Online Volunteering for development: time for one step beyond

This morning I ended Pekka Himanen’s book The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age. The book is sort of an “update” of Max Weber’s “The Protestant Ethic…” explaining that hackers behave quite different than capitalists (this is a weird abstract to the book, I know it). To explain their behavior he uses the example of the Linux community, in particular, and the F/OSS community in general. This communities are essentially virtual, so it is a very good example on how they work online and who plays the role of the promoter and the facilitator, etc.

In Himanen’s book there are plenty of other bibliographic references about how other on-line collaborative projects were made such as the World Wide Web (TCP/IP protocol). These references include, for example: Berners-Lee, Tim (1999), Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by Its Inventor or Raymond, Eric (1997), The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary.

But I’m not selling you the book, though there’s a zillion reasons for you to read it ;) but to think aloud about what el oso also pointed to yesterday in his post Social Entrepreneurship and Project Management.

Himanen explains how the Linux community created – creates – the F/OSS operating system and the way they work: volunteering, no salary, recognition as a pay, networking, collaborative work, Internet based community, public plus personal interest, etc, etc, etc. It is a very good example – maybe the best one – of online volunteering for non-profit causes.

While I wonder why online volunteers for development (provided that the Linux community does not work for development in the general meaning of the concept – I know they do) have not a collaborative structure such as Linux’s, I read el oso’s post where he asks himself why don’t e-volunteers work the way the SourceForge community does.

Besides F/OSS community/ies, virtual volunteers (for development) are quite young: NetAid was created in 1999, Online Volunteering, the UN online volunteers service, was launched in 2000, though it did not move to the actual site until past February; goes back to 1996, year of its foundation, almost in the birth of the World Wide Web, but is not actually an online volunteering program but an information and resources site (one of the best ones). Linus Torvalds called out for help (and implicitly created the Linux community) in 1991.

In my opinion, during these last five years online volunteering has been promoted in an individual point of view: “you’re an NGO working here and there, you have some cooperation for development projects, I want to volunteer, I cannot go here and there, but I have a computer, what can I do?” This is a must, but it is also just phase I.

Thus, I agree with el oso that it is time to go one step beyond. Phase II should mean that some projects for development only take place in the Net, as some advocacy campaigns do. And, surely, re engineering online volunteers management this way is the big challenge we must face in the short short run. Selfmanaged, network designed, Internet located online volunteering teams, I think, will be the only way for a sustainable (exponential) growth of virtual volunteering projects to take place.

Please, I’d really love feedback on this issue! :)


The Virtual Volunteering Guidebook

Yersterday I wrote about and the Virtual Volunteering Guidebook and said I was printing it for my Christmas readings.

Now that it’s printed and in top of my desk, I cannot avoid writing back about it. The work done by Susan J. Ellis and Jayne Cravens looks G.R.E.A.T! Its table of contents is quite a promise of interesting things about Online Volunteering management:

PART I: Answering Your Basic Questions

  • Introduction: about what is “Virtual Volunteering”, why, who, how, etc.
  • Chapter 1: Integrating the Internet into
    Volunteer Management: the conversion of volunteers into online volunteers and what does this mean

PART II: Online Volunteer Management

  • Chapter 2: Virtual Volunteering Work Design, about responsibilities, assignments design, etc.
  • Chapter 3: Recruiting Online Volunteers
  • Chapter 4: Selecting and Preparing Online Volunteers, about screening, orientation, skills, etc.
  • Chapter 5: Working with Online Volunteers, about coordination and management
  • Chapter 6: Evaluating and Recognizing Online Service, about reporting, evaluation, performance, etc.
  • Chapter 7: Implementing a Virtual Volunteering Pilot Program

PART III: Making the Most of Online Service

  • Chapter 8: Special Issues Online, about nettiquete, confidentiality, assistance, etc.
  • Chapter 9: Involvement of People with Disabilities in Virtual Volunteering, about accessibility


  • About the Authors
  • Appendix A: The Virtual Volunteering Demonstration Project
  • Appendix B: Resources


PDF file The Virtual Volunteering Guidebook (1,28 Mb)


Digital Nations

Digital Nations is an MIT Media Lab initiative to “address major social challenges (improving education, enhancing health care, supporting community development) through the innovative design and use of new technologies.”

I’ve found the link at Cuidado con el escalón, and the post is quite recent, but the site does not look like having been actualized for long.

BTW, Cuidado con el escalón seems to be a good finding for my readings :)

Share: is a site full of information about volunteering, including an virtual volunteering section.

In this section we find the following aspects:

  • Developing and Implementing a Virtual Volunteering Program
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • General Information about Virtual Volunteering
  • Online Volunteer Resources
  • Sample Online Assignments
  • Volunteer Manager Resources
  • Volunteers with Disabilities

One of these resources includes the Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, a 138 page guide on plenty of online volunteering aspects. I’m printing it as a Christmas holidays reading ;)

The Virtual Volunteering Guidebook (1,28 Mb) added too to the online volunteering related links in this my blog for ICT4D.


Elitism Redux? Newly-Excluded E-Learners

Susan Smith Nash writes at xplanazine about what happens when state-of-the-art e-learning technologies come to exclude people more than integrating them in the education system.

It is highly applicable to e-learning in underdeveloped regions, though Susan Smith goes one step beyond and his point of view can affect you, you and you.

I really like what she calls “Second Generation Digital Divide” as it is an aspect of daily debate in cooperation for development circles too: there’s no way sending your old desktop to the third world if they won’t be able to run it with the latest operating system version or text editor and spreadsheet.


Theory from practice

When speaking at presentations, seminars and so, there’re usually two different approaches:

  • Look, this is what we’ve done
  • Let me explain to you why things happen

Depending on the audience, the speaker swings from the most practical point of view to the theoretical one or the contrary. In most cases, though, and this is my case, we tend to theorize, to go from concrete to global, to find the rule that moves the world, the key that will open any door. And I do it not because I am a great philosopher, but because I don’t want to bore my audience with details and, instead, I want to give them the essence of it all, the conclusions I got in my path of essay and error.

These last days we’ve been working together with my colleague Marc Ribó, expert in quality management, in the gathering of the history of the Campus for Peace. This morning he asked: “well, quite interesting the historic evolution of the Campus for Peace, it must have been exciting, hasn’t it?”

From this question, and from others people at seminars do, seems like everything was planned, that we once sat at the office and designed everything from the start. Well, I guess the answer to this is what spanish writer Carmen Martín Gaite once said:

“A ver si te crees que las cosas que te cuento esta noche con su dejillo de filosofía las sé porque las he leído en un libro, no hijo, ni hablar, antes de ser palabra han sido confusión y daño, y gracias a eso, a haber pasado tú tu infierno y yo el mío podemos entendernos esta noche; vivimos un lujo, el de poderlo contar”


“Don’t you dare think that the things I’m telling you tonight, with their philosophic air, I know them because I read them in a book, no my son, no way, before being word they’ve been confusion and harm, and thanks to this, thanks to you having gone through your hell and I through mine, we now can understand each other tonight: we live the invaluable chance of being able to explain it”