Tributes paid to leading light of volunteering

Liz burns

Liz Burns spent three decades at Volunteer Scotland and helped shape modern volunteering in Scotland and across the world 

14th February 2020 by Gareth Jones 1 Comment

Tributes have been paid to a woman who helped shape modern day volunteering in Scotland.

Liz Burns, a leading light in Scotland’s volunteering sector, passed away last weekend.

Starting her career as a language teacher, Burns moved into voluntary sector in the early 1980s and in 1983 she was appointed to lead the newly formed Volunteer Development Scotland (now Volunteering Scotland). 

She spent almost three decades at the organisation, before retiring in 2002. During this time she campaigned tirelessly to gain recognition for citizen volunteering from governments at various levels. She was instrumental in the formation of the national network of local volunteer centres in Scotland and the development of other initiatives such as Millennium Volunteers, the database of Scottish volunteering opportunities and strategies on volunteering.

George Thomson, chief executive of Volunteer Scotland, said: “We would like to pay tribute to Liz as one of Volunteer Scotland’s founding members. Without her dedication and contribution to volunteering at every level, personal, local, national and international, we would not be where we are today.

“Her commitment, determination and strong leadership played an enormous role in getting volunteering’s contribution to society the recognition it deserves. Her efforts put volunteering on map and for that we will forever be thankful.”

Burns received an OBE in 1995 and a CMG (Commander of St Michael and St George) in 2005 for services to volunteering.

During her time at Volunteer Scotland, she also served as president of the European Centre for Volunteering (1996-2001). Throughout her life, she served on numerous volunteer boards and volunteered in a hands-on capacity for a range of organizations and causes that she believed in. 

Dr Justin Davis Smith worked closely with Burns during his time at Volunteer England. He said: "Liz was one of the most passionate, energetic and thoughtful advocates of volunteering over the past 50 years. Through the platform of Volunteer Development Scotland, which she founded and served as its first chief executive, to the European Volunteer Centre, where she held the post of president with great distinction, she played a crucial role in getting volunteering on the domestic and global policy agenda and in improving the way organisations involve and support volunteers.”  

Burns took her career to a global level in 2002 when she became world president of the International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE). In her own words she was “retiring from a paid career but was not ready to retire”.

She took on the role at the conclusion of the International Year of Volunteers, during which IAVE had played a strong global leadership role. Building on that, she dramatically expanded and strengthened IAVE’s reach and impact in her six years at the organisation.

Kylee Bates, world president of IAVE, described Burns as a quiet but formidable presence with fierce intellect.

“Liz was a thoughtful leader, one who understood and deeply valued the dynamics of volunteering as it is practiced throughout the world,” she said. “She recognized the importance of both volunteering at a grassroots level and the essential nature of infrastructure and leadership organizations to support this.  She built strong relationships with United Nations Volunteers and CIVICUS, leading to a partnership project resulting in a landmark paper on the relationship of activism and volunteerism. The depth of her understanding of volunteering and the importance of advocating for it is perhaps best captured in Liz’s own words in this short video filmed after her tenure at IAVE had concluded.”

Bates added that Burns’ commitment and voice for volunteering inspired many.

She said: “On a personal note, I remember on a visit to Melbourne in Australia more than a decade ago, Liz politely declining an invitation to see the obligatory tourist sites. Instead she said she preferred to just walk around the city looking up and admiring some of Melbourne’s Victorian and art deco architecture saying that people needed to “look up more.” As I pass many of those buildings daily now, I occasionally feel a sense of her tapping me gently on the shoulder reminding me to look up.” 

Burns’ funeral is on Friday 21 February at Falkirk Crematorium (within Camelon Cemetery), Dorrator Road, Camelon, FK2 7YJ at 11.30am. Thereafter to Inglewood House, Alloa for a funeral tea.

15th February 2020 by Ruth Millard

To celebrate a life in the volunteer sector is a privilege contributing to the betterment of our world. Thank you Liz Burns for leading the light in the volunteer sector and bettering Scotland and the miles and isles beyond,Ruth Millard President, Volunteer Management Professionals of Canada