Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Volunteering to change the world

Ever volunteered? I’m sure most people would have volunteered in one way or another, whether directly and indirectly and formally and informally. This is since most of us has the capacity to volunteer in one form or another. Be it through offering some of our time to help with the local community BBQ, the local school working bee, to offering our knowledge, our thoughts, our comments and suggestions to a friend, a family member and even that stranger. Just think of that local survey you may have done online, over the phone or just walking down the street...

I know I’m using the term ‘volunteer’ fairly loosely here but what I’m referring to the voluntarily act of sharing or providing a service in the form of knowledge or our actions. If you think about why we volunteer, we often do so when we have free time, when we feel like it, when there seems to be some benefit for us, some of us do it for the sake of volunteering, others for the fact that they know they are contributing to a greater good, i.e. for the benefit of the wider community.

Clear examples of this we can see through the establishments of service clubs such as the Lions Club and the Rotary, and for those in the IT industry, the open source industry where software created with volunteer contribution from developers all around the world. The Mozilla Firefox browser is one example of a product of this.

This desire to make a difference and make a change to the wider community can be extended further and as the Internet has enabled and extended many social interactions and relationships today. It too has changed the way we can volunteer and collaborate our spare time in many different ways.

This video of a presentation presented at a event terms this volunteering as ‘cognitive surplus’ and is what I believe shows how globalisation through the Internet and collaboration can reach new levels and hopefully help resolve those lingering social and non-social issues in our world today. Enjoy! : )

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Inspiration from an unlikely source...

Have you ever had that time when you were told something or you experienced something and it has challenged your life forever?

Well, this is my story. This is the story of a day where the vital seeds were planted that have now become not only the foundation of 'how' I live my life but also 'why' I live the life in the way that I do...

It was 5-6 years ago (2003-2004). I was in my final years of high school and simply taking a bus from my home to Footscray heading to the library...

I was just looking out the window watching houses, cars, trees, watching people get on and off, and you know just daydreaming…  When out of the blue, I was approached by a shabby, tipsy/drunk-looking bloke started talking and poking questions at me such as where I was from, what was I studying, etc.

Back then, I wanted to be an engineer, so I told him of my intentions to study engineering and he discussed the strong need for engineers, and encouraged me to keep pursuing that goal as Australia needed more engineers like me...

Now it was surprising to hear such words of encouragement, from a bloke that looked like he was struggling to stand and sit in his seat. Saying encouraging and motivating words such as, ‘keep up the great job’, ‘we need more engineers like you’. It was the sort of words that you’d expect to hear from a friend but more commonly, from a careers adviser, yet there I was receiving such kind and reassuring words.

Yet it was his final words as he departed from the bus, which, although not immediately striking me then and there, struck me years later during my uni days and still today. These words were, to keep studying and to remember ‘to make something of yourself’, which I interpreted as ‘to make something of myself’…

These words are now at the core of much of what I do, much as a corporate strategy sets the strategic goals that it undertakes in business. The phrase, ‘to make something of myself’, has found its way to becoming my core strategy and sets my strategic goals and visions that I undertake in my ‘life’.

It has undoubtedly has and will continue to motivate me particularly through many of life's challenges and obstacles, and will inspire me to pursue my dreams. As I seek to turn each challenges into opportunities, I have noticed that they have branched off and reformed itself into a number of areas which one can term as ‘sub-ambitions’ or ‘sub-goals’, some of those only unveiling themselves to me recently. These appear to be things that one I had found myself  unconsciously already doing as part of my life, yet it has evolved into a phrase and words of its own.

These I have found to be to ‘make a difference’, which I finding I am doing by 'helping others' which I believe this is this that one can achieve both directly or indirectly, i.e. by directing helping others and by supporting the people who help others.  Where this may evolve into later, only time will tell....Till then, take care!
- Vu Long Tran :)

 "Reach what you cannot!" - Niko Kazantzakis

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My space, equality and peer networks...

I recently participated in a youth roundtable session with a Lord Mayors Charitable Fund (LMCF) based in the City of Melbourne and I'd thought I would share some of my thoughts and notes on what was discussed.

Background to the LMCF group:
For those who aren't aware of the group (I wasn't aware of them until they were seeking youth opinions from YACVic (Youth Affairs Council of Victoria) groups), but they are a philanthropic type of organisation run by diverse group of volunteers who allocate money as grants to various community initiatives, mainly around the City of Melbourne region - although they have been known to extend their reach throughout Victoria and Australia.

Contrary to the name and where they are based, they actually are a separate entity from the City of Melbourne council (For example, they actually pay leasing costs for their facility). They receive donations from businesses and individuals, although the bulk of their funding comes from donations by individuals. 

Their focus:
They have various focus areas where they aim to direct their funding, including family/ youth, crisis support and health. As part of the session we were there to provide the youth perspective on the issues and areas that we believed they should be directing their funding. The discussions were focused around the themes: Space and Place, Inequity and Access, and Mentoring - Community Connections. 

Space and Place
This seems very important, it is something that has come to my attention more and more recently, including the Privacy Victoria conference on May 31 (see blog for more details). Since everyone deserves and seeks their own space and place for their own. Often young people can be seen as nuisances or pests hanging around the shopping centre or car parks, so the issue of where they ought to or could hang out was discussed. One important point to make was that they, as everyone else, should have a right to be hang around in public spaces. It seems that there is a need for somewhere where they could go, particularly at night and during hot weather. Not necessarily as far as creating a public place exclusively for young people alone, but a place that they would like. To be entertained and socialise, with family, friends and the like. I wonder if these places can promote safe or no alcohol drinking? 

Inequity and Access
Disability and access to accommodation, the latter referring to the difficulties and discrimination in relation to young people wanting to find a house to rent. Disabled people were in this boat as well, even more so was the difficulty finding a 'disability-friendly' home which I found concerning. In terms of disability itself and IT, there were difficulties reported about the design and layout of websites which makes it difficult for disabled individuals to use. This reminded me of an article called, 'Communicating in virtual worlds through an accessible Web 2.0 solution' published in the Telecommunications Journal of Australia, Volume 60, No. 2, 2010 and can be read further at It's a great read and discusses the very problems faced by disabled individuals online and how beneficial the internet can be for them. (You may also like to read my brief blog on the article: 

Mentoring - Community Connections
The last, community connections engulfing my thoughts as I recalled a quote presented to me at the APCCAN child abuse and neglect conference in Perth late last year - see blog post for details), 'A person is person through other persons...' and that strengthening peer networks, i.e. the informal support networks for communities seemed to be the most effective way for people to help one another. 

It brings the concept that always seems to come up in discussions about peer pressure how it influences people, along with finding the best way to teach and to educate and the common answer is through peer learning, i.e. peers teaching other peers. This is most likely apparent as one generally relate best with ones peers who 'understand them' and what they're going through. A slighter older peer was suggested as another possible teacher/ mentor outside of this peer network, given that they are not 'out of touch' yet.