LONDON, United Kingdom — Remote volunteering was unheard of before the COVID-19 pandemic and the worldwide lockdowns which followed. Now, however, it has become and is emerging as another great force to make impactful change in the world. Remote volunteering may even be the future of volunteering.
Jens Christian Trier, Co-Founder and COO of We Make Change, a social enterprise using remote volunteering as a tool to help startups make sustainable and positive change in the world spoke with The Borgen Project about the work that the organization is doing, the impact of the pandemic and remote volunteering in general.
The Popularity of Remote Volunteering
Remote volunteering is not an entirely new phenomenon. Services and initiatives such as the UNV Online Volunteering Service, Reach Volunteering, Translators Without Borders and Amnesty Decoders have all existed for years, providing opportunities for individuals to volunteer in projects with the aim of donating your “virtual time to a ‘cause space that matters.” However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing livelihood changes, it has grown exponentially.
Nottingham Trent University, U.K., reported that there has been a rise in the “digital volunteer” with an “increase of volunteer roles being carried out remotely in 39% of organizations.” As a result of this, the organizations found that it was necessary to recruit volunteers with different skills and experience compared to their usual volunteers.
Trier shares these insights stating how remote volunteering is “much easier to understand following the COVID-19 pandemic.” He continues, discussing its rise to popularity. Remote volunteering, he states, can be done “anywhere now, giving more opportunities.”
“You can volunteer much more flexibly as it is wherever you are. It is dependent on your schedule and gives you the ability to do what you want. It also gives you the opportunity to support causes that you care about, in a region that you have an interest in and want to hear more about and learn about more countries.”
Desire is a key part of Trier’s view of remote volunteering, with such ventures opening opportunities for individuals to make an impact however and wherever they want.
Remote vs. Traditional Volunteering
Traditional definitions of volunteering relate it to being a “physical activity in a specific place.” Examples of such activities include volunteering at a charity job, distributing food or traveling abroad to teach children. These projects bring value and gratitude to the local community and beneficiaries. Nevertheless, these “traditional” volunteering opportunities are often low-skilled, meaning that they tend to result in low-impact results such as inefficient socio-economic development. Furthermore, such opportunities are often inaccessible (especially in the current age) because of physical/personal constraints and commitments.
In the U.K., 46% of people want to volunteer, however, they are often unable to due to these limits. Remote volunteering has changed the way that people can volunteer. “You can use the skills that you have gained from studying and working for good while gaining more skills, building a network and having more opportunity to further career goals.” Trier concludes, “you can make a difference with your skill set, which can help you grow as a person.” Remote volunteering not only enables you to make a positive impact on a cause of choice, but it also contributes to personal and even professional development.
The History of We Make Change
Through the social enterprise he co-founded, Trier has been able to put the notion of remote volunteering into practice. He outlines a short history of We Make Change, telling of its beginning, its changes and its current working. “It has been an evolvement,” he says, encapsulating the unique history of the organization in just a few simple words.
“We started in 2017 with the idea to give people the opportunity to use their skills to support the causes that they care about. But it wasn’t till 2018 that we really launched a platform where people could come and create their own projects so that they could find and meet other people who had the skills that they needed for that particular project.”
“We want to give people the opportunity to support sustainable organizations along with supporting organizations that were addressing the challenges of the world today, from gender equality to climate change or alleviating poverty to building sustainable cities,” Trier stated.
Over the years, We Make Change targeted different organizations, moving from NGOs to social enterprises and now to impact startups. The aim for each was for projects to be created, involving different skills – from research and web development to marketing and legal support – that individuals from all over the world could apply for and support.
Remote Volunteering: The Future of Volunteering?
Post-pandemic, remote volunteering will not replace traditional volunteering. However, it is a large contender for becoming a key part of the future of volunteering. “Remote skilled volunteering is necessary more urgent as we have a lot of challenges that need addressing,” Trier stated. Rather than going to politicians, “you should instead go to startups who have a solution to do something and help that grow faster,” he explains. Not only will this “help make the world a better place, but it will help the business grow which will lead to greater employability” and then the cycle continues.
Nevertheless, the very existence of remote volunteering is “dependent on the community.” Trier follows, “it also depends on access as well and having the resources to be able to make change.”
“There is a place for traditional volunteering – you are doing good if you are going to places where there is a food distribution and volunteering in charity shops.”
When asked about what he thinks is the main part of volunteering remotely or traditionally, he states “I think as long as you want to make a change, nothing else really matters. The want to make a change is the biggest part of wanting to volunteer and so if the intention is present then the way to and means of is irrelevant.”
– Harkiran Bharij