The studio walls carry mirrors upon their backs, and in the room’s normal routine, Bollywood dancers fill those reflective frames. Today, this space has to make do with the twin pillars of El Arpa and the figure of Manchester’s Warren Batt – Serve The City’s volunteer-in-chief.
Yes, we rented a studio and everything. I don’t know about fame, but podcasts live forever, right?
In our chat, we got the low-down on humility, giving back and volunteerism. We also debated what NGOs should be, prying into the Third Sector’s identity crisis.
Serve The City – Showing Kindness In Practical Ways
Warren hails from Manchester but has spent a lot of time Madrid. A return home is not on the cards because of the weather, which is exactly what Robbie Dunne said as well. Unlike us, he doesn’t have a background in ESL teaching – lucky him – but rather he conquered the financial sector. Like Russel Brand and Jim Carrey before him, he realised that happiness did not come with material rewards.
Warren sits like a man used to interviews – comfortably and filling the space with an eagerness to talk. He has written a book about humility, centred on his strong faith and a belief that Jesus loves all of us.
Humility, to draw on our ESL resources, could be also seen as a synonym for Serve, as in Serve The City. It’s all about asking people how they can be helped and deferring to their greater knowledge.
STC started in Brussels. As an international city, different people volunteered and brought the idea back to their home countries. Warren, who was quite taken with the ethos of the organisation, went to the International Serve The City Conference with his wife and came back with a resolute desire to kickstart it in Madrid.
The Mancunian was able to leverage the desire of normal people living in Madrid to contribute by acting as their focal point, with 150 volunteers turning up for their first project day.
At its peak, Serve The City in Madrid was doing 10-20,000 volunteer hours per year, 200-300 projects and working with around 45 different charities.
I have personally volunteered with them and there was always a good vibe, with a mixture of ages and nationalities.
Warren is a big proponent of ‘re-volunteering’, which means taking people who have benefitted from STC’s help and getting them to give back in their own little way. Elderly people, in one instance, were brought on a food run for the homeless. It’s a novel idea, one which allows someone to inhabit both sides of the charity line.
It hasn’t always been plain sailing, however, as plans to host a communal dinner involving homeless people, prostitutes and their pimps were shut down by politicians from the conservative Partido Popular. A dinner was eventually organized by the famous Padre Ángel García, but Warren regretted that it only involved homeless people.
This priest also puts big screens in a church so homeless people can watch important football matches.
A Charity Case
Volunteerism is declining everywhere. Warren argued that volunteerism is low in Spain because there is a strong sense of family at the core of society, yet the same is true of Ireland and volunteerism is strong there.
Numerous reports indicate that volunteerism falters because prospective do-gooders are unaware of the available opportunities, don’t have the requisite time or they can’t find projects that inspire their passion.
Warren is making every effort to give rewarding tasks to volunteers. I get that it’s important, but there’s a part of me that feels that volunteering, regardless of the task, is more valuable. Giving back should surely trump meaning.
Unfortunately, STC’s operations have recently hit a stumbling block. A disagreement with the company which supplied many of their volunteers – and most of their funding – means that projects are not currently viable. The problem stems from the fact that many volunteers coming to Spain through this agency merely saw volunteering as a cheap way to go on holiday. Finding people with the right motivation is a tricky challenge to navigate.
Another divergence of opinion reared its head when discussing the idea that NGOs should be run like the corporate sector. This idea is most famously personified by Melinda Gates and Dan Pallotta in their respective TED talks.
While there is a lot to be said for it, I put it to Warren that some people treat economics like a foolproof religion, but the economy – like people – rarely behaves rationally. In addition, he puts forth the idea that people working in the third sector should be renumerated handsomely in order to attract the best talent. However, Warren himself is living proof that those who are charitably minded will often put their principles over financial gain.
Then, the time was up. Our computer’s clock may not know any fancy one-two-threes, but it ticks with a constant rhythm; no matter who we speak to, it always ends too soon, and our chat with Warren was no exception. So thanks for being an engaging, interesting guest!
With the podcast over, the studio had its afternoon’s destiny to fulfil, with bashed drum kits and finessed heel pivots on the agenda, while we had plenty of charity based ideas to chew on.
You can listen to the audio version of the interview on our podcast. In addition, you can check our interview with the members of Han Zimmer’s orchestra. Warren’s book, Humility: The Impossible Virtue, can be purchased here.
Thanks for reading!