Coffee with…Vivienne Cunningham-Smith, CEO, Eastern Volunteers

What sort of work were you doing prior to starting at Eastern Volunteers?

I was CEO of Playgroup Victoria for four and a half years before a 12 month stint as General Manager with Playgroup Australia in Canberra. Playgroup Victoria, is one of the largest child and family membership organisations in Victoria and we supported 15,000 members, 3500 community playgroups and over 100 organisations providing supported playgroups for families with children under 5 yrs. Playgroups are the existing platform in 80% of postcode areas for engaging parents in the first three years of their child’s life. My work in Canberra was on the national quality and research portfolios and setting up the national contract management framework for 21 contracts.

I have a background in primary health also and on arriving in Victoria in 2009 I worked as General Manager of Inner East Community Health, now Access Health. I was responsible for the quality portfolio, health promotion, allied health and dental services. I, in fact, completed a consulting piece with Avise La Fin last year on the burden of accreditation on community health services in Victoria.

I am originally from NSW and I was the Executive Manager of Barnardos Australia for the Illawarra/Shoalhaven part of NSW for over 10 years prior to coming to Vic. I took the brain development research which was at that time just emerging and built one of the first Australian integrated child and family services providing services from community development, child care, maternal child health, mentoring. Volunteer family support, child protection and disability family support and out of home care services. These services were directed at children in the early years and their families and communities.

What excites and motivates you in your role?

Volunteering is about social inclusion and about communities assisting themselves. That is what excites me about my role in Eastern Volunteers. For too long volunteers have sat outside of the operation of professional service delivery models, rather than being integrated. I love assisting organisations to be able to develop their service models where volunteers and professionals operate in an integrated continuum of care.

At Eastern Volunteers we support organisations to design their volunteer programs to meet the market about how people want to volunteer. This is a changing space with the advent of virtual, skilled, corporate volunteering and volunteering as a critical employment pathway for young people. Organisations and groups have to look at what and how they are offering volunteer opportunities to ensure they remain able to offer services through volunteers. I relish this work.

Increasingly volunteers are delivering essential community services in more areas. We know that volunteers for over a century have provided much needed services in their communities through emergency services, sporting groups, artistic groups, schools, health services. We continue this tradition at Eastern Volunteers as we recruit , match and support people into volunteering opportunities in their communities which meet their needs as well as providing key services that many times are the backbone of small communities.

We also provide the community transport services for the Outer East and I love that I am able to use my clinical skills as a social worker in my role.

What is most challenging about your work?

The inevitable battle for funding for human / social services. The Commonwealth government nearly defunded the national volunteering infrastructure last year and through advocacy from our local members in particular we salvaged the program until 2021. We now need to make the case loudly and clearly that volunteering in communities does not just happen. Volunteering and organisations relying on volunteers need support and infrastructure to make it all happen and Volunteer Resource Centres like Eastern Volunteers are that infrastructure.

Delivering volunteer services in 3 LGA’s with a grant of just $60,000. On the up side however the way we do this is through the strategic use of volunteers and the extraordinary skills and passion they bring to our organisation. We make a little go a long way! A skill many of us share.

What interested you in the work of the Inner East PCP?

I worked with IEPCP when I was with Inner East Community Health and saw the great partnership, sector support and collaboration work they do. I had also assisted them in facilitating some outcomes planning for the area. When I saw the opportunity to again work with IEPCP as an Executive Committee member I jumped at it for several reasons.

Firstly the role PCP’s have in maintaining the focus on primary health care and prevention is critical especially at a time when we are moving headlong into client centred service models. We need a strong voice to maintain the community development work which so underpins prevention in not only health but all social service sectors.

Secondly, I am a community development worker from way back with many years experience in seeing the power of social capital and community capacity building in addressing issues of social and health inequality.

 Thirdly, I am excited by seeing how Eastern Volunteers can contribute to the utilisation of volunteering for social inclusion in the EMR. This is a key pillar of the IEPCP strategic plan.

If you could change one thing about the world right now, what would it be?

That is such a big question at this particular time in the world’s dynamic. I would simply like us to respect humanity and the earth we so rely on as the driving values / forces for the creation of the systems and politics that form our world. If we looked after each other and the animals and beings we share this earth with, surely we would all be better off?

If you weren’t working at Eastern Volunteers right now, what would you be doing?

Oh probably consulting work in outcomes and strategic planning, which I have been doing on and off for over 16 years and I love it. I would get a real start to my marriage and funeral celebrancy work too. I would finally have time to track down what happened to my great great great grandfather, the emancipated convict John aka Richard Smith when he left our shores in 1823 to look after Timor Horses going to Mauritius. He never returned to his family. I might even by that stage be a grandma, so I would be spoiling my little ones hopefully!

We acknowledge the Wurundjeri people and other peoples of the Kulin nation as the traditional owners of the land on which our work in the community takes place. We pay our respects to their Elders past and present.