Volunteering: service undertaken to benefit the society out of own free will for no remuneration. So goes the formal definition. However, let’s ponder - Is it really undertaken primarily with social benefit in mind? That volunteering has a social purpose is without a doubt. Yet, there is tremendous evidence of other key benefits the accrue to the volunteer and the organisation or community to which (s)he belongs. The first is personality development.
In 2004, iVolunteer started a summer volunteering program for students from Delhi and Mumbai universities wherein students undertook community development projects under the guidance of reputed rural organisations. Everyone involved in the program - NGOs, students, parents and organisers - us, that the program added significantly to the student’s personal development. Today we are designing programs where senior corporate managers undertake similar projects. Negotiating organisations and communities with loose structures and developing solutions with scare resources, and learning to influence without direct authority aids developing business leaders. I dare say, that the value delivered to a company is in no way lesser than delivered to the community.
Practising professional skills - in the last decade or so, there's a spate of management colleges which mandate students to volunteer with NGOs often undertaking projects that put their management lessons learnt in classrooms to use on the field. The summer internships which students serve possibly do not add as much meat to the project as development internships do. Once a mid-level marketing manager of a beverage company volunteering to help an NGO manage their marketing quipped, ‘In my company I have the budgets and the vendors to do everything, here I get to really do what I was trained for’.
Community Connect - did you recently move to cities, are you missing on the community connect during a festival you grew up celebrating, do you want to make friends interested driven by same social passion, are you retired and wanted to still be connected and useful to the community - all these and several more are reasons which drive people to volunteer. Is it wrong to have motivations other than just to help someone or something? Is it wrong to have non-remunerative expectations from volunteering? I believe that if a larger social purpose is served, if there's no ulterior motive, then all motivations are valid. If we know the motivation and the expectations beforehand, it only helps us make the best of volunteering for everyone.
Are there any unseen gains for NGOs who engage volunteers? By products or side-effects exist in the volunteering too much almost anything else in the world. Lets look at the gains made by an organisation which receives and engages volunteers?
Long back I asked the founder of a reputed NGO in Rajasthan why was it engaging young volunteers from a place like Mumbai when I could see that some of them did not deliver as much value in the specific project to the NGO. She responded ‘consider this our investment into building a nation of young leaders who understand and appreciate the challenges that communities like ours face’. In effect, the NGO was creating Investing in ambassadors that would serve the community, the cause and the organisation in the long run. Today, many of the NGOs openly inviting volunteers from large companies are aiming to create a bond with the company which could be leveraged for funding its core projects too. The international volunteers have long been used for similar benefit by NGOs for decades. Volunteers come in first, aid comes in next. Nothing wrong with that.
Another key by-product of volunteering opportunities especially involving direct community work is that the beneficiaries, particularly of an impressionable age, often find role models in volunteers and learn several soft and hard skills when the volunteers serve considerable time with them.
There's a lot of research specifically in North America and Europe on health benefits of volunteering - ranging from lower stress levels to increased life-span and even a boost to immunity.
My view is that we are still learning everything that makes volunteering work and yet more on how it impacts us is yet to be figured out. There has been no doubt ever, however, on its positive impact. So let's just make the most of volunteering for everyone involved.