Over the past two decades, the National Sustainable Living Festival has grown to become the largest celebration of sustainability in Australia, and the most comprehensive Australian platform for showcasing community responses to environmental challenges.
Each year, February is dedicated to all things sustainability – over 200 organisations participate in over 300 hundred events, with an audience of over 100,000 visits. The Big Weekend is the feature event, a three-day event involving international and local thought leaders as well as being a showcase for sustainability trends and innovations.
Over 300 volunteers contributed to the success of the Festival in 2018, including around 150 international students. Festival Director Luke Taylor notes that volunteer participation by international students has risen over the past five years or so, with many students attracted to the global nature of the issues tackled by participating organisations.
“The nature of the Festival attracts an international audience, as these are global issues and not unique to Melbourne. People can find a place and a context in the Festival and a relationship with the event very easily.”
International students enrich the Festival with their international perspectives, bringing insights and experiences into what’s happening in their own regions. Luke explains that they also gain considerably from participating in the Festival.
“[This is] one of those volunteer opportunities where the ‘give back’ is quite evident, because the purpose of the Festival is to draw together leading organisations, campaigns and projects in our field. For us to be able to connect volunteers into that movement and community provides a very tangible ‘give back’.”
Carlos Espinal, an international student from Colombia, connected with the Festival through Study Melbourne LIVE Volunteers, and found the volunteering experience introduced him to new ideas around sustainability. Inspired by seeing a bicycle made from recycled materials at one of the Festival displays, Carlos committed to minimising his own environmental impact.
“One of the main aims of the Festival was how you can reduce your carbon footprint, so I’ve been tracking my own carbon footprint. Now we are recycling a lot and we’re using bikes and it’s been amazing, actually.”
To work well in the volunteer crew, Carlos had to step up his teamwork skills. He learnt to listen well to others and collaborate with team members to resolve problems without clear instruction. He also had a chance to work directly with the public, where learning to deal with difficult people in a client service role was all about keeping cool and calm under pressure.
“I can take that skill to my job or my future job, especially the engineering sector where we are under huge pressure.”
The National Sustainable Living Festival seeks to deliver a positive experience for volunteers. The team uses good volunteer engagement practice, through development of specific volunteer roles and use of online recruitment forms, backed up with face-to-face inductions and a Volunteer Coordinator who is available to support individual volunteers.