100 days into the Volunteering Lab project, I never expected to find myself facilitating a bi-lingual workshop in Spanish and Portuguese given my inability to order a cerveza or cerveja in either.

As the first big project of the Vol Lab, the Latin American regional skillshare started as an idea to bring together the volunteer-coordinators of Brasil, Argentina, Chile and Mexico. Intelligent evolution led to a mobilisation skillshare; bringing together volunteer coordinators, digital mobilisers, action coordinators and fundraisers from all four countries and the virtual office of Colombia. If you like – the three disciplines of mobilisations + friends.

If I’ve learnt one thing from working across different cultures and offices, it is that what one office thinks is impossible, is considered normal in another. Especially when it comes to how much trust Greenpeace places, and how much autonomy we give volunteers, activists and digital supporters. I’d argue for more but…

… sometimes you have to dig deep. In a workshop about local campaigning, Sergio led with ‘volunteers are not permitted to make local campaigns’ – and then tells the story of a local forest campaign. Where after being initially refused permission to develop a campaign- the volunteers pulled together the research, the project plan, the arguments and the opportunities. To then return to the office, and to convince Greenpeace Chile to not only to adopt the ‘local’ campaign, but to win it.

As an international organisation Greenpeace campaign staff are used to working together to develop campaign plans and strategies combining the talent of different offices. Bringing together the organisational specialists in volunteering, digital and actions from across Latin America was more of a risk and to date unique.

While online to offline, and offline to online mobilisations start to unite digital mobilisers and volunteer coordinators (1), actions staff have acknowledged the disconnect between traditional mobilisations – perhaps to shut down a coal fired power station and the move to new mobilisation structures and departments – to empower 100’s of thousands of people to take action.

Risks pay off as actions coordinators throw their ideas and passion into workshops ala ‘volunteer policies for Latin America’ or ‘online training for staff and volunteers’ – illustrating the common language of mobilising people, independent of the tools, and the shorter term objectives – the Comms Director of Greenpeace Brasil described us thus – digital mobilisation, actions and volunteering are the filling in the sandwich of campaigns and fundraising.

Greenpeace Mexico - Pyramid of EngagementDani and Flor’s ladder of engagement, or appropriately the Mexcian pyramid of engagement was a star attraction. Sometimes I imagine the path of supporters and volunteers to be more like that of a pool with a deep and shallow end – our role being somewhat of a life ring, or a swimming coach. The thinking is strong no matter what the shape. i.e. that we should plan the steps to deepen the relationship.

And after 3 days of workshops, presentations and the stress of international video conferencing a huge shout out to the Brasilian team who helped make it happen, and especially to Paula. 3 months into her role as the volunteering manager – having escaped our friends at 350.org, she’s not only managing a large, complex, evolving team, but hosting a regional event while literally hours away from launching the big new campaign to save the Amazon. Paula, you deserve a break – sorry you’ve going to get one…

As the skillshare closed, and the Volunteering Lab found time for the hot debrief by the pool (the charm of cheap out of season resorts). It struck me that the disciplines of mobilisation cut across not only organisational divides, but national and even language barriers. You can facilitate in a language you don’t speak, if you know the themes and can follow the flow. Also by pool the Andino team dangle their feet in the water having arrived at 2.30am on the Monday they deserved a break. Not so much relaxing, waiting for their flights as designing the next workshop online training for staff and volunteers in Argentina.

So to the Greenpeacers of Latin America, you work too hard, perhaps I should have taken up the offer of Samba classes and it was a privilege to meet you and I am very glad to speak the same language– not Spanish, Portugese, English or Thai – but that of mobilisation.

Richard
Bangkok

(1) Or network developers / field organisers / public enagement campaigners {delete as applicable}
(2) Agendas, workshops, notes and more available for Greenpeace staff on Greenet (work in progress)
(3) Follow the @VolunteeringLab on Twitter or visit Greenpeace volunteers around the world on Facebook

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