People with purpose: Surveying the sector to save the planet

Posted on 18 Aug 2023

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

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After three decades working and volunteering with for-purpose organisations, Jaya Manchikanti is researching how to make the world a better place – and she needs your help.

Describe your experience of working and volunteering in the not-for-profit sector for more than 30 years.

As far back as I can remember, right from an early age, I’ve had an interest in social justice issues, and this continues to be the case.

Whilst I did bits and pieces of volunteering during secondary school, my serious interest in volunteering and working in the NFP sector began soon after I had my two young children, living in suburban Melbourne.

I began volunteering at my local neighbourhood house while raising a family and soon found myself in the position of president of the puzzle library.

I was so grateful to be part of a local community group that provided an opportunity for children and adults to borrow jigsaw puzzles at low cost.

Having noticed my interest in community work, the neighbourhood house coordinator suggested that I study in this field to deepen my interest and gain employment in this area.

I studied part-time and finished off a diploma in community development and a master’s degree in international and community development.

During my last field placement in the diploma course (where I did a research project with the organisation now known as Multicultural Women Victoria), I was offered a job as the first project coordinator for that organisation.

This kick-started my trajectory into various community development roles where I worked for a variety of NFP organisations across Melbourne, before moving into local and state government jobs.

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While working in these roles, I noticed a gap in the service sector for the rapidly increasing Indian population in Victoria and helped establish IndianCare as founding president in 2013.

I was recognised for this work by the Victorian government and awarded the 2021 Victorian Volunteering Leadership and Champion Award (above).

For the past 12 years, I have also been a member of the Monash Lions Club, and I am now the president. I joined the Lions movement because of its motto of “service” and to be in touch with like-minded people.

At the peak of the pandemic, I did some online teaching before deciding to undertake a PhD full time at Victoria University to address a gap in understanding in Australia about the role of community development in sustainable development.

Why do you feel so passionate about being involved in the for-purpose sector?

The for-purpose sector is incredibly under-recognised in Australian society.

Much good work is undertaken by community-based NFP organisations, yet their work is seriously overlooked.

This sector needs the same level of recognition as other domains in our society, such as the private sector, government, education, sports and the arts.

The for-purpose sector can be more inclusive of people on the margins of society and can address issues more flexibly and quickly, and this was certainly evidenced during the covid lockdowns. It can work alongside government and the private sector to achieve better outcomes in Australia.

Advocacy in action: Jaya has devoted 30 years of her life to working and volunteering with NFPs.

Describe the research project you are working on as part of your PhD.

I am currently halfway through my PhD studies at Victoria University.

The title of my research is Examining Australian Third Sector Community Development Praxis in Relation to Progressing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A United Nations initiative, the SDGs comprise 17 broad aims, ranging from zero poverty to eliminating hunger, gender equality, reduced inequality, and climate action, that in 2015 countries around the world signed up to achieve by 2030.

Unfortunately, these goals are not progressing well, a situation not helped by the covid pandemic.

As part of my studies, I am examining the community development work undertaken by the for-purpose sector in Australia in relation to the progression of the SDGs.

My research is mainly qualitative, using methods such as key-informant interviews, focus group discussions and case studies.

I have also released a national online survey that I hope to use for quantitative analysis.

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The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) initiative is a United Nations framework comprising 17 global goals ranging from zero poverty to eliminating hunger, gender equality, reduced inequality, and climate action.

Why did you choose this topic and what do you hope to achieve?

I chose my PhD topic after many years working in the field and recognising that there needs to be a greater understanding in Australia of the relationship between community development and sustainable development.

I am now in the data collection phase, and after analysing my research I plan to produce an 80,000-word thesis which will include recommendations.

I hope to use my work to influence policy development in Australia and bring greater awareness and robustness to the concepts of community development and the Third Sector, in the context of sustainable development.

Why should members of the NFP community complete your survey?

There has been little research in this area and there is a dearth of scholarly literature about this topic. Yet we are all affected by issues such as climate change and gender inequality, to name just two of the sustainable development goals. There is a need to consider better ways to address these.

If colleagues from across the NFP community, from First Nations and disability groups to LGBTQI+ organisations and the environmental lobby, could take just 30 minutes to complete my survey, they would be contributing insightful data for a project that I hope can make a real difference.

More information

Australia’s new International Development Policy

Community Directors Intelligence newsletter: Green special edition

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