“Are you in or Are you out?” An annual question posed to volunteer coastal cleanup (ICCS) Zone Captains

Every year, I ask my coordinators in International Coastal Cleanup Singapore, “Are you in or are you out?”

Most have been on the team for years, so I can’t assume their status has not changed every year. I also make it easy to drop out if the role is to challenging, so a Google Form does the job of conveying their status nicely.

In the form, they indicate if they are able to do more, can execute the same job or have to take a break. If they don’t fill in the form, the assumption is they have to step away entirely from the programme.

If they are unsure about what it takes, I have updated the 2012 calendar of events all ready for their perusal. And this blog post remind them of what it really means.

So these coordinators (called ICCS Otters) do critical work, and it’s difficult for me when they step down. So why am I so eager, it seems, to divest myself of them?

Well, their contribution needs to be sustainable – so it is important they are not doing too much in a year and have some buffer time for emergencies which life will throw at them. They also need to be clear why they are on board and to make a renewed commitment.

Through this way, we have experienced almost complete renewal over the years. When alumni Ng Hua Qin was back recently on a holiday from studies overseas, he told me that he now didn’t know most of the ICCS Otters! I was surprised and then realised that was actually good news.

Over the years, some things have obviously changed; I have improved operational methods, distributed loads after active recruitment, got Zone Captains to clear individual work during meetings and maintained official meetings at just five a year, and factored in an hour of relaxation for three hours of work, with my eye firmly on the clock. This has kept it fun.

I also snuff out enthusiastic but impractical bright ideas which involve lots of work. And prevent Zone Captains from spoon-feeding needy Organisers which they will otherwise regret later!

We have enhanced operational efficiency in more than 100 participating organisations, introduce critical education and widened outreach together with Raffles Museum Toddycats, provided capacity building for motivated groups (the most rewarding part) and communicated findings with relevant groups and agencies. All this on a budget of about $1,000 and only five meetings. Alright, Google Docs helps!

So a team of well-trained and dedicated volunteers can accomplish plenty. And of course I end up crawling back home in August and September which is also a heavy teaching period for me. I have not yet figured a way out of that but one way is to be slightly less efficient.

This will be my 14th year of coordinating the ICCS. If I get a good operations crew, I’ll then have to build on our data for improved engagement, education, management and conservation.

For now though, let me see who will be left standing and what positions I’ll have to recruit for in 2012. Wish me luck!

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