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The Benefits of Civic Engagement for Tomorrow's Leaders

Christopher Gergen discusses the positive impacts of volunteering on individuals and society as a whole.

Ed. note: The Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation is celebrating National Volunteer Week April 15th – 21st to recognize individuals who serve their communities. Christopher Gergen, the Chief Executive Officer of Forward Ventures and a fellow with Fuqua’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University, expresses the benefits of civic engagement for tomorrow’s leaders in a guest blog post below.

What do tomorrow’s leaders need to help serve our communities? It might be helpful to parse this into two questions. First, what leadership traits do we look for? Second, how can we actively engage tomorrow’s leaders as problem solvers in our community?

According to the Center for Creative Leadership, tomorrow’s leaders will need to have: strong self-awareness; an ability to collaborate across sectors with deep empathy for the communities they serve; critical thinking skills to develop innovative solutions to complex challenges; and the courage to take action even in the face of stark adversity, including the crushing pressure of the status quo. This “growth mindset” requires rolling up one’s sleeves, swallowing a dose of humility, and getting immersed in reality – and I’m not talking about TV.

So how do we best equip emerging leaders to understand and face today’s tough challenges ranging from persistent economic inequities to environmental degradation to significant educational achievement gaps? One critical strategy: volunteerism.

Research bears out that young people who volunteer in their communities are more likely to vote, stay actively involved in service, and feel empowered as citizens. A study discussed in Promoting Student Engagement found that volunteers become emotionally connected to the communities they serve and sustain community involvement after volunteering – a strong positive indicator for future economic growth.

Volunteering also helps people develop skills and confidence. A recent report by the National Conference on Citizenship found that “participation in civil society (such as volunteerism) can develop habits that make individuals employable and strengthen the networks that help them find jobs.” 

For the betterment of our world, we need engaged leaders who understand our complex world.  The question is not whether volunteerism is a good thing, but rather: how can we provide as many opportunities as possible for our next generation of leaders to serve?

Jonathan Greenblatt is the Director of the White House Office of Social Innovation.