A new “cyber” volunteering platform for small NGOs

The Cibervoluntarios Foundation is looking “to develop a cybervolunteering platform, made for little organizations worldwide.” They have a fundraising campaign at GlobalGiving to raise money for the platform, which includes a link to an 11-page document that provides a bit more information. Neither volunteers nor host organizations would be charged to use the platform.

I’ve tweeted the organization to find out how this proposed platform will be different from the United Nations’ existing Online Volunteering service, the world’s largest virtual volunteering platform for NGOs to recruit online volunteers. They tweeted back that cyber volunteering is different than online volunteering – but didn’t say how. I don’t yet see a difference. Cyber volunteering, in English, has been used since the 1990s as another word for virtual volunteering. 

Not that I don’t think  there’s room for new approaches to online volunteering – but given the over-abundance of platforms allowing organizations to recruit traditional volunteers, and how that has made it harder to recruit volunteers, not easier, I would hate to see the same thing happen with virtual volunteering.

According to the web site, “Cibervoluntarios” are:

agentes de cambio social que contribuyen, de forma desinteresada, a fomentar el uso y conocimiento de herramientas tecnológicas entre la población con menores oportunidades de acceso y/o formación… los Cibervoluntarios usan la tecnología desde una perspectiva social y contribuyen a eliminar brechas sociales mediante la sensibilización, información y formación de forma presencial, online y a medida para satisfacer las necesidades de cada persona o colectivo social con el que trabajamos. Los cibervoluntarios dan conocer las posibilidades que ofrece el uso de las Nuevas Tecnologías de una forma útil, sencilla, bien a través de la red, bien en persona, de tú a tú, mediante cursos, charlas, conferencias, talleres, eventos, seminarios, entre otros.

My translation:

social change agents who contribute selflessly to promote the use of technological tools and knowledge among people with fewer opportunities to access and / or training… Cibervoluntarios use technology from a social perspective and help eliminate social gaps through advocacy, information and training in person, online and customized to meet the needs of each person or social group with which we work. The Cybervolunteer knows the possibilities offered by the use of new technologies in a useful, simple, either through the network, either in person, face to face, through courses, lectures, conferences, workshops, events, seminars, among others.

So, perhaps for this organization, cibervoluntarios or cyber volunteers are what are called, in English, circuit riders or ICT volunteers – volunteers that help both individuals as well as staff at nonprofits regarding using computer and Internet-related tools, and such volunteers can be both onsite and online. Examples of this would include all volunteers that help teach people computer skills at initiatives like Austin FreeNet (Austin, Texas), FreeGeek (Portland, Oregon), EmpowerUp (Southwest Washington state, Vancouver area), and World Computer Exchange – and even PeaceCorps and VSO. HandsOn also has several IT volunteer tech initiatives, which they brand as skilled-based volunteer engagement:

HandsOn Tech Pittsburgh, Pennsylvannia. Follow on Twitter at @HandsOnTechPGH,
HandsOn Tech Atlanta, Georgia. Follow on Twitter at @HandsOnTechATL
HandsOn Tech Boston, Massachusetts. Follow on Twitter at @HandsOnTechBOS
HandsOn Tech Chicago, Illinois. Follow on Twitter at @HandsOnTechChi
HandsOn Tech New York City, New York. Follow on Twitter at @NYCHandsOnTech
HandsOn Tech Detroit, Michigan. Follow on Twitter at @HandsOnTechDET

One of the first such ICT volunteering initiatives was through what was called CompuMentor, now TechSoup (that part of TechSoup’s programming has moved entirely online, via the TechSoup forum, and the nonprofit still publishes Working with Technical Volunteers: A Manual for NPOs free online). The United Nations Information Technology Service (UNITeS) tried to track all of these various ICT volunteering initiatives globally once upon a time – UNITeS both supported volunteers applying ICTs for development (ICT4D) and promoted volunteerism as a fundamental element of successful ICT4D initiatives. UNITeS was launched in 2000 by then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and was hosted by the United Nations Volunteers programme.

If the Cibervoluntarios organization is looking to develop an online matching service for IT volunteers or circuit riders, where volunteers would provide service onsite and or online to individuals and nonprofits, it might work – though I’d prefer to see this type of volunteering incorporated into the plethora of volunteer matching sites worldwide, or even just in Europe – or even just in Spain! I hope they will look over the UNITeS web site and TechSoup manual for tech volunteers, and provide lots of similar resources for both IT volunteers and the nonprofits that need them. And the organization is welcomed to translate and adapt my resources related to this subject for their web site, as long as I get credit somewhere:

  • Finding a Computer/Network Consultant (volunteer or paid)
    What can mission-based organizations do to recruit the “right” consultant for “tech” related issues, one that will not make them feel out-of-the-loop or out-of-control when it comes to tech-related discussions?
  • Short-term Assignments for Tech Volunteers
    A list of short-term projects for “tech” volunteers — assignments that might takes days, weeks or just a couple of months to complete.
  • One(-ish) Day “Tech” Activities for Volunteers
    This page provides advice on how to put together a one-day event, or just-a-few-days-of activity, for a group of tech volunteers onsite, working together, for a nonprofit, non-governmental organization (NGO), community-focused government program, school or other mission-based organization – or association of such.

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