adage ‘be the difference you wish to see in the world’ was right?

As you open your eyes and travel beyond your comfort zone the evidence starts to build up. There was one experience that really struck me, though.

I was on a study trip to China at 16 and the leader of the trip said very plainly: ‘You are the 0.0000001% in terms of wealth, opportunity and privilege. If you cannot make a positive impact, how can we expect anyone else to?‘ This logic was infallible. That got my brain on board.

What got my heart on board, though, was spending 18 months visiting a refugee family from Burundi for weekly tutoring. They had been through such hardship, fleeing conflict, spending 12 years in a refugee camp and then in Australia were marginalised in the outer suburbs with only very basic English and almost no community support. All the cards were stacked against them, but they are one of the most loving, joyful and caring families I have ever met and I now consider them in every way my own family. Until it becomes personal, until you are deeply moved and care enough to act, it can be daunting to try to square up to the major issues we have in our world.

Was it easier/harder than you thought it would be to get out there and be the difference?

It can be intimidating not knowing where to start and wondering if your effort will actually help. Although starting small, starting local is actually very easy. For me, I started new programs based on hearing the stories of others who had good experiences, or with a Google search and contacting organisations that I thought were epic.

As soon as you take that first step, attending an info session or going to an event, you start connecting with a community of like-minded people. They open your mind further by showing you other ways to engage and what is possible.
In contrast to the fears that can hold you back, when you do start to engage it is extremely empowering. 

What advice would you give to young people (that you wish someone had given to you earlier) who want to start their own thing, or be their own boss?

Start! It doesn’t have to be with something huge, you don’t have to risk all you have. To start with, you don’t even need to tell anyone, but do start. Start researching the idea, visit a potential client, craft the first version, test it, make it better and engage others in your idea so that the community forms around it and their belief in its success will carry it much further than you ever could.

From what you’ve seen are we really the self-centred, entitled generation that some people seem to think we are?

Ha. No way. We are the generation who has been the guinea pigs for technologies that distract and disconnect us in a society that trains us to be super-consumers. But we are not victims and we are breaking free from these constraints. I’m constantly seeing incredible examples of young people turning the tables by using the forces of technology and of the market for mass good.

Locally we have great examples like thankyou. water who have empowered our mass consumption of products like bottled water, muesli bars and hygiene goods to support water, food and hygiene projects around the developing world. I’m also meeting and hearing about a powerful wave of emerging ideas and social enterprises from young innovators like Promise or PayRoundaboutThankBank and Orange Sky Laundry. You can check out Ideas Hoist if you want to read stories of all the awesome grassroots ideas popping up in Australia.

When it comes to volunteering and getting amongst it, what would you say to young people who have no idea where to start?

Start with the activities and causes you are passion about and the skills and networks you already have. For everything else, there is Google!

What do you love? If you love to dance, contact groups like BAMD ( – who facilitate dance classes for children of all abilities. You’re a horse rider – RDA would love your support! You’re a coder/ techy, join a Random Hacks of Kindness event

Don’t just think about spending your time, though; for each case and organisation, think about the unique skills you have (from social media prowess, to researching, to a love of discovering technical innovations) to make a much more powerful impact on this organisation.

How do you find these organisations? Its less scary to start searching in your own network. Perhaps there is a volunteering society at your university (if there isn’t – start one!). Find out who is running programs at the local community hall? Ask your friends and family members if they have been involved in any good programs. If they haven’t – get them to join you when you start!

There are so many organisations and so many resources there really is no excuse to not start. Perhaps you want to have amazing volunteer travel experiences at some point in your life? Start by engaging locally so you have a deeper understanding and more skills to contribute when you do go overseas.

In conclusion,

When it comes to our mates at La Trobe Uni, they run an excellent program that rewards Year 12 students who volunteer and give back to the community with the opportunity to secure their place at university ahead of ATAR results. For more info head HERE