Volunteerism Redefined: Ethno-cultural Perspectives of Ethiopian, Oromo and Russian-Speaking Individuals on Community-Building and Volunteerism in Portland, Oregon, U.S.A.


For decades, volunteers have been making significant contributions in their communities, and more recently, for local organizations that are working to serve the needs of civil society in the United States. However, much of the literature regarding recruitment, motivations and barriers for volunteers and even volunteer program management glosses over issues regarding diversity. Likewise, anthropological studies do not often address civic engagement or volunteerism. This paper argues that many ethno-cultural perspectives regarding volunteerism and community building differ from the formalized volunteer sector in the United States. Through a series of semi-structured, open-ended interviews with members of two under-represented populations in Portland, Oregon, a qualitative ethnographic study was conducted. This exploratory research with Ethiopian/Oromo and Russian-speaking community members painted a candid portrait of how volunteerism is perceived culturally, how the community was already civically engaged, and what motivated or challenged volunteer efforts within the sector itself and within the sample community. Based on recorded and transcribed interviews, cultural themes and categories emerged that demonstrated that social values, citizenship, geopolitical history, societal stereotypes and available information all played critical roles in how – or whether – the ethnic populations engaged in volunteerism within their own (cultural) community and within the larger community. Results indicated that a large gap exists between mainstream organizations' efforts to engage under-represented populations under the traditional volunteer framework and how the sample groups viewed volunteerism vs. “helping.” These findings will encourage nonprofit managers in general and volunteer managers in particular to critically examine the current programmatic framework, communication style and outreach efforts to diverse populations with a view to increasing inclusivity and community capacity.


International and Intercultural Communication

This document is currently not available here.