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Research on The Lived Experiences of New Zealand Volunteers

National Operations Coordinator at GBB, Anjuli Muller, recently completed her Honours research project, using Good Bitches Baking as her inspiration and research! Here's her summary of what she found from speaking to some of our volunteers.

This study set out to explore how people experience social connectedness through volunteering, when their specific volunteer activity does not put them in regular face-to-face contact with other volunteers or the people they are helping. While many aspects of volunteering are well researched, there are few New Zealand examples. Using a qualitative approach, fifteen volunteers for the organisation Good Bitches Baking (GBB) were interviewed to gain an in-depth understanding of their experiences.

The themes that emerged from the participants’ narratives provided an understanding of how, in this specific style of volunteering, these individuals experience social connectedness with others. While each individual’s experience is different, there are commonalities that show it is not purely through interacting directly with others that leads to a feeling of connectedness. Six main themes were identified, which reflect the different areas of volunteering for GBB that illustrate volunteers’ experiences of social connectedness. These are Baking, Elements of GBB Volunteering, Social Interactions, Community, Impact and Identity. Enjoying baking with a meaningful purpose gives volunteers the chance to develop resources such as creative thinking, problem-solving, being open to learning new information, and developing resilience and optimism. Similarly, the set up of this volunteering example allows individuals to personalise the experience in a way that best suits them, while maximizing satisfaction of their contribution. The interactions volunteers do have, even though limited, add to their sense of connectedness through matching expectations and empathy. Through altruism and a sense of belonging, participants access a larger community which is not based on physical connections. Participants’ belief in a positive impact, along with validating their self-worth, enhances their experience of social connectedness.

These themes show that connectedness is distinguishable through various aspects, such as the meaning behind the baking itself, along with the flexibility and effortless style of this particular volunteering. It is through thinking about and imagining who will be eating the baking, and envisaging the impact of receiving the baking, that volunteers feel connected to society. Knowing they are one of many across the country volunteering for this organisation leaves them feeling part of a community, regardless of whether the individuals know others personally or not. This research demonstrated that while volunteering for GBB is a solitary activity it is not a lonely experience, with volunteers feeling connected to other volunteers, the baking recipients, others involved in this altruistic process, and society at large.

Overall the current study illuminated a rich understanding of individuals’ lived experiences of social connectedness through volunteering. While the volunteers encounter few interactions through this style of volunteering, their experience of social connectedness is not restricted. In summary, altruistic baking is part of a reinforcing cycle of positive feelings and connections to others.

Thank you to all the volunteers who contributed their time and energy to participate in this study and shared their experiences, without whom this study would not have been possible. It was a pleasure to hear your stories.

Anjuli Muller

Associate Professor Keith Tuffin

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