On the Edge in Rural Canada: The Changing Capacity and Role of the Voluntary Sector


  • Laura Ryser University of Northern British Columbia
  • Greg Halseth University of Northern British Columbia




Rural, Restructuring, Voluntary sector, Institutional barriers, Innovation / Rural, Restructuration, Secteur bénévole, Obstacles institutionnels, Innovation



Since the 1980s, neoliberal policies have downsized or closed rural and small-town services. In response, voluntary groups have played an increasing role to retain basic supports. How voluntary groups are impacted, and how they react, will affect community development. Drawing upon our research across northern BC and Canada, this article explores the changing role of voluntary groups, with a focus on the structural and institutional barriers impeding their renewal. Our research suggests that voluntary organizations have been diversifying their human and financial capital, expanding partnerships, and developing smart infrastructure to enhance their capacity. More place-based policies and programs are needed to: renew relationships; create synergies; stabilize operations; renew mandates and procedures; develop training supports; enhance development expertise; build diversity, capacity, and support for volunteers; and develop information management systems.



Depuis les années 80, des politiques néolibérales ont entraîné la diminution ou l’élimination de divers services dans les communautés rurales. En conséquence, les groupes bénévoles ont joué un rôle grandissant dans la préservation de services de base. Le traitement des bénévoles et leurs réactions face à ce traitement ont ainsi un impact sur le développement communautaire. Cet article a recours à notre recherche dans le nord de la Colombie-Britannique et ailleurs au Canada pour explorer le rôle changeant des groupes bénévoles dans un contexte où des défis structurels et institutionnels peuvent nuire à leur renouveau. Notre recherche laisse entendre que, pour accroître leurs capacités, les organisations bénévoles sont en train de diversifier leur capital humain et financier, augmenter le nombre de leurs partenariats et développer une infrastructure intelligente. Il faut davantage de politiques et programmes qui tiennent compte du milieu afin de : renouveler les relations; créer des synergies; stabiliser les opérations; reformuler les mandats et procédures; appuyer les activités de formation; accroître l’expertise en développement; augmenter l’aide aux bénévoles ainsi que leur diversité et leurs capacités; et développer de meilleurs systèmes de gestion de l’information.


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Author Biographies

Laura Ryser, University of Northern British Columbia

Laura Ryser is the Research Manager for Rural and Small Town Studies at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, BC.

Greg Halseth, University of Northern British Columbia

Greg Halseth is the Canada Research Chair, Rural and Small Town Studies and a Professor in the Geography Program at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, BC.


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