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“The entire experience came to reinforce a paradox I have experienced time and time again when volunteering – when one volunteers, they end up receiving more in return than they gave in the first place.” Sanj Selvarajah says as he recalls his first experience as a volunteer.
Sanj Selvarajah is a father, husband, son, brother, successful independent consultant and an ardent volunteer who currently sits as a member of CTPA’s advisory board.
When growing up in the neighborhood of Parkdale, Sanj’s volunteering debut was as a flower delivering boy at St. Joseph’s Health Center. Although reluctant as any teenager would have been, he was encouraged by his parents to get involved and give back to the community he was a part of.
This first volunteering experience brought with it countless encounters of warm, kind, wonderful and often brilliant people helping Sanj grow as a person while transforming him from a shy, reserved boy to an engaging individual.
Despite his reluctant beginnings, the unexpected outcome gave Sanj a vantage into volunteering, one that is often overlooked by many.
“I think at times, some people often overestimate the amount of time volunteering takes and hence, don’t end up signing up for anything in the first place. Start with a well-defined task and then as you get more comfortable, you can take on bigger workloads.”
Through the years Sanj has volunteered his time and effort to various causes and organizations including the United Way, Canadian Tamil Youth Development Centre (CanTYD), Charity Ball for Hope and now CTPA; each with different levels of responsibilities.
When asked about his proudest moment as a volunteer, Sanj quoted Margaret Mead,
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Sanj’s proudest moment is rather a series of events spread across his two years at CanTYD. A 1998 start up, CanTYD was a grass roots initiative that didn’t have much in terms of funding or resources but there was definitely a need for the organization in the community. At CanTYD, great volunteers, hard work, motivation and vision converged to forge an organization that took its members and mandate beyond expectations.
Like others, Sanj experiences the challenge of balancing the many needs and commitments in his life. However, he has refined his time management skills and made volunteering a part of his life. He says, “go with one’s heart”.
“If there is a cause that appeals to me and I feel I have time to contribute, I will do what I can. It starts with being realistic about one’s time and knowing how much one can realistically allocate to any endeavor, and apply the Pareto Principle – finding the 20% of activities that drives 80% of the results.”
For those volunteers looking to embark on a similar journey of social influence, Sanj places an emphasis on commitment amongst other attributes.
“What can be frustrating to non-profits is when a volunteer says they will do something and later on, not do anything at all. It’s better to commit to something and then deliver on it. Otherwise, one gains little from the volunteer experience.
When I was in university, I joined an organization that organized activities for my major. I found that due to a lack of class spirit, the turnout for the events was poor and the organization itself was an afterthought in the minds of the students in our class. I had committed for a year and so I stuck it out but in the end, I decided not to continue for the following year.”
Consider for a moment that volunteering is a course. If you are looking for notes, look no further as Sanj has provided the best in-class version.
“There are several organizations and many worthwhile causes. Try something out and if it’s a good fit, then you are on your way. However, if you feel that it somehow doesn’t align with your values or needs, keep looking until you find something that is a good fit. Sometimes what also happens is that after a year or two, you may find yourself tiring or wanting to do something different. You have every right to leave or try something different. Just try to communicate this to the coordinator and if possible, figure out a way to transition out of your role in a smooth manner. Of course, there is also starting your own organization to serve a cause, which is a noble endeavor, but I would first check to see what already exists that serves the same cause you’re interested in so that there’s no redundancy or duplication of efforts.
In the “old days”, there was the private for profit sector and the non-profit sector. There was a clear distinction between the 2 sectors. However, now there is the quickly growing field of social enterprise which combines aspects of both sectors. This field has a lot of potential to change the world. As a young volunteer, I would really look into social enterprises and think of either starting one on your own, teaming up with others to form one or joining an existing one.
Volunteering can also be a way to find out what you want to do in life in terms of a career. It can be a low risk way of trying something out and seeing if you want to pursue a career in a particular field. It is definitely an excellent way to network and make solid connections. It can be a way of gaining some balance in life. For instance, if your work involves spending long solitary hours in a lab and you want to spend time interacting with other human beings, volunteering is one way to strike that balance. It’s also a way to broaden one’s mind and perspective. Most of all, it simply makes one feel good – to help others and society. ”
As an independent consultant, Sanj works with large scale organizations to successfully complete some of their most complex projects. Over the course of his career, he has led the development of business and technical solutions in various sectors such as financial services, human resources, higher education, telecom, IT, and marketing as well as managed relationships with Fortune 500 clients.
In addition to his professional work, he also has extensive experience in the non-profit sector having worked closely with many organizations in a variety of capacity. Sanj sincerely believes that everyone brings unique perspectives and value to the table and hence believes in connecting with and helping others.