Introducing Microvolunteering to the Developing World
Help From Home, UK, defines microvolunteering as” Small, quick, low commitment actions that benefit a worthy cause. The actions might be a task that could be accomplished as a whole unit from start to finish by one person, or it might be an action that could be broken down into its component parts where an individual is just one of many people performing the same task to achieve an end result”.
Microvolunteering assignments usually require between 30 minutes to an hour of an individual’s time. There are also microvolunteering projects that ask the volunteer to spend one day working for a good cause. Microvolunteering can potentially involve everyone and anyone, including isolated, elder or disabled people.
Microvolunteering for development –which areas of focus?
While microvolunteering might consist of short term assignments, it is actually a long term strategy organizations could implement in order to expand their reach and impact.
Microvolunteering becomes useful in all contexts when volunteers are scarce and/or nonprofit organizations have limited resources, such as the developing world.
What kind of assignments can microvolunteers perform in order to help developing countries? Well, microvolunteers can do just about anything! It is up to volunteer managers to imagine how to divide bigger projects into smaller tasks that can be completed by different individuals. (Please see the Help From Home Microvolunteering Guides page for a wide range of microvolunteering ideas organized by causes and skills).
Another asset is that all microvolunteers can help with ideas and feedback, a type of involvement that goes above and beyond a specific professional background. Microvolunteers also have the power to connect, spread the word, recruit persons or raise awareness about a cause.
The costs for organizing a microvolunteering project are significantly lower than the costs for setting up other types of volunteering projects. Having said this, it is important to mention that microvolunteers can’t replace paid staff, nor work without supervision.
Why use microvolunteering for the benefit of the developing world?
Microvolunteering is first and foremost beneficial because it connects communities in need with the rest of the world. Microvolunteering mostly benefits small and medium-sized nonprofits whom, for one reason or another, need to raise awareness about their cause on a larger scale.
Since microvolunteering is open to global citizens, an organization can expect people from all over the world to contribute their professional skills, life experience and unique worldviews.
To give an example, microvolunteers can contribute by writing, translating, or sharing bits of information, thus making the organization’s cause known and acknowledged internationally.
Organizations from the developing world have the option of not just translating their message into a widely spoken language, but also of “translating” their communication strategy into a different cultural frame, in terms of branding, visual identity, or communication style. This is particularly useful for those organizations who need to gain international support: human rights defenders, democracy activists, relief workers, etc.
There is also potential to change mentalities through microvolunteering itself , understood not only as a tool, but also as a goal – if microvolunteering can bring together people belonging to different minorities (racial, ethnic, religious, social, cultural), than it can also promote integration and collaboration across different types of barriers and borders.
The common perception of microvolunteers is the “ants at work “one -microvolunteers are seen as “tiny troops” ready to step in and do a great work in a short amount of time . While this perspective is 100% correct, there is more to microvolunteering that can benefit developing countries.
Microvolunteers are powerful in numbers, but also strong in diversity. So it is not only about getting hundreds of people complete a project in only one day (which is technically possible), but also about starting a dialogue with the individuals that are able to contribute with innovative ideas.
Hence, an organization has the chance to build on the microvolunteers’ experience whenever asking for advice and ideas. The developing world challenges cannot be solved through microvolunteering itself, nevertheless microvolunteers can generate the needed solutions if asked to give their input.
How to use microvolunteering for development?
Microvolunteering actions can be conducted both online and offline , yet in most cases, the assumption is that whoever is behind organizing the microvolunteering project has access to some kind of technologically-enabled network.
In many developing countries the level of access to information technology often varies. For example, while many people may not have access to the internet, many people will have access to mobile phones. Here microvolunteers can bridge this gap, by centralizing SMS messages and posting them on the internet to share with the rest of the world, while also extracting information from the internet and distributing in mass through mobile phones.
It is true that there are populations who lack access too all forms of ICTs, and this will undoubtedly inhibit the recruitment and work of global microvolunteers. This is one barrier that microvolunteering faces.
However, even if an organization is limited by such technological constraints, microvolunteering can still work, if promoted and supported in the right way.
For example, an organization can use the opportunity of a crowd event (i.e. a sport competition, celebration or festival) to announce a microvolunteering project. These projects for the benefit can be carried out in schools, churches or hospitals. Ultimately, people can think and contribute wherever they are and in whichever social role they play, which is an essential aspect of microvolunteering.
Technology evolved before we had time to fully grasp the new possibilities laid out to us. For this, microvolunteering appears to be a new concept. However, it is not so much an innovative way of volunteering, but an old form of giving one’s time enhanced by the opportunities of global communication that we have today.
Microvolunteering might not be yet a priority for governments or international organizations like the UN, but nevertheless a growing number of individuals and groups already take advantage of it. The developing world should also be encouraged to give it a try. After all, it delivers instantaneously.
Authour: Luciana Grosu
First published in Generation C Magazine