Michelle Obama, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver, Nancy Pelosi, Arianna Huffington, and Bon Jovi all told us how they serve yesterday at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service, the world’s largest gathering of volunteer and service leaders from the government, non-profits, entertainment, academia, business and the media.
Monday’s pre-plenary session opened up with back-to-back star-studded speakers and performers. You could feel the electricity and excitement in the 5,000 people that were in the audience. I was fortunate enough to speak about how now is the time to create a new era of service in America and debut a live video from New Orleans where more than 150 PwC employees are working as part of the firm’s Summer of Community Service program on four different service projects to help rebuild the community. To watch the video, click here.
Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, announced the addition of a new ‘Living’ section on The Huffington Post, which will report on service stories from around the nation. She also underscored how “we are moving from an era of competition to collaboration—we must collaborate or die.”
Bon Jovi debuted his new song, “Work for the Working Man,” while Tim Blane and Sondre Lerche electrified the crowed with stunning performances and words of encouragement.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California, and Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, opened up the plenary session and reiterated that service challenges are now becoming service opportunities. In 2008, Teach for America received a record 35,000 applications for approximately 3,700 positions and applications to AmeriCorps have quadrupled. California, in particular, is helping lead the integration of service into government. It is the first state to have a cabinet level position for service and has started a massive PSA campaign to encourage Californians to make service a part of their daily lives.
First lady, Michelle Obama, underscored how “service is not separate from our national priorities; it is the key to achieving our national priorities…service can help rebuild our economy and transform the nation.” She also declared as part of the United We Serve campaign, which the White House just announced last week to promote a Summer of Service, the government is launching, serve.gov, a web portal that allows Americans to not only find ways to serve in their communities, but also create and promote their own service projects.
The A-List speakers continued with Alan Khazei, CEO of Be the Change Inc., interviewing Maria Shriver, the First Lady of California. Shriver emphasized that service doesn’t have to be hard or a huge time commitment. She noted the idea of cyber-volunteering, where volunteers help tutor students, translate documents and stories, and provide counseling and support to those in need all via the internet.
The day ended with a bang when Matthew McConaughey gave a sneak peak of a campaign he is launching with the Entertainment Industry Foundation, AARP and ServiceNation in the fall around volunteering.
As I reflected on all of the excitement and electricity from the day, the following made an impression on me:
- Collaboration is key. Non-profits, businesses, governments, the media and volunteers must work together to maximize their impact and create lasting results. Partnerships must allow companies and non-profits to leverage each other’s expertise, allow for a cross-fertilization of learning and best practices, and provide a bridge between the sectors for the benefit of the community. The power of “we” cannot be underestimated. Partnerships are critical to growing and sustaining this movement.
- Business has a unique role to play in creating a culture of service. Companies, with their vast resources and skill sets—from logistics, housing/construction and supply chain management to professional services, consumer goods and technology—have the ability to create valuable change within communities. As the largest professional service firm within the country—with more than 31,000 employees and 96,000 service hours donated in FY08—PwC is a perfect example of how businesses can create a culture of giving and have a valuable impact on society.
- We are one nation under service. The service movement is at a tipping point. We have the opportunity to bring volunteering to a new scale and energize people across generations, sectors, cities and states to create a new culture of service in America. History will undoubtedly document this moment in time, but we have the opportunity to shape how the story is told.
Yesterday’s events taught me that we have truly catalyzed the service movement. We are in a new era of civic engagement with millions ready and willing to serve. But this is just the start. We need to imagine an America where all mayors provide opportunities to volunteer at the local level like they do in New York City, where all states have a cabinet level position for service like they have in California, where all companies have strong volunteer programs like we have at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and, most importantly, where the most commonly asked question in America is “how do you serve?”