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Social Entrepreneur Ignites International Interest in SVA

Social Entrepreneur Ignites International Interest in Student Volunteer Army

At the 25th Emergency Preparedness Conference in Vancouver this month, Louis Brown, Dunedin social entrepreneur and a key leader of the Christchurch Student Volunteer Army (SVA), gave, what’s been heralded in Canada as, ‘an inspiring presentation’ on his vision to establish volunteer armies as permanent features in tertiary institutions at home and abroad.

Louis Brown has developed a scalable model based on the Christchurch SVA that helped an estimated 50,000 Christchurch residents in the wake of the Feb 2011 earthquake. The model addresses existing problems in disaster planning and offers opportunities, aside from disaster response, for tertiary institutions to engage positively with their communities.

Louis has been overwhelmed by the interest he’s received from both his presentation and subsequent talks at five universities on the West Coast of Canada and the USA. Four universities are already talking about possible partnerships with Louis’ organisation and are keen to bring Louis back to Canada in the New Year. Louis also met with Red Cross Canada who is also interested in his model.

Louis, who ran a successful pilot project with Otago Polytechnic earlier in the year, says, “My aim has always been to first set up partnerships with tertiary institutions in New Zealand; I can’t believe the model has already started to take off 12,000ks from home!”

Louis’ documentation of using social media, to mobilise very quickly an unorganized group of people to deliver effective response and recovery operations was identified as a way of the future. John Oakley, a Senior Regional Manager for Emergency Management in British Columbia says, “The model presented by Louis may well become a major "game changer" in organizing the public at large. I can’t think of any reason why this couldn’t or shouldn’t be extended to secondary and post-secondary institutions. It’s an amazing win-win for everyone!”

The benefits of using the model to develop an ongoing volunteer culture in a tertiary setting were summed up by Darrell Akerstrom from Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University, Canada’s number one University. “The vision and model is highly defined, clearly marketable in positive value, and its governance structure is sustainable. Looking beyond that, it not only adds to the worth of the community that is assisted, but it integrates the students more thoroughly into their larger community, and produces in them both the perception of public service and the realisation of their common ownership of the community within which they live.”

At the University of Victoria in Canada, Student Services Director Joel Lynn said that students were keenly interested in Louis’ grass roots approach, using tools they relate to (social media), to achieve something that impacted the community on many levels. “If anything, Louis left our students with the possibility that they do have the power and ability to create change and make a substantive contribution back to community.”

Buoyed by the resoundingly positive response his vision has had internationally, Louis is planning a New Zealand road show next year to garner interest from around the country.

“I believe that New Zealand tertiary institutions should be the first to embrace the volunteer army model and recognise that they have the potential to lead the world in creating a sustainable volunteer culture to realise common aspirations for a better world.”


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