Tag Archives: inclusion

Web designers: your chance to be a super hero!

 The nonprofit organization Knowbility now has 27 nonprofits and artists that have signed up to participate in OpenAIR2018 and get new web sites via its acclaimed hackathon, which takes place in February and March 2018. There is room for a few more nonprofits, NGOs, charities and artists – but now, Knowbility is turning its attention to recruiting web design teams.

OpenAIR web design teams are volunteers-turned-superheroes. They receive training and mentoring from some of the nation’s most prominent web design accessibility experts as they design new web sites for participating client organizations and artists. Design teams have about five weeks after the start date on February 8, 2018 to create these web sites that comply with ADA and Section 508 standards. The training and mentoring that design teams receive is valued at over $4,000 – but participating web design teams pay just $150.

Web sites are judged by Knowbility’s judging panel over a six week period (the nonprofits and artists get access to the designs to use on their own sites as soon as the design period is over, but team original designs are preserved for judging). Awards will be announced in May during Knowbility’s AccessU accessibility conference.

OpenAIR web design teams can be professional web designers, university faculty, university students – anyone who has designed web sites but wants to take their skills to the next level.

This is a great opportunity not only to get top-notch training in web design accessibility; it’s also a fantastic opportunity to:

  • enhance your virtual team skills and brag about being involved in virtual volunteering
  • be a part of an internationally-recognized event
  • help nonprofits that are addressing a variety of causes – fair housing, help for seniors, children’s education and more
  • gain recognition for your individual or your company’s corporate social responsibility focus / philanthropy
  • compete with other web designers

Your team could be the IT staff from a government agency. Or the entire IT department at a large corporation. Or staff from a savy hot tech startup. Or university students. Or university faculty. If you are an individual web designer, you can register as an individual and you will be matched with a team that has room for you or with other individuals who want to participate and join a team. Teams must have at least 4 members and no more than 6.

After the competition, Knowbility also asks design teams to guide their client organization’s through the process of replacing their current web site with the one the design team has developed, and to provide some initial guidance to the nonprofit in case they have any difficulties with their new site. This is not a requirement, but the guidance is greatly appreciated by the nonprofit clients (otherwise, the guidance will be provided by Knowbility).

A fee of $150 per team is due at registration. If you are an individual, note in your registration that you want to be a part of a team; you can work out how to pay your registration once your team is finalized.

Teams may register with a nonprofit or artist they already have a relationship with (however, there is also a $100 nonprofit registration fee – and if the nonprofit client or artist has to register ASAP, because the window for those registrations is FAST closing!).

Register ASAP! I suggest a deadline of January 12, 2018 to register! 

The Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR) has been happening since the 1990s. It used to be an onsite hackathon, mostly in Austin, Texas, and the designs happened in ONE DAY – back then, the nonprofits didn’t have web sites at all. I was a part of it back then – I’m thrilled to be a part of it again.

Also see:

Lessons for online outreach to nonprofits, NGOs & charities

Since June 1, I’ve served as the nonprofit liaison for OpenAIR – Accessibility Internet Rally. It’s an online event by Knowbility, an international nonprofit based in Austin, Texas. I have been working to recruit nonprofits, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), charities and artists in the USA and abroad to participate in the event, which begins in February, but there are some things nonprofits need to do now, or up to that date, to participate. OpenAIR provides participating organizations and artists with both a new, professionally-designed, accessible website that accommodates all visitors, and with expanded awareness about accessibility issues. They get more than a new website; they become a more-welcoming place online – and maybe offline as well.

People with disabilities want to donate, volunteer and otherwise support causes they care about, including the arts. But if a nonprofit’s or artist’s website isn’t accessible to them, they are left out – and that means leaving out potential donors, volunteers, clients, ideas, talent and more. All of that changes when the organization participates in OpenAIR. The OpenAIR website has full details on the benefits of participation, why every organization or artist should make web accessibility a priority, and exactly what participation looks like for a client organization/artist. If you decide to participate, all you have to do is fill out the registration form, and then you will receive a client needs survey which you need to fill out before December 15. Registration is $100, but we’re not billing anyone until December.

I have no budget for this outreach for OpenAIR. I can’t buy ads or airtime anywhere. I’ve been doing outreach for OpenAIR almost entirely online, mostly via one-to-one emails, but also via a few face-to-face visits with nonprofits representatives here where I live in Oregon, in coffee shops, on a front porch, while walking our dogs… Of course, the face-to-face pitches have been the most effective ones. That’s why I created a five minute pitch video, trying to recapture whatever it is I do face-to-face that makes people want to participate and that seems to be far more effective than emails.

Other than the importance of face-to-face, personal pitches to sell an idea even an online one, what else have I learned from doing outreach for Knowbility and OpenAIR? Listen up, because I think these are important in understanding outreach to and by any mission-based organization, including schools and government agencies:

  1. Many nonprofits, NGOs, charities and artists do not have any way to contact them electronically via their web site. I’m not kidding! There is no email address, no contact form, no nothing. And going to the WHOIS database to look up their registration info often doesn’t help: they’ve paid a company to block their email address from view, or the domain name registration company is the contact. All of these organizations and artists rely on donors and clients/audiences to exist – and, yet, they make it oh-so-hard to reach anyone at the organization except by telephone (and sometimes not even that is listed!).
  2. Many nonprofits, NGOs, charities and artists have only an online form to use to reach them electronically – no actual email address. Often, these forms require you to choose a reason for your message, and none of the reasons offered are why I’m writing. Or I get an error message after submitting the contact form – the person receiving the message is no longer at the organization, or the email address no longer works, or the script is broken, or something didn’t work and I can’t figure out what or why. How many potential clients/audiences also tried to use this form – and were turned away?
  3. We’ve got a long way to go regarding making accessible web design a priority, even at nonprofits that have a large clientele of people with disabilities or diminishing abilities (sight, hearing, mobility, etc.), even among initiatives that claim to focus on the digital divide, e-inclusion, social inclusion, social justice, equity and human rights. I am flabbergasted to find 99% of the nonprofits, NGOs, charities and artists I have checked out do not have anywhere near an accessible web design.
  4. Many nonprofits, NGOs, charities and artists flatly reject the idea that their site needs to be accessible. Some feedback I’ve heard:
    — “We don’t have that many people we’re trying to reach / that want our services that have a disability.”
    — “Seems expensive/too much work” (it’s NOT, BTW)
    — “A company owned by one of our board members did our web site – we don’t want to offend them by asking for a change.”
  5. There are still nonprofits, NGOs and charities that don’t control their own web sites! I thought this was a problem that was left behind with the last millennium. But, even today, there are a lot of organizations that got a site donated by a board member or some other supporter, or a consultant or volunteer did the site, and to make any change to the site, whether adding text or changing a photo or adding a page, the organization has to contact the company or person that controls the web site and ask him to do it (I’ve het to find a “her” that exerts such control). And these organizations are really reluctant to “bother” that person.
  6. There are some really awful domain names out there. My #1 rule for a domain name is that it’s easy to say, because that means it’s easy to remember. Yes, it’s wonderful if it’s also short, but if it’s short and impossible to remember, it’s not a good URL. There are even some organizations using the ~ (tilde) symbols in their web addresses! ARGH!

And before any for-profit/corporate folks comment to say, “Well, this is why nonprofits need to be more like businesses”, let me say that part of the above is YOUR fault. Why? Because (1) you refuse to fund “overhead”, which means you refuse to fund the web hosting, the domain name registration, or even a part-time person to manage a web site at a nonprofit, and you also refuse to fund classes for the person at a nonprofit charged with managing the web site, and (2) you donate space on your server for a nonprofit’s web site, or say you will otherwise host the web site, and pat yourself on the back for this in-kind donation, but then you don’t treat the nonprofit as a client, responding to their requests for changes to the web site promptly. And when a nonprofit comes to you and says, “We’d like our web site to be accessible”, you balk and say “Too expensive.” Even though it’s NOT “too expensive.” Again: ARGH!

Also see:

Nonprofits, NGOs: An Opportunity for a Fabulous Web Site

I am thrilled to announce, at last, that I am working with Knowbility, a nonprofit based in Austin, Texas with whom I’ve been working with on and off since its founding in 1998. And even better: what I’m doing will help nonprofits, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), charities, schools and others to be able to welcome more clients, more donors, more volunteers and more supporters via their web sites.

I am the Knowbility liaison for nonprofits, NGOs, schools and other mission-based organizations that will participate in OpenAIR 2018 . OpenAIR is my very favorite group volunteering gig and hackathon anywhere in the world. This Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR) by Knowbility was a hackathon before there was the word hackathon. It was an onsite, local event for many years, and is now an international virtual volunteering event!

Via OpenAir, mission-based organizations get professionally-designed, accessible websites that accommodate all visitors. In fact, via OpenAir, they get more than a shiny new web site; they become a more-welcoming organization online – and maybe offline as well. This is a life-changing event for many participants – expect to have your horizons expanded and your way-of-thinking about how people use online tools transformed! 

People with disabilities want to donate, volunteer and otherwise support causes they care about. Like all people, they love the arts, animals, and the environment, they enjoy beautiful parks and fun outdoor activities, they support education, they want serious social problems addressed, and they want to be involved in these causes – as employees, as donors, as volunteers and as clients. But if your organization’s web site isn’t accessible to them, you leave them out – and that means you leave out potential donors, volunteers, clients, ideas, talent and more. All of that changes when your organization participates in OpenAIR! Here’s more about what accessibility means and why it’s important.This is a GLOBAL event: participating nonprofits, NGOs, charities and other mission-based organizations can be anywhere in the world!

This is a GLOBAL event: participating nonprofits, NGOs, charities and other mission-based organizations can be anywhere in the world!

I am SO EXCITED about my role, and I can’t wait to start helping nonprofits and others participate!  In September and October, I will market the heck out of this event, and I hope you will help by:

  • sharing this blog that you are reading now via your social media and in emails to colleagues and associates
  • by retweeting tweets that use the hashtag #OpenAIR2018
  • by following @Knowbility on Twitter, liking the Knowbility Facebook page and liking all messages related to OpenAIR
  • by talking to nonprofits, NGOs and charities you know that either don’t have a web site, or have a web site but it’s in need of a redesign, and encouraging them to check out the nonprofit section of the OpenAir web site.

In fact, you don’t have to wait – you can start doing all that NOW.

In November and December 2017, and in January 2018, I will be knocking myself out doing everything I can to help participating nonprofits prepare their information for their design teams, so that those teams can get started on their web sites in February – these design teams have just six weeks to develop these sites as a part of the OpenAir competition! Judging and awards will take place in March 2018. Participating nonprofits pay $100 to participate in OpenAir, but that fee isn’t due until December 2017, and the informational webinars in September and October about accessibility and the competition will be free.

The web designers in OpenAIR are professionals who want to apply their accessibility design skills to a web site for an organization doing good in the world. Each design team pays a small fee to participate, and commits to several hours of classes by Knowbility regarding the latest web accessibility tools and techniques. These design teams are mentored by leading experts in the accessibility field throughout their design time during OpenAIR. The designers that participate in OpenAIR are professional, trained web designers working for a variety of companies and universities. Since 1998, OpenAIR (then AIR) has included teams of web professionals from IBM, Dell, Applied Materials, Google, GivePulse, TradeMark Media, Elemental Blend, Cognizant Technology Solutions, Cal State, University of Michigan, University of Southern Florida and many more. For Knowbility, these teams are volunteers, donating their time and talent to create high quality, professional websites for participating organizations. If your company or university or group of friends wants to form a design team to participate and support a nonprofit or NGO in creating its web site as a part of this competition, please see this OpenAIR design team information.

Can you tell I’m excited?! This is a dream gig for me: I adore the work of Knowbility beyond measure (at left is a photo of me and Sharron Rush, a co-founder of Knowbility and its Executive Director, at a conference in 2006, with me displaying my “are you accessible?” temporary tattoo), I had a blast being a part of the AIR events almost 20 years ago, back when they were onsite in Austin, I am passionate about web accessibility, I love how corporations walk away from this event with much more awareness about the work of nonprofits, and I love helping nonprofits! This means, however, that I’m not available for any consulting gigs until after February 2018. So if you are thinking of me as a consultant for next year, contact me ASAP, as my schedule fills up quickly! More about my consulting services.

Direct links from the OpenAIR web site for nonprofits:

I can’t wait to work with you! In fact, if you are in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area, I would be happy to talk with you face-to-face, in-person about participating in this event. Just contact me at jc@coyotecommunications.com to set up a time and place!

TechSoup webinar on how your web site can welcome EVERYONE

TechSoup webinar on how your web site can welcome EVERYONE
August 24, 2017 (Thursday), 11 am to noon Pacific Daylight Time

Join experts from Knowbility to learn how accessibility will expand your pool of potential clients, donors, volunteers, staff and other supporters, the message your organization sends when it commits to accessible web site and multi-media materials, and, no-cost practical tips on how you can immediately improve your website’s accessibility. This webinar will help your nonprofit, school, church, or library ensure that its website, podcasts and videos are accessible to anyone who visits such, including people with disabilities and people using assistive technologies.

We’ll cover:

  • Why online accessibility is critical and how to become an advocate for such within your organization
  • Steps for simple, immediate, no-cost activities you can do to improve your web site accessibility
  • Resources to help tech staff and volunteers make your site fully accessible, adhering to federal requirements
  • Information about OpenAIR – Accessibility Internet Rally

Register here (it’s free!)

Also see:

Addressing criticism, misinformation & hate speech online

angryjayneEvery program, agency or individual will face criticism online. Every organization and person will have to address misinformation online as well. We have always lived in a world of criticism, hate speech and misinformation – with the Internet, that speech can be instantly widespread.

No matter how large or small your nonprofit, NGO or government program is, your communications staff needs to be ready to address criticism and misinformation – and worse – online. Here are five resources, some by me, that can help:

  • How to Handle Online Criticism / Conflict. Online criticism of a nonprofit organization, even by its own supporters, is inevitable. It may be about an organization’s new logo or new mission statement, the lack of parking, or that the volunteer orientation being too long. It may be substantial questions regarding an organization’s business practices and perceived lack of transparency. How a nonprofit organization handles online criticism speaks volumes about that organization, for weeks, months, and maybe even years to come. There’s no way to avoid it, but there are ways to address criticism that can help an organization to be perceived as even more trustworthy and worth supporting.
  • Recommendations for UN & UNDP in Ukraine to use Twitter, Facebook, Blogs and Other Social Media to Promote Reconciliation, Social Inclusion, & Peace-Building in Ukraine (PDF). This is a draft document I submitted to UNDP Ukraine just before I left Kyiv in October 2014, having completed my term there as a “Surge” Communications Advisor. This draft document offers considerations and recommendations for social media messaging that promotes reconciliation, social inclusion, and peace-building in Ukraine. It provides ideas for messaging related to promoting tolerance, respect and reconciliation in the country, and messaging to counter bigotry, prejudice, inequality, misperceptions and misconceptions about a particular group of people or different people among Ukrainians as a whole.
  • UNESCO’s Countering Online Hate Speech, a free publication from UNESCO (pdf), spends most of its time talking about what is and isn’t hate speech, but does have some good information about countering hate speech and misinformation, without censorship, in the chapter “Analysing Social Responses”, specifically the sections on Monitoring and discussing hate speech, Mobilizing civil society, Countering online hate speech through media and information literacy, Citizenship education and digital citizenship, Education as a tool against hate speech, Development of critical skills to counteract hate speech online, Educational goals of media and information literacy to respond to hate speech, and Assessing media and information literacy and education initiatives (pages 33-41, and 46-52).
  • I have also been gathering and sharing examples for a few years now of how folklore, rumors and urban myths interfere with development and aid/relief efforts, as well as recommendations on preventing or responding to such.
  • List of my blogs related to conflict, free speech, reconciliation, etc. – my blogs that talk about conflict, extremism, extremists, hate speech, words, offensive, offended, hating, haters, reconciliation, toleration, free speech, apologies and inclusion.
  • Feuds in the nonprofit/NGO/charity world

On behalf of a Forest Grove family

I am working with the family of the student that instigated the “Build a Wall” banner incident at Forest Grove High School yesterday. On my blog, I am sharing the apology letter from the student that was emailed earlier today to the main address of Forest Grove High School. It was addressed to:

Ms. Karen O’Neill
Ms. Tami Erion
Mr. Brian Burke
Mr. Doug Thompson
Ms. Yvonne Curtis

 

I am sharing it here on my professional blog because the family urgently wants this apology to get to the community. It is being shared with their permission.

Again, this content is from the letter student to Forest Grove high school earlier today, and these are the words and sentiments of that student:

Dear Forest Grove and Cornelius Community,

On May 18th, I hung a banner in Forest Grove High School that said, “Build a Wall.” I don’t actually believe that a wall needs to be built along our border. I wanted to do something provocative to protest what I see as restrictions on freedom of speech. I was feeling like people weren’t open to discuss  sensitive issues, because no matter what is said, no matter what words I used, someone says, “That’s offensive!” I was angry, and I thought this would be a great way to express my belief in freedom of speech.

But I now understand that I chose a really bad place and way of expressing my belief on free speech. In trying to be noticeable, I used a message that held a strong, threatening connotation. I did not see that it was as strong or as negative as it was – but now I do. I understand now why it is being called racist and that I’ve made some students feel they and their families are not wanted at Forest Grove High School. That was never my intention.

I am truly sorry for anyone that I have hurt. Because my words did hurt – I understand that now. I will think more carefully in the future about my words and my actions. I still passionately believe in freedom of speech, but I also understand that just because it’s legal to do something doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do.

I will work to learn about other cultures and how different people perceive different messages. I am going to learn much more about the issues of immigrants in the USA, especially Forest Grove, and learn about why they have come, what their life is like, the challenges they face and how they improve this community.

I may be present at the walkout that I have heard is happening later today. I may not. I haven’t decided yet. I haven’t decided yet what’s best for the school, and what I should do regarding my participation. And to anyone that would like to have a formal and sincere conversation accompanied by a verbal apology I would like to make myself available.

I would sincerely ask that people not threaten violence, or engage in violence, over this incident. As students yelled and drove by my home today, I was scared not for myself, but for my family. I love my family very much – a family I have disappointed and that did not raise me this way – and I want them to be safe.

I am withholding the student’s name, but it is known to all school administrators. The family will be working with others to explore ways to further educate this family member, and all their children, about the consequences of words and actions, about racism, and about community responsibilities. Respectful, meaningful suggestions for this family regarding such action are welcomed in the comments section of this blog.

This blog was originally posted at 12:39 p.m. on May 19, 2016. This edit is from 4:34 p.m.:

I did not write the letter. The student wrote the letter. I did edit the first draft of the letter regarding grammar, and later, encouraged him to add some sentences based on things I heard him saying verbally in discussions with his family I was able to observe. The words are all his.

For the press: if you want to confirm that this is the content of the letter that was sent to the school, please call the school – they will confirm for you.

This edit  was posted on May 26, 2016 at 9 a.m.:

For folks that want to understand the many circumstances that lead up to this banner being put up and to the protest in Forest Grove on May 19, 2016, there are three media stories that, altogether, provide a good overview of how complicated the issues and feelings in Forest Grove are:

Unlikely allies agree hurtful language cuts both ways

Trump supporters feel the hate

Student protests about more than just a banner

And on a related note is this article about a commencement speaker at California State Fullerton getting booed. What I like about it is that students on both sides of the issue are interviewed.

volunteer engagement to promote social cohesion, prevent extremism?

social cohesionThere will be a conference in Brussels, Belgium on 13 October 2016 regarding the possible role of volunteer engagement in promoting inclusion and preventing extremism.

Examples from across Europe and beyond, such as from South Africa, Colombia and Algeria, will be reviewed to explore ways that volunteerism has contributed to building trust and social cohesion. The conference will also discuss elements and factors that are essential for success in such endeavors. The examples will be included in a publication that “will offer analysis of the challenges faced in Europe concerning social inclusion and the risks of extremism from different belief groups and explain how the volunteer projects contribute to addressing these issues.”

The conference is being promoted by the European Volunteer Centre (CEV), supported by the European Commission. The event will be organised in the framework of the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the European Union and with the support of London House and Team London (European Volunteering Capital 2016).

There are lots of ways for an organization that involves volunteers to be thinking about inclusiveness in its volunteer engagement, even if social cohesion or community building isn’t explicitly stated in its mission. For instance:

Also see these related resources:

Reaching women in socially-conservative areas

This was originally posted on my blog in October 2009

While I was in Afghanistan, I was notorious for kicking-back field reports that stated “the community was consulted” about this or that project, but that never said if the decision-making included any women. Sadly, the report writers often came back to me with a scowl and lots of excuses about why women weren’t included when “the community was consulted.”

When you work in humanitarian and development efforts, you must always be aware that talking to the official leadership of a community, a region, whatever, does not mean you are hearing about the needs of all citizens, such as minority populations or even majority populations — women. There are ways to seek out and include women in even socially-conservative areas so that they can be a part of decision-making.

A good example of this is an intervention in Egypt which used Egyptian women to reach other women regarding eye care, highlighted in a brief article by the Community Eye Health Journal. The successful strategy they employed was this:

  • The team undertaking the intervention held various meetings and presentations to establish a trusting relationship with local policy makers, local health authorities, local community leaders, local non-government organizations (NGOs), etc.
  • The team used this network to explain that women weren’t receiving eye care at the same rate as men, and that saving or restoring women’s sight benefits the whole family.
  • The team used this network to identify local women with previous experience in community development projects who could be trained to reach female community members in the intervention villages, as they would be able to enter homes and meet with women without coming into conflict with local cultural practices.
  • 42 women were trained over three days, and 30 were selected as “health visitors,”
  • The health visitors then visited 90 per cent of the population in the two intervention villages from March to December 2007.
  • During each visit, health visitors explained to women that saving or restoring their own sight would benefit the whole family. Each family received a variety of educational materials, including a calendar with illustrations relating to eye care and information on the importance of seeking eye care for the women in the household.

The result of training local women to do the outreach to other local women was a huge surge in the number of women receiving eye care as part of this intervention. And maybe something more: a change in the way the community viewed the value of its women? That wasn’t measured, unfortunately.

Of course, Egypt isn’t Afghanistan. Every country presents special challenges when it comes to reaching women regarding development interventions. But there’s always a way! Regardless of your role in humanitarian or development efforts, always make reaching women a priority.

What’s your advice?

See also:
Folklore, Rumors (or Rumours) and Urban Myths Interfering with Development and Aid/Relief Efforts, and Government Initiatives (and how these are overcome)
and
Building Staff Capacities to Communicate and Present (materials developed for Afghanistan).

Women & the Digital Divide: still a reality?

Nine years ago, TechSoup hosted a series of week-long online events regarding the digital divide, and I had the honor of co-hosting the thread regarding gender – specifically, barriers to women and girls from using computer and Internet tech, including access to public Internet spaces. Long after the event was over, people kept posting to the thread here and there. The last posts were in February 2011.

This event was quite transformative for me. It lead to this: Women’s Access to Public Internet Access, a resource I developed through research & experience (and continue to update) to support the development of women-only Internet centers/technology centers/etc., or women-only hours at such public Internet access points, in developing and transitional countries.

I would love to revisit the topic: visit this re-introduction to the thread and reply there with your thoughts:

What’s changed since this discussion took place?

What hasn’t changed?

Do you see any barriers to women and girls regarding use of computers, the Internet and related tools, in your country or anywhere else and, if so, what are they?

Or do you think the divide is bridged?

And it’s worth noting that I posted about this thread to the Digital Inclusion Network (formerly the Digital Divide Network), and got a reply off-list from Girl Geek Dinners Bologna. They have launched a project called Smart Women, which “aims to contribute to the dissemination of digital culture in Italy.” It is a kind of road show that will cross Italy within a week, talking about women’s access to digital tools and spaces. From the web site (my translation along with Google translate – hope I got it right):

“Because in Italy we often talk about digital, but women are often excluded from the discussion… We want to talk about digital culture and opportunities with Italian and foreign women, because we believe that cultural exchange leads to the growth and stimulation of new initiatives. A the same time we want to enhance the excellence of local resources, triggering a call to action aimed at involving women in each city. We will leave from Bologna, where we will be guests of Smart City Forum Exhibition, from here we will stop in Florence, Rome, Naples and Cosenza.”

Digital divide, women, Italy and food? So sorry I don’t live in Europe anymore….

Dec. 5: International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development

December 5 is International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development, as declared by the United Nations General Assembly per its resolution 40/212 in 1985.

This is not a day to honor only international volunteers; the international in the title describes the day, not the volunteer. It’s a day to honor, specifically, those volunteers who contribute to economic and social development. Such volunteers deserve their own day. Such volunteers are part of the reason I bristle at all the warm and fuzzy language used about volunteers.

What does it mean – volunteers contributing to economic and social development? It means volunteers who help create and support activities that help:

  • poor or economically at-risk people access microfinance programs or get out of debt or better manage their money
  • poor or economically at-risk people become successful farmers
  • people use sustainable animal husbandry practices
  • women learn to read and learn skills
  • people understand how to protect their local environment while still making a living for themselves
  • create understanding, acceptance and support of people with disabilities in all aspects of society, including paid work
  • develop environmentally-appropriate and historically-respectful tourism that helps local economies
  • train local restauranteurs in developing countries to become more sustainable and more attractive to a wider clientele
  • create and support schools
  • celebrate the arts and bring access to theater, dance, song, paintings, sculpture or other arts to any group or community
  • use the arts to educate about any economic or social issue
  • contribute in some way to any of the Millennium Development Goals
  • give children and teens alternatives to negative/destructive activities

and on and on.

Cultural organizations, vocational programs, education programs, girls-empowerment programs, anti-violence programs, agricultural programs, schools – all of these and more contribute to economic and social development, even if they don’t say so in their mission statements. And if these organizations involve volunteers, then their volunteers also contribute to economic and social development.

How are you going to leverage the International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development?

  • Will you blog about what your volunteers are doing to help your local communities economic health or social cohesion/inter-cultural understanding or community health, showing that your volunteers aren’t just nice and good-hearted, but filling essential roles and being the best for those roles?
  • Will you create a message on YouTube or Vimeo addressing your volunteers specifically, but sharing it with everyone, talking about how volunteers contribute to economic and social development?
  • Will you write a letter to your local newspaper to be published on December 5 and talking about how volunteers contribute to economic and social development in your community?

Don’t make this hug-a-volunteer-day. Don’t turn the day into just another day to celebrate volunteering in general — there are plenty of days and weeks to honor all volunteers and encourage more volunteering; keep December 5 specifically for volunteers who contribute to economic and social development, per its original intention, and, therefore, keep it unique and interesting and something worth paying attention to!

And just to be clear: by volunteer, I mean someone who is not paid for his or her service, or, if he or she has a “stipend”, it covers only very essential expenses so the volunteer can give up employment entirely during his or her stint as a volunteer, rather than the stipend being as much, if not more, than some mid and high-level government workers of a country are making. Yes, that’s a dig at a certain organization.

Here’s how I volunteer – and economic and social development is actually a primary motivation!