Jacqueline Butcher de Rivas, or Jackie Rivas as she’s known among those who familiar with her work, is the kind of woman whose photo could appear beside the dictionary definition of civic leadership, or, in Spanish, liderazgo civico. For 35 years she has been actively involved in The Junior League of Mexico City where she is currently an engaged Sustaining member, and where she served as President from 1992-1993. From 1999-2001, she elevated her commitment to a global level by serving on The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc.’s Board of Directors as its International Director.

“Volunteering has always been part of my life, even when I was a kid,” she says. “You learn what your parents expose you to.”

The child of U.S.-born parents who relocated to Mexico when she was five, Rivas joined Girl Guides, her church choir, and her high school yearbook staff before joining The Junior League of Mexico City at the age of 18.

“Volunteering helps you grow as a person,” she says. “You can go through the motions, but if you really live it, it changes you.”

Rivas’s passion for the benefits of voluntarism, both for those being served and for the volunteer, runs so deep that she turned it into a career—though not until after following what you might say was a bit of a circuitous path.

After leaving Mexico for the States to attend the University of Wisconsin, she obtained her B.A. in biochemistry—she studied wheat and maize—and then returned to Mexico. The study of commodity crops did not hold her interest for long, however, so she married and gave birth to twins. Then, for several years, she committed the bulk of her time to an array of causes in her adopted homeland, including the American Benevolent Society and the Juniper School.

Ultimately though, she could not ignore her desire to understand one’s motivation for volunteering. At the age of 40 she returned to graduate school at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City where she received her M.A. and Ph.D. in Humanistic Psychology and Human Development. Her thesis, entitled “Towards a Culture of Service: Interpersonal Relationships in Social Volunteering in Mexico,” explored the question of why volunteers honor their commitments for such long stretches of their lives.

Of the many “a-ha” moments she had within the League, Rivas recalls a Saturday morning in the 1990s when she was working with high school students in a poor community to build a house for an elderly man as part of Project LEAD.

“There was a woman who was trying to help by passing out lemonade to the volunteers. The lemonade was made with unboiled water, she was very poor, I had a house and a car, and we sat there and chatted about all the things we had in common—our worries about our kids, pollution in the water. We were just two people sitting together trying to get something done. It was at that moment that I knew I wanted to do something that would get other people to share themselves with someone else.”

This magical bonding experience has been the driving force of her career ever since,and it has inspired her to be an ambassador for the professionalization of voluntarism in Mexico.

Currently she serves as the Director of the Center for Investigation and Studies of Civil Society at Tecnologico de Monterrey’s School for Humanities and Social Sciences in Mexico City.

In this role, she fosters in her students humanistic values, an international perspective, and an entrepreneurial spirit.

Her zeal for the subject seems inexhaustible. She has taught in the Psychology Department at the Universidad Iberoamericana; served as a director of JB Consultores, an international provider of human resources training in the corporate and nonprofit sectors; and works in leadership development with TEAM International where she gives courses in leadership to national and international companies.

She has served on several boards, including those of the Mexican Center for Philanthropy, the International Society for Third Sector Research, and the National Mexican Health Foundation. She also has been a member of the Patrimonio de la Beneficencia Pública, a government organization designed to distribute resources among NGOs in Mexico. In addition she is one of the four citizens who served as an advisor in the Consejo Ciudadano Consultivo of the DIF National System, which was presided over by First Lady Margarita Zavala.

An ardent and prolific advocate for voluntary action and civil participation, Rivas has presented papers, authored articles, and delivered speeches around the world. She has spoken at the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy’s 22nd annual symposium; worked with the U.N. on the State of the World Volunteer Report; and given her own TEDTalk entitled “The Art of Giving.”

In deepening her expertise, Rivas has distinguished herself as one of a few individuals who research the sector in Mexico—her “soulmates,” she calls them—and one of even fewer who can articulate not only the psychological benefits of volunteer service—a pursuit she likens to a spiritual experience—but also how it can lead to a community that is unified in its quest for positive social change.

“In Mexico and many developing countries the number of volunteer organizations compared to the country’s population is proportionately lower,” she says, adding that the U.S. differs from Mexico in its professionalization of voluntary service. “In Mexico, we take care of one another but not through a systematic program.”

Rivas has spent the last several years studying how to quantify the effectiveness of the sector. She currently is working with the U.N., Johns Hopkins University, and Colegio de México to add a question about volunteer work to national labor surveys in order to gather global statistics on volunteering.

“The will of people helping other people is what advances nations,” she says. “If our research can stimulate this activity then it is more than worth our while.”

Looking back at her more than 40 years of service in The Junior League, Rivas says she was given an opportunity to develop skills as a leader that have served her exceedingly well in all aspects of her career.

“The League provided a safe environment, with rigor and camaraderie, in which to test my skills, to experiment and make mistakes, among friends and peers. It provided training for life.”