It takes collaboration across a community to develop better skills for better lives.
– Jose Angel Gurria
For those of us truly busy with our day to day activities, wisely investing our scant free time is paramount. We flock to the local pet shelters to give our canine besties baths and belly rubs or serve as volunteers on Habitat for Humanity projects — something I did extensively as a graduate student. Still others would rather spend time participating in other types of community centric partnerships designed to improve public health conditions for millions. Irrespective of how we donate our free time, we all usually do so for three main reasons.
Achievement: Elevate Professional Standing
At first glance, wanting to participate voluntarily in partnerships for achievement purposes — specifically to advance your career or professional reputation — may seem self-important. Such a notion is not always the case. In today’s professional workforce, upholding some sort of social responsibility can be advantageous. Partnering with a local group by offering pro bono technical assistance — maybe you are seasoned in developing diverse, productive partnerships — to a community leader seeking long-term private sector relationships may allow you to contribute to the community in ways your profession does not readily facilitate. Here, the community leader(s) may more expeditiously learn which factors guide private sector decision making or social responsibility agendas that align with executing public health interventions such as alleviating the burden of health inequity. This same scenario could allow the volunteer to establish him or herself as a trusted subject matter expert to which the community can turn at any given time — an achievement that can be touted when seeking a promotion or selling a product to clients whose customs and beliefs may resemble the community for which (s)he volunteered to help.
Authority: To Exact Influence
For potential volunteers seeking an opportunity to lead or have their ideas prevail — including fulfilling a desire to be influential and effective — spending time effecting change in the community is mostly governed by a need for authority and power. This motivator has to be managed to prevent bloated egos and extinguish any dictatorial tendencies. At times, communities face controversial local conditions that drive preventable adverse public health outcomes — for example, parents who host drinking parties for their teenage children and their friends which may lead to the latter group becoming long-term adult alcoholics.
Tangential Point: This post is NOT a judgment of parents making certain decisions. I am discussing a phenomenon researchers and community coalitions have articulated as an emerging public health problem.
While this does not fit the traditional definition of health inequity, research (anecdotal and quantifiable) illustrate parents hosting drinking parties often live in affluent suburbs and exurbs. This scenario highlights a socially driven adverse public health crisis and thus fits the health inequity definition.
Chances are some difficulty exists in securing a member of the priority population willing to lead the charge of penalizing or otherwise holding to account parents hosting teenager-attended drinking parties in their private residence. Cries of governmental overreach and mind your own business exclamations are sure to abound. Someone seeking an opportunity to assert him or herself in a very powerful way can lead the charge of stamping down on such parents without the fear of being blacklisted or otherwise receiving retaliation.
The resolve I am referencing does not mean the person motivated by authority has to be a demagogue or carnival barker — (s)he does have to be comfortable with telling and standing by inconvenient truths not being told. On the contrary, this may be a situation where the volunteer seeking authority may be given just that. (S)he may be given the notoriety and proverbial megaphone that are sought, because a risk was taken or an agenda pursued that many other community members were afraid to head yet view as a grave situation. Leading the effort against parents hosted drinking parties — resulting in policy enactment or an ongoing conversation about other ways to address the issue — has the potential to make an huge impact.
Affiliation: Interacting with Others
Some potential partners are motivated to address public health issues because they seek and thrive on having friendly relationships. This should not be confused with using people with co-dependency issues to advance your public health agenda — I am speaking of those galvanized by affiliation. They are team players with an intrinsic drive to interact with others; volunteers who could work wonders in going door to door in health inequity stricken neighborhoods. Affiliation driven partners can lead the charge in simply engaging people who have been long forgotten.
Some of our fellow citizens go extended periods of time without seeing another person; they rejoice in someone stopping by to say hello. Partners motivated by affiliation can wield the soft power of diplomatically reintroducing members of the priority population into the political and social scenes. Such allies can extract valuable information regarding social and psychological determinants of health which our quantitative sources of data may neither clearly articulate nor properly contextualize. Those left out of the proverbial conversation may greet partners with astonishment (wow you cared enough to pay me a visit), disinterest (ugh, what do you want?) or indifference (I will listen yet remain skeptical). Regardless of the potential response — all of which are fair to expect for various reasons — partners motivated by affiliation are much more likely to stay the course and do all they can to advance whichever public health agenda for which they volunteer.
While not directly affiliated with engaging individuals for the sake of addressing health inequity, consider the feedback Alabama voters deemed unlikely to turnout during the special election for Senate in December 2017, the very ones played a pivotal role in Doug Jones’s victory. Irrespective of your political leanings, it is important to heed one important reason Alabamians cast their vote for Jones — many repeatedly stated they voted for him because someone simply showed-up to engage them individually and asked them to do so. Sometimes an authentic yet simple point of engagement with another person can facilitate community change.