Tag Archives: tech4good

Updated: list of research on virtual volunteering

I don’t have funding to research virtual volunteering, but in my spare, unpaid time, I try to track academic studies and evaluation reports on virtual volunteering by others. At least twice a year, I search for published research regarding online volunteering / virtual volunteering, including studies on the various different activities that are a part of online volunteering such as online activism, online civic engagement, online mentoring, micro volunteering, remote citizen scientists, remote volunteers, crowd-sourcing, etc. I’m not looking for newsletter articles, press releases or no newspaper articles; rather, I’m looking for scholarly reports providing qualitative and quantitative data, case studies, comparisons, etc.

I have just uploaded the list of such research articles on the Virtual Volunteering Wiki, a free online resource I maintain with Susan Ellis. I was surprised at how many I found published in 2017. Note that sometimes research articles do not call the unpaid contributors “volunteers.” Included on this list are also research articles on virtual teams, which often involved paid staff; that’s because these research studies are especially applicable to virtual volunteering scenarios. These mostly go in reverse publishing or research date order.

If you are interested in researching virtual volunteering, this blog can give you guidance before you get started.

I also maintain a list of the latest news about virtual volunteering. You will find a long list, in reverse date order, of news articles and blogs about virtual volunteering, focusing on especially innovative or news-worthy pieces. I also have a list of articles from 1996 to 2011, including the oldest article I can find about virtual volunteering.

vvbooklittleResearch about virtual volunteering and related subject played a major role in writing find The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. This book, which I co-wrote with Susan J. Ellis, is our attempt to document all of the best practices for using the Internet to support and involve volunteers from the more than three decades that this has been happening. Want to know more about how to create assignments for online volunteers, how to support online volunteers, how to recruit, screen and and train online volunteers, and how to ensure quality in their contributions? This book is for you. In fact, whether the volunteers are working in groups onsite, in traditional face-to-face roles, in remote locations, or any other way, anyone working with volunteers will find The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook helpful. The book is available both in traditional print form and in a digital version.

 

If you read the book, or have already read it, I would so appreciate it if you could write and post a review of it on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble web sites (you can write the same review on both sites). If you could also review it on GoodReads as well, that would be terrific!

What I’ve learned as a mentor online

Since leaving Kabul, Afghanistan in August 2007, after working there for six months for UNDP, I have had the honor and pleasure of mentoring an Afghan co-worker online. She works on a water and sanitation initiative by a government agency, and I consult online with her on social media posts, I edit press releases and project proposals and reports, and I offer advice on her own professional development and career aspirations. I average an hour a week on this relationship – there are some weeks when we don’t interact and others where I need a few hours to read and edit material.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned from this online mentoring experience:

  • That we started off in a face-to-face, onsite relationship helped substantially in setting up this online relationship for success. She already knew me, understood my particular way of communicating and working, and trusted me. Those are three things that take much longer to establish entirely online, even with video conferencing. I have been an online mentor when that hasn’t been the case, and I believe those mentoring experiences were still worthwhile, but I had to do a lot more work to establish trust and find a rhythm in a purely online/remote relationship, and the relationship had to be facilitated by someone onsite, where the person I was mentoring was, to help ensure interactions happened. I just cannot deny that having that already-established real-time/onsite relationship has been a major factor in the success of this long-time virtual volunteering experience with my Afghan colleague.
  • When I don’t respond within 48 hours to a message from her, my mentee worries or, worse, feels neglected. I need to take this relationship as seriously as she does. That means I have to let her know when I am not going to be able to respond because I’m going to be traveling or away from Internet access.
  • I can’t do everything for her – I need to cultivate her skills. That means editing more with questions than corrections. And that’s hard – it would be so much quicker and easier if I just went through and corrected everything like an editor. But this is a mentoring relationship, a learning experience, and I have to keep that foremost in my mind.
  • Personal, non-work stories and photos are essential to cultivating our relationship. I send her links to vacation photos or photos of my garden, for instance. She sends me stories of her family. This keeps us as real people for each other, not just text in an email.
  • I make absolutely sure I don’t say anything that can’t be backed up with cited sources. Rumors are rampant in Afghanistan, and it’s very important that I show, by example, how to fact-check.
  • Knowing the culture in which my mentee/protogé is living has also been essential to maintaining this relationship. I’m no expert on Afghanistan or Islam, but I lived in Kabul for six months, I have read up on Afghan history (and continue to do so), I have read the Koran and continue to read Islamic scholars and others about Islam, including those I strongly disagree with, and I know there are a range of viewpoints by Muslim women about their religion. That’s been helpful in preventing me from making various cultural missteps – though I won’t for a minute say that still doesn’t happen. Knowing the culture has helped me know what is possible and what is NOT possible for her regarding activities online, travel and interacting with others, and to remember just how fragile reputations for women can be in that part of the world.
  • I try to know what’s going on in her country and her city. That’s not easy, as news about Afghanistan doesn’t show up in any newsfeed. Major news outlets do cover what’s happening in Afghanistan, but I have to go looking for it. There’s so much more to Afghanistan than bombings and oppression of women. For instance, I found a story that mentioned a Rotary Club in Kabul, and I emailed my friend to let her know about it. She’s been going to the meetings now for almost a year because I let her know about the meetings.
  • I ask her questions about her views, her life, etc. I make sure she knows, regularly, that I want to hear from her. And after those stories, I respond in a way that shows that I read what she says and value it.
  • Online mentoring is not micro-volunteering. I cringe when anyone says it’s possible to mentor a person, especially a youth, in a meaningful, impactful way by just spending a few minutes a month sending some encouraging words. Mentoring takes time, thought and careful action – it can’t be done on the fly while you are waiting for your coffee.

vvbooklittleSusan Ellis and I go into great detail about cultivating online relationships in virtual volunteering and the keys to success for online mentoring projects and programs in The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. I’ve been researching online mentoring since the 1990s, and helped design programs for America Online and People Magazine back in that decade, as well as an elementary school-based program for an Austin, Texas school. I’ve been involved as a mentor with others since then and I keep track of online mentoring programs because of their uniqueness among virtual volunteering activities: the high-responsibility nature of the programs, the essential requirement of building trust, the added safety procedures needed for such, etc. Our book attempts to document all of the best practices for using the Internet to support and involve volunteers, including in online mentoring relationships with adults or children, and our recommendations come from the more than three decades that these practices have been happening. The book is available both in traditional print form and in digital version from Susan’s company, Energize, Inc.

Also see:

Virtual volunteering gets shout out in One America Appeal

Saturday night, during the One America Appeal concert, after the speeches by the USA Presidents in attendance, a representative from the Points of Light Foundation took the stage to honor volunteers who have made significant contributions to helping in post-hurricane efforts in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. I was floored and thrilled to hear virtual volunteering referenced!

Among the volunteers honored was Leah Halbina of Florida, who joined the efforts of Sketch City, a nonprofit community based in Houston. Together with other online volunteers, they helped victims locate their nearest shelter and satisfy other pressing needs in Texas. Leah helped Sketch City’s initiative harveyneeds.org by calling shelters and asking about their capacity. Shortly after, Leah had to use the technology and information-gathering in her home state of Florida as Hurricane Irma approached and made landfall. Leah and other online volunteers created irmaresponse.org, a website providing victims with information on shelter locations and capacity, and providing donors with information on the needs of each shelter. Chatbots (via text and Facebook messenger) were used to help evacuees locate shelters, and were equipped to speak both English and Spanish, while the website was offered in English, Spanish and Creole to accommodate as many residents as possible. “For Irma Response, I took on a lot of the same responsibilities as Harvey Needs: Setting up our Facebook page, Twitter handle, website, and helping route new volunteers to help them find their place and a project they wanted to contribute to. With a lot of help from others in the group, I also managed our social media to spread the word about the available tools and resources.” Other groups that contributed volunteers were based all over Texas and Florida, as well as in Atlanta, Georgia, Oklahoma, San Jose, Greensboro, Washington, D.C. and Louisville, Kentucky.

More than 20 years ago, back in the late 1990s, I presented at a Points of Light Foundation / Corporation for National Service national conference, introducing the idea of virtual volunteering to attendees. The next year, I contacted POL and asked if I would be presenting again. They said no – a presentation had been done by me last year, there’s no need for another! Sigh… I would submit information they could include on their web site about virtual volunteering, they would politely decline…. I am so thankful that times have changed.

Also honored by the foundation as a “point of light” was Ronnie Devries. With experience as the volunteer coordinator for TXRX Labs, a Houston nonprofit hackerspace, Ronnie helped create a makeshift command center at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center, which became a shelter for thousands of residents displaced by the storm. Working overnight, he helped set up a system for volunteer coordination to ensure volunteers were matched with all aspects of shelter operations. After the volunteer coordination was handed off to Volunteer Houston, he created harveyseminars.org and conducted free seminars/workshops around information for people affected by the storm, or for people who wanted to help others. I love that someone who engaged in volunteer coordination and management was honored. The importance of quality volunteer coordination is too often overlooked! 

And another thing I loved about these honors: they aren’t about how many hours the volunteers have given, or about the dollar value of those volunteers. The honors are about how volunteering worth honoring is transformative, not about the number of hours.

Also see:

Disaster Crowdsourcing Event – FEMA’s Disaster Hackathon

Disaster Crowdsourcing Event – FEMA’s Disaster Hackathon
Sat, Oct. 21, 2017, 10 AM – 5 PM Eastern USA time
Washington, DC. and virtually

“Learn about FEMA’s current crowdsourcing coordination efforts, participate in building new projects, experiment with new tools, and shape the future of crowdsourcing in emergency management. If you are not in DC or cannot come in person, sign up to volunteer remotely. All skill levels and backgrounds are welcome, you don’t need to be a coder to participate in this Hackathon! Just bring a laptop!”

Sign up to participate onsite, or online, here.

Yes, I’ve signed up to participate remotely!
FEMA flyer

Innovation & tech need to work for women and girls too

In September, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) launched the Global Innovation Coalition for Change with partners from the private sector, academia and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to encourage innovation and technology to work better for young women and girls around the world.

First, more about the GICC, then a short comment from me about it.

The coalition will focus on building market awareness of potential for innovations that meet the needs of women and will also identify the key industry-specific barriers that obstruct women’s and girls’ advancement in innovation, technology and entrepreneurship. It will also work collaboratively to identify key actions that can help overcome these barriers through actions including sharing of good practices, developing capacity and investing in specific innovations through targeted support.

The background paper to the GICC launch, Making Innovation and Technology Work for Women , details the barriers that contribute towards creating and sustaining the gender gap in innovation and technology and actions by UN Women to address these barriers. Excerpts:

“Women face a multitude of barriers that results in the persistent and sometimes growing gender gaps. As a result, innovations are unlikely to be available on time and at scale to address the needs of women. Transformative results will require private and public sector partners to come together to address these barriers in an integrated manner. While the task looks daunting, being able to demonstrate progress in a given industry could have multiplier effects across other industries that will enable innovation and technology to break current trends and drive achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

“The achievement of the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), notably gender equality and women’s empowerment, requires transformative shifts, integrated approaches, and new solutions. Based on current trajectories, existing interventions will not suffice to achieve a Planet 50-50 by 2030. For example, it will be 95 years before there is parity in girls’ lower secondary education for the poorest 20%; it will be 50 years before there is gender parity in politics at the parliamentarian levels; and it will be 170 years before women worldwide will earn as much as men. Innovative approaches are central to delivering the SDGs for all.”

SDG 5 is “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” The reality is that none of the SDGs can be reached unless this one is.

Global Innovation Coalition for Change representatives includes:

  • Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls: Meredith Walker, Founder; Maggie Chieffo, General Manager
  • BHP Billiton: Karen Wood, Chairman of the BHP Billiton Foundation; Athalie Williams, Chief People Officer
  • Businesspros and Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship South Africa: Antoinia Norman, CEO, Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship South Africa
  • CISCO: Charu Adesnik, Deputy Director, Cisco Foundation
  • Citi: Yolande Piazza, CEO, Citi FinTech; Corinne Lin, Head of Operations, Citi FinTech
  • DELL: Jackie Glenn, VP Global Diversity and Inclusion; Trisa Thompson, Senior Vice President & Chief Responsibility Officer, Corporate Social Responsibility at Dell Technologies
  • Ellevate Network: Kristy Wallace, CEO of Ellevate Network
  • Ericsson: Elaine Weidman-Grunewald, Senior Vice President, Chief Sustainability & Public Affairs Officer, and Head of Sustainability & Public Affairs; Paul Landers, Program Director Technology for Good
  • Facebook: Arielle Gross, Global Program Manager, Creative Shop
  • General Electric: Kelli Wells, Executive Director General Electric Foundation
  • HP Inc.: Nate Hurst, Chief Sustainability and Social Impact Officer; Michele Malejki, Global Head of Strategic Programs, Sustainability & Social Innovation
  • Johnson & Johnson: Alice Lin Fabiano, Director, Global Community Impact; Carol Montandon, Head of Women’s Leadership Initiative
  • JPMorgan Chase: Ali Marano, Executive Director: Technology for Social Good, Diversity & Inclusion at JPMorgan Chase
  • LinkedIn: Nicole Isaac, Head of U.S Public Policy; Sue Duke, Senior Director of Public Policy – EMEA
  • MIT Solve: Hala Hanna, Director, SOLVE at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Alexandra Amouyel, Executive Director, Solve at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • NY Academy of Sciences: Lorraine Hariton, Senior Vice President, Global Partnerships
  • Pax World Management: Joe Keefe, CEO, Pax World; Heather Smith, Lead Sustainability Research Analyst
  • PwC: Ben Zelinsky, PwC Partner Technology Consulting
  • SAP: Jennifer Morgan, Executive Board Member for Global Customer Operations; Sinead Kaiya, COO, Products and Innovation; Ann Rosenberg, Senior Vice President and Global Head of SAP Next-Gen; Shuchi Sharma, Global Lead for Gender Intelligence, SAP Diversity & Inclusion.
  • Sony: Shiro Kambe, Executive Vice President, Corporate Executive Officer Legal, Compliance, Communications, CSR, External Relations and Information Security & Privacy
  • South32: Patience Mpofu, Vice President, Corporate Affairs and Sustainability
  • Statoil: Ana Prata Fonseca Nordang, Vice President, People and Organisation

It’s a good list, but I wish BPEACE was there. And I hope that this effort will continually listen to women themselves about what THEY want and what they need. I hope these partners won’t go into communities and institutions and say, “Here, we made this for you!” but, rather, “Hi, we need to hear your ideas, and then we want to know how to work with you to make them happen.”

Also see:

United Nations Information Technology Service (UNITeS)

How to be active & anonymous online – a guide for women in religiously-conservative countries

women-only hours at community Internet centers? why?

Enhancing Inclusion of Women & Girls In Information Society

papers on cyberactivism by women in Iran & Azerbaijan

Reaching women in socially-conservative areas

If you ignore women in Afghanistan, development efforts there will fail

Empower women, empower a nation

The Wrong Way to Celebrate International Women’s Day

UNDP and Religious Leaders Promote Women in Sport and Education in Afghanistan

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!

Online volunteers link communities with donors, trainers & partners

From February 2001 to February 2005, I had the pleasure of directing the United Nations Online Volunteering service, based on Bonn, Germany at the UN Volunteers program, part of UNDP. Originally launched as a part of NetAid, the service is a platform for UN agencies, UN volunteers, independent NGOs, government community programs and other mission-based initiatives working in or for the developing world to recruit and involve online volunteers. I continue to read all updates about the service, on the lookout for emerging trends, new challenges and suggested practices.

Below are links to updates from UNV’s OV service blog in 2015, 2016 and 2017 that are great examples of how virtual volunteering is about so much more than just completing tasks, and how the value of volunteers – online or onsite – isn’t the amount of hours they give, or a monetary value for those hours.

I have to admit that the story about the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) engaging online volunteers was a pleasant surprise, given how reluctant they were to engage with online volunteers back in 2001 or so. And it’s also worth noting that most of the blogs are written by online volunteers:

Online volunteers link a community in Africa with donors, trainers and partners
17 July 2017
Lake Nokoué is on the southern coast of Benin in West Africa. It is a community threatened by pollution and deforestation, and is also affected by congestion from sediments and the traditional acadja fish farming practice. Online volunteers played a substantive role in mobilizing a grant of USD 40,000 from the GEF Small Grants Programme for the Benin NGO “Association des Propriétaires d’Acadja de la Commune de Sô Ava” (APACSO). They also helped identify an expert in aquaculture to deliver an onsite ten-day training in fish farming for youth, women and low income fishermen, funded by an NGO from Belgium. APACSO also received three partnership requests from local organizations.

Fostering food security in Brazil
28 October 2016
The Chamber of Agriculture of the São Paulo State government in Brazil tasked online volunteers with supporting a participatory agro-ecological project in urban and peri-urban areas of the municipality Álvaro de Carvalho. The project aims to engage around 300 beneficiary families in vegetable farming in public spaces to enhance rural development and food security.

Online volunteers lend their voice to the UNDP 2013 China National Development Report
06 October 2016
Two UN Online Volunteers collaborated with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in China to record the audio version of the China National Human Development Report 2013,Sustainable and Liveable Cities: Toward Ecological Civilization. The report explores the current urban transformation in China from the perspective of human development, and discusses the recent history of China’s cities, key challenges and projections for the future, including measures that could guide urbanisation towards the goal of liveable, sustainable cities. The audio-book adaptation is among the first signature UN publications made available in digital audio media. It serves audiences with different reading and learning preferences, and has helped publicize the report for a wider impact.

Online volunteers research new trends and global best practices in ICT innovation
14 August 2016
ITU is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICT). ITU promotes the collaboration of the public and private sectors to develop global ICT networks and services. From March until September 2015, ITU engaged a team of seven UN Online Volunteers to research new trends and global best practices in ICT innovation. In the conference’s planning phase, the UN Online Volunteers mapped over 700 relevant initiatives undertaken by governments, universities and the private sector to promote ICT innovation hubs, clusters and parks in 115 countries.

Online volunteers worked to strengthen critical databases
20 March 2016
13 online volunteers worked on strengthening the UN Evaluation Group’s (UNEG) database of evaluation reports to improve the quality and use of evaluation across the UN System. The volunteers helped prepare brief descriptions of reports gathered from all UNEG members including the specialized agencies, funds, programmes and affiliated organizations. Online volunteers also collected meta-information used to classify and tag each report to make it searchable. By helping strengthen the database to improve the quality and use of evaluations, volunteers will be ultimately improving the effectiveness, efficiency and relevance of the UN’s performance. Also, online volunteers assisted in the development of a database of training providers for the International Association of Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection (PHAP). The volunteers researched and listed training opportunities relevant to the humanitarian sector, and provided input to the development of new functionality in order to enhance the database.

Online Volunteers support the NGO Centre for Batwa Minorities
06 February 2016
Together with the Centre for Batwa Minorities (CBM), an NGO based in Kampala, Uganda, online volunteers from around the world helped advocate for the rights of the Batwa people and worked to empower communities and individuals of this ethnic minority in Uganda. More than 30 online volunteers worked on projects ranging from researching the human rights situation of ethnic minorities in Uganda, developing successful campaign concepts to protect the Batwa community, drafting proposals, managing and translating CBM’s website, to using social media to promote the objectives of the organization.

Volunteers worked together online and on the ground for a survey in Bangladesh
02 February 2016
The United Nations Volunteers programme in Bangladesh involved a team of more than 50 online volunteers to reach out to Bangladeshi people and add their voices to the MY World survey. Online volunteers translated the survey’s ballot card and other texts into Bangla. Volunteers on the ground disseminated the survey in many different regions of Bangladesh and talked to people about their development priorities to collect the data. The MY World survey assignment also brought together people of different backgrounds and geographical locations.

Volunteering online for climate change mitigation
14 January 2016
For more than two years, 13 UN Online Volunteers supported the Fundacion Desarollo y Ambiente (FUNDA) on a research project that analyzes, categorizes and maps types of vegetation and landscape to predict the effects of climate change. The volunteers’ created a database for types of vegetation and topography in the Caribbean, Orinoco and Páramo regions of Colombia, verifyied the species’ botanical names, georeferenced the information using Excel and ArcGIS, and mapped the correlation of vegetation, climate, and geomorphological processes. After training the volunteers on the research approach, FUNDA set up working groups as well as weekly Skype meetings for tracking the team’s progress and assigning new tasks.

vvbooklittleMy experience at the UN working with both online volunteers and NGOs around the world who were also working with such, or wanted to, greatly influenced the writing of The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. This book, co-written with Susan J. Ellis and myself, is our attempt to document all of the best practices of working with online volunteers, from the more than three decades that virtual volunteering has been happening. It’s available both in traditional print form and in digital version. If you read the book, I would so appreciate it if you could write and post a review of it on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble web sites (you can write the same review on both sites).

Also see:

The Virtual Volunteering Wiki: a free resource featuring a curated list of news articles about virtual volunteering since 1996, an extensive list of examples of virtual volunteering activities, a list of myths about virtual volunteering, the history of virtual volunteering, a list of research and evaluations of virtual volunteering, a ist of online mentoring programs, and links to web sites and lists of offline publications related to virtual volunteering in languages in other than English.

Our LinkedIn Group for the discussion of virtual volunteering.

Safety in virtual volunteering

Virtual volunteering: it’s oh-so-personal

Why Do So Few Women Edit Wikipedia? Insights into virtual volunteering

Even if all your volunteers are “traditional”, you need to explore virtual volunteering

EU Aid Volunteers on track to include virtual volunteering

The future of virtual volunteering? Deeper relationships, higher impact

My favorite virtual volunteering event originates in… Poland

Blogs & articles re: virtual volunteering NOT by me

Fans of celebrities & virtual volunteering

virtual volunteering is probably happening at your org!

Incorporating virtual volunteering into a corporate employee volunteer program

Internet-mediated Volunteering in the EU (virtual volunteering)

Research on USA volunteerism excludes virtual volunteering

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:

ICTs to reach & educate at-risk communities

Apps, social media, text messaging/SMS and other information and communication technologies (ICTs) are already playing a crucial role in educating people regarding public health issues, reaching marginalized communities and helping those that may be targets of harassment and discrimination. But in all of these tech4good initiatives, the importance of safety and security for those doing the outreach and those in the target audience is critical. People trying to promote a tech4good initiative do not want the technology to be used by hostile parties to identify, track and target people based on their health, lifestyle or beliefs.

For those interested in using ICTs to reach marginalized communities, or those interested in how to communicate vital information about topics that are frowned-upon in religiously conservative communities, the new publication Pioneering HIV services for and with men having sex with men in MENA: A case study about empowering and increasing access to quality HIV prevention, care and support to MSM in a hostile environment, is well worth your time to read. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded this project, and the 48-page publication was produced by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and co-authored by Tania Kisserli, Nathalie Likhite and Manuel Couffignal. The publication includes two pages on how ICTs help to reach hidden communities threatened by police raids and rising homophobia in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region – for instance, how applications such as Grindr that are frequently accessed by men having sex with men (MSM) in the MENA region and provide virtual venues for disseminating information on HIV prevention, treatment and support services.”

The publication includes two pages on how ICTs help to reach hidden communities threatened by police raids and rising homophobia in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region – for instance, how applications such as Grindr that are frequently accessed by men having sex with men (MSM) in the MENA region and provide virtual venues for disseminating information on HIV prevention, treatment and support services.”

This is from the report (note that this is with British spellings):

In 2015, the partners of the MENA programme implemented a pilot online peer outreach project to reach more MSM, in partnership with the South East Asian Foundation B-Change Technology.

In order to improve the understanding of the online habits and behaviours of MSM, two anonymous web surveys were launched online to collect information among MSM (living in Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia), recruited via Facebook and instant messaging channels. The first survey assessed technology use and included questions about mobile devices and tech-based sexual networking. The second survey collected further data on social media behaviours, with questions about using social networks, interpersonal communications, and negative experiences online. The results confirmed the penetration of internet and mobile technologies in urban centres, and highlighted the widespread use by MSM of mainstream social networks (predominantly Facebook) and global gay dating apps, especially in the evening. The predominant website for sexual networking was reported to be Planet Romeo; the predominant smartphone app for sexual networking was Grindr. The results also revealed that while MSM use smartphone instant messaging (SMS and Whatsapp mainly) to communicate and chat with friends, they tend to use the telephone when communicating with health providers. Sexual networking among this cohort demonstrated a preference for web-based methods versus offline (public space) networking. A significant proportion of negative experiences using social media or apps was also reported, in particular cases of breach of confidentiality online.

Based on these findings, the partners designed a pilot information and communications technology (ICT)-based intervention. Experienced peer educators created avatars representing different profiles of beneficiaries, collectively designed an online peer outreach intervention and developed the corresponding standard operating procedures and M&E framework. This was identified as the most feasible output based on existing resources and ICT experience. Building the capacity of community groups for this intervention would result in more effective use of popular social media platforms for MSM-peer outreach activities. Local trainings of ‘online peer educators’ were organised to strengthen digital security, content creation systems, online outreach procedures, conduct of peer educators online, and M&E framework to measure the outcomes towards the HIV continuum of care.

The trained ‘online peer educators’ created ‘virtual peer educators’ accounts/profiles and contacted MSM though internet and social media in their respective countries, mainly on Facebook, Whatsapp, Grindr, Hornet, Planet Romeo, Badoo, Tango and Babel, and mostly during evening and night shifts. The objective was to contact MSM not reached by the usual outreach in public spaces, and hence continue expanding the package of prevention services available to MSM. They provided interpersonal communications on HIV and STIs, disseminated IEC materials online, encouraged them to take an HIV test and referred them to prevention services provided by the partner organisations, as well as public health services in their country.

This test phase lasted from July to September 2015 in Agadir, Beirut, Tunis and Sousse. The results were promising; during the month of September 2015, the six online peer educators of ASCS in Agadir for instance reached 546 MSM via chat rooms, websites, apps and instant messaging. They referred 148 MSM for an HIV test and 86 MSM for an STI consultation. During this period ASCS noticed an increase of number of MSM visiting the association to collect condoms and lubricant; ASCS peer educators appreciated this new type of outreach work compared to street outreach, the latter being uneasy due to growing harassment of police. Some challenges that peer educators faced online were similar to ‘traditional’ or face-to-face outreach work: high interest in sexual health, initially reluctance to visit association or uptake services, or to change risk behaviour.

“The virtual prevention pilot project has allowed us to reach a significant number of MSM, in particular those who remain hidden and aren’t reached through our outreach activities in the streets.” — peer educator and university student in Morocco

Some of the lessons learned from this pilot project:

  • Overall high acceptability: many MSM are eager to engage in an online conversation about HIV and STI prevention, rights and services; virtual spaces are perceived as safe to talk freely about sexual practices with no face-to-face bias; however, a significant proportion of MSM contacted online refused any discussion relating to sexual health and HIV.
  • Strong operational procedures and human resource capacity are required to maintain a high quality ICT tool that maintains privacy and confidentiality; consequently, organisational ICT capacity needs to be assessed and strengthened before initiating an online prevention project.
  • Monitoring and evaluation challenges: it is not easy to measure service use or user engagement online or to clearly show the link between use of ICT and uptake of services; monitoring of referral pathways between outreach CSOs and friendly providers needs to be aligned to track referral from virtual spaces to services.

One thing I do wonder: were any of these people involve volunteers?

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Short-term deployments with Peace Corps & UNV

From February 2001 to February 2005, I worked at the headquarters of United Nations Volunteers, in Bonn, Germany. Sometimes, people outside the UN would say, upon learning where I worked, “Oh, you’re just a volunteer?”

My UNV colleagues would get this comment too, and would visibly bristle at the idea that anyone would think they were a volunteer!  They would quickly assure the person that they were not merely a volunteer – they were, in fact, a fully-paid staff person with a UNDP contract!

By contrast, here’s how I would answer such a comment:

Oh, no, I’m not a UN Volunteer. I don’t think I’m qualified to be a UN Volunteer. I would probably be turned away if I applied. International UN Volunteers are experts in their professional field, highly skilled and experienced. I’m just an employee at headquarters, and my role is to support UN volunteers out in the field, doing amazing things.

A UNV HQ colleague was with me once when I said that, and her eyes became huge when she heard my response. Later, she told me she’d never thought of UN Volunteers the way I had talked about them, and that it had never dawned her that, in fact, maybe she wasn’t qualified to be a UN Volunteer either.

I know of two UNV HQ staff, both my colleagues and dear friends, who decided to apply to become international UN Volunteers themselves, were accepted into the UNV roster, and were deployed for two years to a developing country. Both of these colleagues worked in ICT. After those in-the-field experiences, they went on to be employees at other UN agencies, and I thought it was a shame UNV hadn’t worked hard to entice them back to HQ, as they would have brought a much-needed perspective to headquarters.

As I was leaving UNV HQ, where I managed the UN Online Volunteering service and helped manage the United Nations Information Technology Services (UNITeS), I decided to apply as an international UNV myself. I decided that maybe I had acquired the qualifications at last to be a UNV. I was delighted when I was accepted into the UNV roster – the UNV staff that decided which applications to accept were in Cyprus, I had no personal relationship with them at all, and there was no policy (and still isn’t) on automatically accepting UNDP staff as UN Volunteers. I was available only for six-month assignments, however, and those were, and are, few and far between. I interviewed for two such assignments – and didn’t get either. Which should just go to show you how competitive the process to be a UNV is. I eventually got a six-month UNDP gig in Afghanistan, but it was as a consultant, not a UN Volunteer.

Now, at this time in my life, I can no longer do a full six-month assignment, so I doubt I’ll ever deploy as a UNV. When you read about me going to abroad for a UN gig now, it’s for less than four months – like in Ukraine – and, again, it’s as a UNDP contractor (which I love – great colleagues, fascinating work and the pay is good).

But there is this part of me that still really wants to go abroad as a volunteer.

So, for more than two years, I’ve been watching listings at the Peace Corps Response web site. This is a program by the Peace Corps that places highly-skilled volunteers in short-term assignments abroad, from four to 12 months. It’s open to US citizens. I’ve been looking for an appropriate four-month gig and, at long last, I’ve applied for a position. I think it fits my expertise perfectly. But I also know that this is a highly-competitive program, and I may not even make the interview round. Still, it was fascinating to go through part of the Peace Corps application process. I’ve also been a reference for a friend that applied for the regular Peace Corps, so I’ve seen that part of the online process as well.

Fingers crossed!

One last note: the Peace Corps Response program, the entire Peace Corps program, and all United States Agency for International Development (USAID), are under threat of severe cuts by the current Presidential administration in the USA, as well as by current Congressional leadership. I encourage you to write your US Congressional Representative, your US Senators, national media and your local media, and let them know what you think of these proposed cuts.

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