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Effective Executive Magazine:
Resources for Women’s Resilience: A Study of Non-Profit Volunteers in Africa
 
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The evolutionary nature of the world today means that people are faced with continuous adversity and change, which requires adaptation and resilience for survival. African Volunteers (AVs) carry an additional layer of complexity, in that they hold a professional career and manage to give of themselves, their time and energy in an environment where social issues are dire and resources scarce. The primary focus of this study was to understand the mechanisms of resilience in local female volunteers, currently providing services in the African context. The findings revealed that the social ecology of resilience in volunteers is a dynamic and multidirectional network of exchanges, deeply rooted in exposure scarcity, vulnerability and adversity. Participants experienced psychological challenges external to themselves, as well as within their immediate personal vicinity. The main challenges were associated with access to resources such as transport, finances and recruitment of other volunteers. The coping mechanisms activated by AVs included positive internal narratives and emotions around their perceptions of volunteerism. Acculturative behaviors were also observed in instances when the participants believed that adaptation would penetrate access barriers to resources. Navigation, negotiation and adversity remain highly correlated with scarcity and were iterated throughout the findings as a bartering mechanism for accesses to resources. Confrontation and vulnerability also appeared to have linkages to resilience generation. The motherhood code was highly grounded and strongly associated with prioritization and time.

   
To date, there has been very little research that focuses on the socio-psychological aspects of local volunteers in Africa or about how their leadership compares to leaders in other fields (Posner, 2015). Although ‘volunteerism culture’ is not palpable in most African cultures, many Africans plough their skills and personal reserves into their local communities. In the age of globalization and rapid changes in technology, the ability to respond positively to adversity and change is considered a very valuable attribute. This responsiveness and co-action between the individual and the world is referred to by Gardner and Kordich Hall (2016) as the “social ecology of resilience” or “the positive adaptation despite diversity” (Fleming and Ledogar cited in Sawalha, 2015, p. 2). Volunteers are a unique group of individuals operating outside the ‘norm’ who have tremendous potential to transform their communities. The challenges of African volunteers are especially notable. Despite excessive poverty, poor infrastructure, health epidemics and other large developmental challenges, they choose to face this reality in the long-term and rise above it.

Resilience theory suggests that instead of adaptations occurring only at the individual level, there is more than sufficient evidence that points to an ecological model which includes bi-, micro-, meso-, exo- and macro systems (LeMoine and Labelle, 2014), into which research can be organized. Ungar et al.’s (2013) social-ecological model of resilience encompasses this multidimensional and comprehensive approach to individual development: (a) equifinality (many good means to good ends), (b) differential impact (different protective processes influence resilience differently depending on the individual’s exposure to risk), and (c) contextual and cultural moderation (protective processes are valued and made available differently in different contexts). Alternatively, Nsamenang (1995) believes that many human development models have however been dominated by Western-centric theories, gathered from studies on affluent, primarily white, educated and unrepresentative samples—which researchers present as universal. The African worldview “visualizes phases of human cyclical ontogenesis of systematic socialization of responsible intelligence in participatory curricula that assign stage-appropriate developmental tasks… [where] knowledge is not separated into discrete disciplines, but all strands of it interwoven into a common tapestry… participating in the cultural and economic life of the family and society” (Nsamenang, 2005, p. 1). Nsamenang (2005) proposes ontogenetic thinking where development is determined by the social ecology (or local environment), as well as the biology and nature of the individual.
 
 
Effective Executive Journal ,Continuous Adversity and Change, Adaptation and Resilience for survival, African Volunteers (AVs), Resources for Women’s Resilience, A Study of Non-Profit Volunteers.