A Chain For The Chasm

By Team Digit Published Date
01 - Sep - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - Sep - 2007
A Chain For The Chasm
You know all too well your help is needed, and that's true in any country, any time. You can help by recycling stuff. You can help by approaching governments and supporting social causes. You can help by directly feeding the poor. This is all confused, but the idea is: Your Help Is Needed. But let this not be a sob story, and let's get to our point.

Various hindrances prevent you from contributing towards causes. Helping with child welfare means working with NGOs after having understood the problems. Educating weaker sections of society means volunteering as a teacher, possibly in a language you don't (yet) know. And so forth… and in today's busy life, there are time constraints. Yes, you can take time out, but what can possibly stop you from crashing in front of the telly at the end of a hard day? In addition, this is India, and volunteering organisations-assuming you can't help directly-may be located far away or even in other countries. So here's the broad picture: you want to help. You have the time, strictly speaking. You have the skills. NGOs and other helping bodies exist. So what's to be done?

Yes, The Internet!
It turns out you can now volunteer over the Internet-and so, much to your initial dismay, you have no excuse. (But if you have a conscience, you'll be glad.) What you first need is a strong desire to contribute for a cause. You can do your part by taking up tasks that do not require an on-site presence. Various tasks-such as reading out and recording of passages from textbooks for visually impaired students, and documentation of activities and writing proposals for grants from organisations-can be done at home (or office, boss permitting). Imagine this: you're helping a blind child somewhere while perched on your favourite chair at home, in the wee hours when you're most comfortable.

"Virtual volunteers can help NGOs not just technically-like choosing the Web server, scripting language, and database server-but also as advisors on how to gain best from the Internet"
Shalabh Sahai, Director, iVoluntee

Charity First
We'll come to the middlemen in a bit-the people who get you in touch with the NGOs. Before that, here's a flavour for exactly what NGOs need of "virtual volunteers."

Opportunities in virtual volunteering are usually spread through word of mouth and not via advertising or press releases: organisations simply don't have enough money! It's in that spirit that we're here informing and encouraging you.

First off, you can write for the newsletters of NGOs and do design and layout work for them. If you have a flair for Web designing, you can build a Web site for your favourite helping-out organisation, or through research on the Internet, build content for the site, identify sources of funds, and rope in more volunteers. Those of  artistic inclinations might consider creative designing of brochures, campaign posters, T-shirts, and presentations. Volunteers with a marketing background can help in online fund raising through marketing of in-house products produced by the NGO-for example, candles, greeting cards, and sweaters-which can be sold online. Coming to more skilled areas, those with the skills can contribute to database management and translation. And remember, all this without leaving that favourite chair.

Now for the really difficult part. You don't want to go running around looking for NGOs. And here's where iVolunteer comes in: the organisation (www.ivolunteer.org.in) is an exchange platform where volunteers get connected with NGOs in India and abroad.  

Organisations Where You Can E-Volunteer 
Lend a hand if you can!
  • VolunteerMatch Support has loads of opportunities in diverse fields like Advocacy and Human Rights, Crisis Support, Media and Broadcasting, and more. Find a field that suits you: www.volunteermatch.org/opportunities/virtual.jsp.
  • Macdonald Youth Services has various opportunities in diverse fields. To find out about openings here, subscribe to their newsletter: www.mys.ca/volunteer.
  • Daily Dump is a Bangalore-based organisation that runs a project on home composting so as to ensure homes manage their own organic waste at source.
    They need a visualiser for DTP work.bangalore@ivolunteer.org.in
    Ph.: 080-41466568
  • Maithri Educational and Charitable Organization in Chennai deals with providing scholarships to physically-challenged students. They're looking for volunteers to read out and record passages from textbooks for visually-impaired graduate students.
        Ph.: 044-42892791
  • Abhyudaya, who help people reach a stage of self-sustenance by training them to make textile products like Dari, bed-sheets, scarves, toys, etc. needs volunteers to assist in documentation and proposal development.
        Ph.: 011-26217460
  • The South India Cell for Human Rights for Right Education and Monitoring (SICHREM) works for human rights and seeks to empower Dalits, tribal people, women, children, and minorities. They're looking for someone who can write a four-page e-newsletter and update their Web site.
        Ph.: 080-41466568
  • Suyam Charitable Trust, which works in child and youth welfare programmes, needs volunteers to assist in documentation work, online fund raising activities, and media and corporate publicity.
        Ph.: 044-42892791
  • GNAPE works in the field of nature conservation, preservation, and education through various research, documentation,and outreach programmes.
    They need volunteers to design their Web site and develop content.
        Ph.: 044-42892791
The Middlemen
Rahul Nainwal and Shalabh Sahai founded iVolunteer in 2001. They were then students at the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA), Gujarat. They conceptualised the idea in order to create what iVolunteer is today-a platform where volunteers and voluntary organisations could meet. Right from the outset, then, iVolunteer had the aim of contributing to society in terms of giving time to and sharing skills with those in need. The organisation now has a network of over 300 credible non-profits spread across India, and is working on a variety of issues to create a database of opportunities for volunteers to
get involved. iVolunteer mobilises volunteers and profiles them based upon their interest, skills, and availability. Its Volunteer Relationship team helps match volunteers to suitable opportunities.

iVolunteer also has programs that cater to those who don't just want to help online: they have iVolunteer Indian Fellow, iVolunteer Overseas, Employee Volunteering, and National and International Volunteering. Refer box More About iVolunteer.

NGOs are realising the importance of the Internet to be able to reach out to people in far-off places (as in funding and mobilising volunteers); they also find it difficult to commit resources to build and manage their Web sites. Sahai, director of iVolunteer India, has this to say: "Virtual volunteers can help NGOs not just technically-like choosing the Web server, scripting language, and database server-but also as advisors on how to gain the most from the Internet."

"I came to know about iVolunteer through word of mouth. I am usually free during my weekends, and I thought, why not utilise this time to do something beneficial for society?"
Devang Bhatt, Virtual volunteer for Akshara

Richa Sood, relations executive at iVolunteer tells us, "Resource mobilisation-particularly fund-raising, is a lifeline to almost all non-profits. Often these require no face-to-face interface with the organisation, and campaigns can be carried out using the various mediums that IT offers."

One needs to remember that the efforts you put in can possibly also help in career growth. Web sites you create for NGOs can be listed on your résumé. In the case of a businessman, the Web site could stand testimony to your organisation's skills. NGOs are always looking out for people to help spread awareness in regards to relevant issues, and Web sites being the best medium, volunteers for Web site development are the most sought-after.

iVolunteer is seeking people to help with writing and designing reading material. Those with modest skill-sets are placed in back-office work like keeping records of finances and day-to-day activities. People who know more than two languages are placed as translators, who are in great demand by NGOs: as they grow, they require people to localise all the reading material they generate.

And coming to figures, iVolunteer has thus far placed over 5,000 volunteers in various programmes. However, they admit that virtual volunteering is a small part of this figure. Yes, it is just taking off, and again, you can help.

On The Other Side
Volunteers working over the Internet have helped Ashoka, which we mentioned earlier, even in areas such as research. Researchers at Ashoka are working on projects as diverse as rain water harvesting and genetically engineered crops. Such research allows both scientist and entrepreneur to attract fresh participants and resources to the long-standing problem of rural development. As an example of how such work affects rural development, research on genetically engineered crops and foods helps in examining their impact on the environment, human and animal health, and traditional agriculture.

Bill Drayton, a social entrepreneur, founded Ashoka in 1980 in Washington DC with an annual budget of $50,000 (Rs 20 lakh). He elected its first Fellow in India a year later. In its early years, the focus of this NGO was on promoting social entrepreneurs. Now with  over 1,800 volunteers from 60 countries ranging from businessmen, journalists, investors, and academics, Ashoka is helping out in a wide range of programmes and initiatives that deal with the basic necessities like food and water around the world.

Ashoka has various other virtual volunteering opportunities. They need people to promote funding, strategic planning, marketing, designing of their Web site, and translation. Opportunities can be found listed in the Ashoka Volunteer bimonthly newsletter. 

More About iVolunteer 
Here are iVolunteer's programmes besides their online volunteering coordinating efforts:

iVolunteer Indian Fellow
Here, undergraduates spend six weeks living and working with rural NGOs.

iVolunteer Overseas
The volunteer goes to other developing countries for work in the field of child education, housing, and sanitation.

Employee Volunteering
Employees of corporate organisations work with local communities to contribute towards the community and environment.

National And International Volunteering
This is for individuals, both Indian and foreign, contributing to social causes in India.

You can sign up for the newsletter by writing to volunteers@ashoka.org with "Newsletter" in the subject line. It carries information about whom to directly contact if one wishes to help.

One must never forget that motivation is an important aspect for a volunteer working at home or office. Of course, this is important anyway, but is especially so for a virtual volunteer: it's easier to fall asleep at your chair than on the field! In addition, volunteers can tend to feel isolated and undervalued, and over time, decide to leave a project halfway. It is important that a volunteer be willing to take ownership over the experience.

If You Have A Heart And The Time…
Before embarking on any virtual volunteering project, you need to remember-once again, it must be repeated-that virtual volunteering begins with a strong belief in the cause, so be sure it's something you want to, and can, commit to. You can also make your contribution to a cause over the phone or via fax if you don't have access to the Internet.

With over a billion Internet users in the world, even if a tiny fraction take up this route of helping out, there can be a huge impact. We won't end on a weepy note… but we've told you what's possible. It's up to you-remember, you needn't set foot in uncharted, unmapped territory, weather boots and all!

Team DigitTeam Digit

All of us are better than one of us.