Volunteerism & ICTs in Europe
Project at a glance
Dates and Place10 October 2003, Belgium, Belgium
European Volunteer Center, ICVolunteers.
Representatives from Belgium, Spain, Germany, Scotland, Switzerland, Romania, the Czech Republic, the UK and the Netherlands discussed ICTs and Volunteerism in Europe. The discussion brought together ideas and concerns about the emerging information society in relation to the volunteer sector. This was a critical first step of the WSIS volunteer progress to identify the key issues, which were further developed in later discussions. Below is a synthesis of this discussion by topic. In some cases topics are interlinked, but for the sake of clarity each point is mentioned only once.
To read more about the recommendations of the meeting, see also under the section of event overview.
Importance of infrastructure: It was generally agreed that infrastructure is a key element when it comes to ICTs. The volunteer sector has traditionally suffered from very limited financial resources. This is why infrastructure is often not accessible, in particular for small, local volunteer centers which cannot afford the purchase of expensive computer equipment.
Computer recycling: There are interesting computer recycling programs. It could be an idea to work with the companies coordinating these programs to get more hardware for small volunteer organizations, both in the North and the South.
Infrastructure allowing contents development: The connectivity of organizations can increase their visibility, which in turn can help them. Its aim is to provide access to the collectivity rather than individuals only.
Capacity Building and Training
There are two main aspects of training: online training and onsite training. Both are important and need to be further developed.
Online learning for volunteer managers: A key question is how to connect people to the technical bit, in such a way that it is beneficial for everyone. Volunteer managers are often very isolated, in many cases occupying the only part-time position dealing with volunteers within an organization. It is important for volunteer managers to be able to break out of their isolation, exchanging ideas, problems and lessons learned with other volunteer managers. Lesley Greenaway from VDS Scotland mentioned that in the UK, VMS volunteer managers have now the possibility to post messages on the web and thus communicating with other volunteer managers. She thought that this system could also be applied in other countries.
Training for trainers: Training programs for trainers already exist in Scotland. They apply a community agents cascade model, which makes it possible to reach local networks and community centers. The initiative is sustainable since it builds on local skills.
Gerhard Edler of ARBES in Baden WÃ¼rttemberg (Germany) mentioned a program called "Click and Start". The program, run in his region, offers training at an affordable price and has proven to be very successful.
Development of Contents
Web site updating and training: Caution needs to be used when investing in web sites. It is indeed not enough to set up sophisticated sites if there are no means to actually keep them up to date. A web site that is out of date is not worth very much.
Revival of International Year of Volunteers (IYV 2001) web sites: During IYV 2001, approximately 60 web sites were specifically created to celebrate volunteerism worldwide, to provide updates about national initiatives and connect people around the world. Today, many of theses sites no longer exist. The question is therefore whether it would be useful to try to revive some of theses sites. The general feeling among participants was that many of these sites have been absorbed into national web sites. However, it is important to bear in mind that this is more likely to be the case in countries, which have a national volunteer center than in those without such a structure. It is therefore a good idea to focus particularly on countries without national volunteer centers.
Network or family of web sites: In the UK, a whole family of web sites has been created: one on employee volunteering, one by the Institute on Volunteering Research, etc. The interconnectivity allows the mutual strengthening of such websites and the creation of an entire network of sites.
Another successful family of sites exists in the Czech Republic. The Czech national volunteer center managed to find a national grant, allowing to build a whole network of sites. The web master has done an excellent job building an interconnected web resource.
Participants agreed that the combination of families of web sites and internal skills building for staff can facilitate site updating. Further, resources of smaller organizations could be put together to establish one single major network of sites with one specialized web master, rather than many small and incomplete web sites.
Sustainability of web site updating: It is important to build in house capacity and web updating possibilities, rather than hiring expensive external consultants. While technical support may come from an outside consultant, the content definitely needs to be updated internally. This is important for a number of reasons, e.g. accuracy of information, and avoidance of outdated static web sites. In some cases, this entails either find a volunteer with sufficient technical skills to carry out the updating or training of internal staff.
Toolkit outlining work processes: A toolkit, outlining work processes, could be made available on the web. This could be a very helpful resource. The toolkit could include good practices, online resources, national and regional volunteer center addresses, etc.
Online database of volunteer opportunities and increased visibility: Eva Hambach of the Vlaams Steunpunt Vrijwilligerswerk (Belgium) mentioned the center's very successful on-line database of volunteer opportunities. Volunteers enter their details to search for vacancies. Viola Krebs of ICVolunteers mentioned that such a program also existed in Geneva (Switzerland) and has proven to be successful as well.
According to Gail Hurley of CEV, CEV's web site is receiving more and more visibility, as the information base and the content of the site is being developed.
Partnerships and Financing
Partnerships with private sector companies: ICTs are often not affordable for the volunteer sector, a field that is working with very limited resources. Increased use of ICTs by the volunteer sector could also be of interest to private sector investors, as increased learning and use means a larger market for companies. Companies should include their cooperation with the non-profit sector in their corporate policies, for example within the framework of corporate responsibility programs. Too often companies are only interested in widening their markets, selling more products, rather than in true cooperation and exchange. It is important to encourage more such collaborations. This would also help raise awareness within the corporate sector of what the non-profit sector is really all about: all too often companies know a lot about ICT, but very little about non-profit organizations and volunteerism in particular. This is key to breakdown some of the clichÃ©s associated with volunteerism. It would also help ensure the sustainability of initiatives, through creating relationships that are not based on dependency, but true North-North, North-South, South-South cooperation.
Partnership program with Jump and Microsoft: Lola Arias of Foundation for Solidarity and Voluntary Work of the Valencian Community (Spain) briefly presented a partnership program that the Foundation has built with two private sector companies, Jump and Microsoft. The two companies are providing equipment and training, as well as technical assistance at a reduced price, thus making information technologies more accessible.
More partnerships of this kind should be created. To achieve this, it is necessary to lobby and develop a dialogue, as many companies are still very reluctant to get involved in this type of collaboration.
Cooperation between governments, civil society and the private sector: Another important point that arose is the fact that governments and the corporate sector need to work with civil society, both for disaster relief and any other volunteer area.
Digital inclusion: There is concern that smaller organizations would simply not be able to keep up with the digital revolution, thus being excluded.
E-volunteering and volunteer motivation: Some people feel that e-volunteering is somewhat problematic, as volunteers are generally seeking social contact and e-volunteering does not provide such contact of this kind. It was also said that different volunteers had different motivations and what was true for some, was not necessarily the case for others.
Online vs. onsite volunteering: Home based and e-volunteering can appeal to mothers or people with disabilities who would not necessarily be able to go regularly to a community center, but would be happy to do some work at home. It appears that the most successful online volunteer programs are the ones that combine online activities with local volunteering, for example, in the case of someone who translates documents and then also takes part in local office activities at a volunteer center, once or twice a week.
Connecting people and technologies: A key issue is the sustainability of ICT programs and the duplication of projects elsewhere. For example, how can we, as infrastructure bodies, bring people and technology together? How can we change habits? People can have all the technical skills in the world but they have to have opportunities to use them (and want to use them).
Human resources and partnership with special interest groups: Today, the youth of many countries naturally grow up into the digital age, assimilating technical skills very easily. This is why many participans in the meeting felt that it is important to work with youth, youth networks and university students.
Older, already retired computer experts are another resource. It might also be possible to find senior consultants as well. In this context, Marc Nederlandt of the Association pour le volontariat (Belgium) mentioned the King Baudouin Foundation.
An interesting program is the "Sesam Academy" (base in the Netherlands and USA) in which retired senior managers are trained to give consultancy to the non-profit sector as volunteers. ICT training could form an important part of this program.
Mobile phones for disaster relief volunteers: Ioana Muresa of ProVobis (Romania) mentioned that in her country a new program is underway focusing on the connectivity of disaster relief volunteers. Mobile phones are a great asset in this and text messages (SMS) are a good way to contact potential volunteers (e.g. to tell them where their help is needed), as well as keep in touch with other disaster relief volunteers working in the field. This can also be of interest to mobile phone companies, who could offer support in kind, for example, in the form of phone subscriptions or equipment.
Gail Hurely of CEV mentioned that the new draft EU Constitutional Treaty called for the establishment of an EU Humanitarian Aid Corps. EU volunteers will be called upon to share their skills (including ICT) in emergency situations all over the world.
List of participants:
Christopher Spence, CEV President and National Centre for Volunteering, England
Viola Krebs, ICVolunteers, Gail Hurley, CEV
Posted: 2006-5-21 Updated: 2007-8-18