Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN)
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Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) at Luther College
The Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) is an interdisciplinary, community-university collaborative comprising of students, the voluntary sector and faculty/staff administered out of the VSSN office at Luther College at the University of Regina. At VSSN, a buzz of activities and conversations unfold daily about the voluntary sector in Regina and across Saskatchewan.
The VSSN is the first formal program of study on the voluntary sector as a whole in Saskatchewan. It began in September 2014 with seed money for ten months from the Luther College, President's Academic Strategic Initiatives Fund. A total of $89,298 was made available and an additional $96,705 was leveraged in in-kind resources. Given the high degree of support the VSSN has garnered during its first year, the steering group has decided to continuum the momentum. The main goals of VSSN for 2015-2017 are:
- To continue to strategically, collectively and publicly define and build the VSSN, its three pillars and its long term sustainability (e.g., people skills, partnerships, financial resources and in-kind resources); and
- To implement scholarly and practical, innovative learning programs with and for the VSSN's three main groups – students, voluntary organizations and university faculty/staff – that also results in the incubation of new ideas with/for the voluntary sector.
The VSSN is building sustainable communities by developing the tools required to equip Saskatchewan’s voluntary sector with the knowledge and skills it needs in order to continue working toward the enhancement of the quality of life and well-being of all people in Saskatchewan. The collaboration and partnerships between the university and voluntary organizations in Saskatchewan builds capacity to work together and is a strategic way of using the voluntary sector to sustain communities and build social, human, natural, and financial capital.
The voluntary sector - also known as the nonprofit sector, the third sector and the community-based sector - is worthy of significant academic exploration. The sector provides many public benefits, is woven into the historical fabric of Canada, is active in myriad areas (e.g., arts/culture, heritage, environment, sports and recreation, faith-based organizations), has $75 billion in revenues, is found in every community, has thousands of staff, and draws on millions of volunteer hours every year. Saskatchewan has at least 8,000 registered charities and nonprofits, has the second highest number of voluntary organizations per capita in Canada and has the highest volunteer rate in Canada.
VSSN embraces three inter-related themes
The VSSN program embraces three inter-related themes – learn, research, innovate. As shown in the figure to the right, students, voluntary sector staff and volunteers as well as university faculty/staff are involved in dynamic and mutually beneficial relationships while learning, researching and innovating. We believe that by enhancing connections among these diverse groups that the potential for reciprocal learning for everyone involved is great – indeed, the creation and sharing of knowledge is multi-directional. This reciprocal learning benefits communities and society as a whole.
Learning at VSSN is both formal and informal and encompasses different models of course delivery: semester-long courses, online courses, webinars, block classes, evening seminars and ‘weekend university’. There are three main groups of learners at VSSN:
- Academic courses for undergraduate students who may be interested in studying the voluntary sector - Based on a review of curricular guidelines and analyses of data collected during our first year, a selection of courses currently offered on campus are being and adapted to incorporate a "community-engaged learning" and new courses are being designed at the undergraduate level for a proposed certificate.
- Professional development for voluntary sector staff and volunteers – new learning opportunities are being developed for voluntary sector staff (e.g., senior, middle and front-line staff) and volunteers. While there are some training programs currently in place, the HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector in Canada found problems with numerous courses (e.g., there were very few hands-on components). We are currently identifying what gaps exist and discerning how to fill them.
- Professional development for faculty - through peer-mentorship, faculty are given opportunities to learn how to build experiential learning activities into their courses as well as learn about community-engaged scholarship.
Community-based participatory action research and community-engaged scholarship are the main paradigms at VSSN. Community-engaged scholarship is a multi-dimensional, systematic, documented and evaluated process of discovery that is entrenched in both theoretical literature and the real-world that results in products that are public, peer-reviewed, change-oriented and made available to others for further use. These products range from theories about the sector, new legislation and public policies, to community histories and children’s drawings. Depending on the nature of the projects, teams of students engage in community-based research and work closely with faculty and voluntary organization staff and volunteers. The integration of theory and practice is paramount.
Innovation is an essential component because the voluntary sector is undergoing transformational shifts today (e.g., shifts in the charity, social justice, and social enterprise models) yet Canadian research on the voluntary sector is still in its infancy. Complexity, network and ecological theories – to name but three key theories - inform our work. We believe when a diverse group of thinkers - old and young, experienced and inexperienced - sit and dialogue around the same table, new ways of looking at problems and their resolution ensue. Students will develop their leadership skills and voluntary entrepreneurship skills; new public policies and voluntary sector incubators are but two examples of what students can pursue at VSSN.
Students, voluntary organizations and faculty/staff involved in dynamic and mutually beneficial relationships to learn, research, and innovate! For more information, contact the VSSN Coordinator by phone at 1.306.337.2462 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.