Xarxanet.org, july 2003]

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University e-Volunteering

[originally published in catalan in Xarxanet.org, july 2003]
[plain and clear style for non-techies, target of the site of the source post]

Volunteer: stay home!

Internet brings us new ways of interacting with others and, thus, new ways of working together.

When we speak about working and the Internet we usually think of teleworking, i.e. working at home or somewhere different from our usual office, with the help of ICT [here for another point of view on teleworking and telecommuting]

This way of working, or teleworking, can actually have a non-profit side we may find in the world of cooperation for development in the form of the virtual volunteer or e-volunteer, i.e. become volunteers staying at home, with no need to commute and travel to the NGO headquarters or just a far and away country.

Profile of the virtual volunteer

The virtual volunteer usually finds it difficult to meet other people he has to work with, be they other volunteers, professionals at the NGO or the ones the volunteering programme is intended to benefit.

Thus, we’re talking about people that cannot commute to the place to cooperate (be at the same space) or have difficult to match agendas (be at the same time).

Almost always these people have already volunteered elsewhere or have worked in a project or an institution and, little by little, they increasingly have to deal with family and professional responsabilities that shorten their free time and shift it to the weekend or make it impossible to travel abroad for a long time, etc.

The pros using the Internet as a (tele)working tool are simple and based in the abbility to maintain an unbroken link between the volunteer and the organization, bringing the world our experience, our expertise and our knowledge; work with people we could not meet (in time, in space) and, in the end, keep on being “good people” despite an always-full-of-meetings agenda.

So, how does the e-volunteer work

In order to be an e-volunteer the only thing required is a personal computer (desktop, laptop, PDA, etc.) and some other tool you can use to communicate with others. We usually will use a web browser to get the information we need to do our work and e-mail software to talk with the rest of the (virtual) team in the project.

However, more and more often intranets are used to supply a communication environment clearly enhancing e-mail possibilities. These intranets are web-browser accessible (as some web-mail is) and have a restricted access, so the person entering the intranet is identified and can have customized services such as personalized information (sometimes confidential) on the subject he’s working on.

These intranets can also have other tools to ease networking, replacing presenciality but within the same terms of quality, organization and teamworking: meeting rooms and virtual spaces for discussion, information and working documents sharing systems, on-line newsboards, classrooms and training spaces, etc.

What can a virtual volunteer do?

It is very clear that an e-volunteer cannot hold any tasks related to physically handling something or requiring being there. Thus, the virtual volunteer will mainly work with knowledge related aspects, i.e. with everything he knows, so he can apply this knowledge directly, when possible, or just backofficing others and helping them in what to do.

In one hand, then, the e-volunteer can hold plenty of administrative tasks in the field of project management or organization management (accountancy, legal affairs, etc.) that some software and the Internet already allow the user to have it done remotely sitting in front of a desktop. The only thing left to be done is correctly defining these tasks and uploading to the Net all the necessary information to carry on with one’s work.

More knowledge-focused, in the other hand, the volunteer can work spreading the things he knows, as a consultant or an expert that can be asked wherever and whenever by other volunteers or cooperation for development professionals that are working in place. There’s different ways this can be done, such as e-learning in virtual learning environtments or, simply, being accessible and free to be asked any question they can solve with their expertise.

Who’s into e-volunteering?

Here come some (not all) organizations working on e-volunteering, mainly based in Spain:

Netaid. Leaded by the United Nations to foster e-volunteering and create an e-volunteering network, it is promoted by the United Nations Programme for Development and Cisco Systems.

Solucionesong.org. Promoted by Canal Solidario it is a virtual meeting place of experts on different subjects who assess NGO personnel and volunteers in their daily problems.

Cibervoluntarios. Promoted by E3 Futura it has the humanization of the Internet as its mission. Their main goal is making the Internet a more comfortable place so that the ICT become not a problem but a useful tool. Cybervolunteers act as ICT trainers and organize events to foster this friendly use of the Internet. [Actually, they are not virtual, but it was worth having this example here as they are really commited with ICT training]

Hacesfalta.org . Also by Canal Solidario, it is a virtual place where demand and offer in cooperation for development jobs meet. It rules a category on e-volunteering.

Campus for Peace. UOC‘s cooperation for development and solidarity programme, promotes, among other goals, on-line volunteering within the university community and projects linked to e-learning, with all the e-teaching done by e-volunteers. A virtual e-learning platform (or LMS) is also provided to NGOs so on-line working can be undertaken.

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2003) “University e-Volunteering” In ICTlogy, #2, November 2003. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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