Theory, policy and practice perspectives from Royal Holloway

Learning about Sustainability through Volunteering

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MSc Sustainability students 2015-16 with Dr Mike Dolton (MSc Director) and Professor Laura Spence (Director of the RHUL Centre for Research into Sustainability)

All students on the RHUL MSc in Practising Sustainable Development (including the ICT4D stream) and the MSc in Sustainability and Management have to complete a volunteer placement. While students have to do a minimum of 24 hours of volunteering over a 5-month period, many students do far more and some continue after the course has finished.

The aim of the volunteer project module is to allow students to actively engage with an issue of sustainability in practice and to reflect on that involvement. It is assessed through an individual project report reflecting on sustainability issues in the particular organisation, as well as students’ own reflections on their experience. Students also have to produce a poster and give a short presentation.

The volunteer project is one of the most important elements of the MSc Sustainability programmes as it moves debates around sustainability and sustainable development from the classroom to an external organisation. Many of our alumni have highlighted the volunteer project as crucial to their post-degree career progress.

This year students volunteered for an impressive range of organisations from small-scale local organisations in the UK and Kenya, to local branches of large national and international NGOs. Some of our students come from societies where there is a limited tradition of volunteering; the volunteer project gives them an insight into this form of activity, and can also be a way of getting to know people beyond the university.

The organisations selected approach sustainability in different ways; while the environment, society and economy may be seen as the three pillars of sustainability, there is significant variation in organisations’ perspectives.


Ben Madden discusses his volunteering with MaidEnergy

This year, two students volunteered for organisations with an explicit focus on the natural environment. Ben Madden volunteered for MaidEnergy, a community energy organisation based in Surrey, working to provide solar panels for schools. Meanwhile Martin Hains, worked with The Conservation Volunteers (TCV), a nation-wide charity in the field of environmental conservation. However, both MaidEnergy and TCV have social dimensions, providing opportunities for community-building. The Restart Project has a similar ethos, through its ‘restart parties’ where people bring along broken electrical items and learn to repair them – a social and an environmental benefit. Johanna Danielsson spent time volunteering with the Restart Project.


Ku-Wai Wang discusses her experiences as an Oxfam shop volunteer

A number of students volunteered in charity shops. Hanul Hwang and Mari Aoyagi worked in British Heart Foundation shops, while Jessica Meanwell volunteered in a Sue Ryder shop and Ku-Wai Wang in an Oxfam shop. Charity shops are vital in the reusing and recycling of clothes, books and household goods in the UK, as well as providing access to affordable items for low-income customers, and a potential social support network for volunteers and customers. The shops are also key in raising money for the organisations involved. Hanul was intrigued about this method of fund-raising for cardiac research, compared with how research is funded in his home country of South Korea.


Chisenga Muyoya reflects on her gender and technology work with Oxfam

Chisenga Muyoya also volunteered for Oxfam, providing perspectives on the role of technology in Oxfam’s gender equality work. This drew on her significant experience of work with the Asikana Network in Zambia, which she co-founded. Other students working for organisations with an international scope were Elizabeth Kingdom, who volunteered for the Fairtrade Foundation, working particularly on Fairtrade Fortnight, and Simon Malyon who volunteered at The Rights Practice, an international human rights organisation. Ben Mroczkowski chose to volunteer for an organisation which is developing low-cost technological solutions to provide electricity charging for phones and tablets. The ColaLight Project run by the Climate Connected Benefit Society plans to operate in southern Malawi, with a particular focus on girls’ education. Holly Bantleman used the organisation Raise the Roof as the basis for her volunteer project. This organisation, based in Nakuru, Kenya, was founded by Holly and focuses on providing education and training for young people.


Chizitere Ojiaka discusses her volunteer work with InSpire

The MSc sustainability degrees also include field visits to sites in London to consider sustainability challenges within a large and increasingly unequal urban environment. Two of the MSc students volunteered for organisations working in London; Sim Virdee worked with London Sustainability Exchange, an organisation which works with a range of private, public and voluntary sectors organisations to promote sustainability across the capital. At the other end of the size spectrum, InSpire runs two community centres in south London, providing training and support for a range of local residents. Chizitere Ojiaka volunteered for InSpire, giving advice on using social media to engage young people.

Further information about the volunteer project module can be obtained from MSc Director, Dr Mike Dolton:



One thought on “Learning about Sustainability through Volunteering

  1. I was privileged to be at this event and was truly impressed by the reflections of the students who clearly had learned a good deal about not only the causes they had worked on but the challenges of delivering social and environmental good through a range of mechanisms whether charities, social enterprises, NGOs or business. Congratulations all round on an impressive learning experience!


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