'Connected’ development: Five years of Online Volunteering
26 January 2005
Bonn, Germany: The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme’s Online Volunteering service, which connects non-profit and non-governmental organizations working in the South with people willing to volunteer their time and skills using the Internet, turns five years old this March.
Hundreds of organizations have benefited from the efforts of many thousands of online volunteers through this service provided by UNV. To date, more than 600 organizations from both the North and South have posted online volunteering assignments. They represent a wide range of development partners, such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in HIV/ AIDS, children’s education, and human rights, and international organizations, including UN agencies and programmes.
"The Online Volunteering service has made it possible to involve a greater number of people from all over the world in development work," says Ad de Raad, UNV’s Executive Coordinator. "This service gives people an opportunity to personally contribute to development work, and helps organizations to tap into expertise and resources they might never have access to otherwise. Connected at home, in school, at work, or in libraries, online volunteers are helping move the global development agenda forward."
More than 30,000 people have joined the Online Volunteering service since its inception in March 2000, and more than half of them have signed up for online assignments. The tasks they undertake are as varied as the volunteers themselves: they translate documents, offer professional advice, create web sites, produce organizational newsletters and brochures, research and gather information, and develop fund raising strategies, to name but a few of their activities.
"The multicultural aspect of the Online Volunteering service is remarkable. The fact that anyone with an Internet connection can share skills with a needy organization, and, in return, learn about the cultural and socio-economic aspects of the community they are helping, truly advances the global village idea,” says Jayne Cravens, UNV’s Online Volunteering Specialist.
“Online Volunteering connects people with each other, regardless of their religion, race, and language, to work together,” says Zuhair Yousif, a Sudanese national now living in Massachusetts, USA, and an online volunteer himself. “At the same time, they learn about different issues, difficulties, and obstacles in the developing world. It also allows me, for example, to reconnect with development issues in my home country.”
For the organizations that involve online volunteers, the service provides an indispensable resource: access to a world of diverse skills and expertise to help them meet their development goals. “The Online Volunteering service has been an integral part of our organization - without it, we could not do what we are doing,” says Vera Pringle, executive director of Global Stewardship Foundation Africa. “When I turn to onlinevolunteering.org I get a response from as many volunteers as needed for the task.”
In 2004, more than 700 online volunteering assignments were posted to the service. Most of the organizations were asking for more than one volunteer, with some requesting up to 50. At any given time, there are between 150 and 300 opportunities available on the web site of the service.
“I continue to be amazed by the number of people and organizations wanting to become a part of the Online Volunteering service,” says Mr. de Raad. “If the past five years are any indication of what’s to come, we have only scratched the surface of what is possible through online volunteering.”
UNV launched the Online Volunteering service in March 2000 with NetAid, a non-profit organization created a year earlier as a joint initiative by Cisco Systems and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to help eradicate extreme poverty. UNV and NetAid jointly developed and operated Online Volunteering until February 2004, when the service was entirely shifted to UNV and moved to its own web address, www.onlinevolunteering.org.
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