This was a long due blog. I’m glad that I was able to write it. This gives me a snapshot of what I have been doing for the last 15 years and think about what I’m going to do for the next 15.
If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together”-Lila Watson.
In the summer of 2002 I took a 20 something volunteer on my Bajaj Chetak scooter to Delhi Cantt railway station to work in a school for children from nearby slums. She liked the project, committed to work from next day and then disappeared without a trace.
This was my first volunteer placement and it turned out to be a disaster. This made me think if formal volunteering is going to work in India or not, at least not the way we visualized when we started iVolunteer. For once I thought may be we made a mistake. People don’t want to volunteer. They would rather just give money.
When we ( Shalabh, Rahul B, Rahul N) started iVolunteer in 2001, our idea was simple. How can we get more and more Indians to share their skills and time with organizations who need it the most? In early 2000s volunteering with a non-profit was a strange concept. Our conversations used to start with “why I should volunteer “, “what is the benefit to me” rather than “ I want to volunteer” or “ I want to help”. One of our potential volunteer had put it in plain words “ Volunteering is for those who have nothing else to do”. It became clear to us that we have to sell the idea of volunteering before we do anything else.
Even those who wanted to volunteer had very little knowledge or access to volunteering opportunities. There was very little information on the Internet so our idea of setting up a volunteering matchmaking portal made lots of sense.
A lot of volunteers did come through iVolunteer.in but they would disappear after the first meeting with the NGO. For a lot of them it was just too much to handle. We learned quickly, added a bit of structure and orientation, screened volunteer properly and our numbers started improving.
Many things have changed since then thanks to advent of Internet and social media there is a greater awareness of volunteering. Our days of selling volunteering are over. More and more people want to volunteer. They want to teach in school, help in fundraising, do events, help organization sell, read to the blind, mentor a young adult. Working with children still is the number one cause that people want to volunteer for. However increasingly a lot of young professionals also want to share their skills. For instance through iVolunteer’s GYAN a lot of professionals impart trainings in subject areas like Excel, PowerPoint, Public relation, social media etc to non-profits. Many go ahead and help non-profit in advisory capacities. A few volunteers have taken the jump and started working full time with non-profits.
Companies have also started encouraging their employees to volunteers. We get a lot of requests to design and manage employee-volunteering programs from companies in India. We currently have employee volunteering programs running with Tata Chemical, Amex, Synopsis, VISA to name a few.
Another growing trend is volunteering full time immersion through Fellowship programs like India Fellow, Teach for India, Gandhi Fellow etc. A program like India Fellow takes young people through a 13 month journey where 12 months are spend volunteering full time with a local non-profit. Currently there are close to 1500 opportunities available every year for anyone who is interested. Most of these opportunities also offer a stipend so that people are not out of pocket.
A welcoming trend in volunteering is that potential volunteer are clear about what they want from the engagement. They have done their research. They know what they can contribute and what they want in return. This does put a little bit of pressure on host organizations as sometimes they struggle to meet volunteer expectations.
Like money volunteers are a resource for an organization. Even though volunteers don’t get paid a salary that doesn’t mean that they come for free. Organizations spend lot resources in managing volunteers. There is an increasing focus on building capacity of non-profits to manage volunteers and create a win-win situation for everyone involved.
In my opinion giving both money and time to the social sector is really important. But it is by giving time that one is truly invested in the causes and communities that are closer to our hearts. This time is so precious because it comes from the time people can spend on their hobbies, with their families and 100 other things that they could be doing. Does volunteering help making world a better place. May be . Does volunteering bring about change? Almost certainly and that change starts with us.