Micro-voluntarism a new form of international cooperation

02.04.2009 | Christian Kreutz

One of the greatest things about the Internet is that you can get in touch with people worldwide. I remember that back on the day I chatted for the first time and read from bluemoon11 that the sun was shining in Sidney. Twelve years ago that seemed breathtaking, but today it is rather amusing. Simultaneously, in the past, time volunteer engagement in other countries was a job quite difficult to tackle. You either knew someone or had friends from within, who were involved in a project, or got convinced by the volunteer in the pedestrian walk to donate money to their organization.

This has changed quite a lot, with fascinating new ways to individually engage on a peer to peer basis. Nowadays you can not only choose your donor, but also get yourself involved and follow the whole project and its outcome (e.g. Globalgiving or Kiva). There are also many more ways to engage such as the global neighbourhood Nabuur, where not everything is just about money, but also about the expertise that thousands of volunteers worldwide bring to the community. The social web has unleashed a huge wave of massive collaboration for social good already difficult to oversee. Being it science without borders, or working jointly on the first open source ecological village, or individually start their own little fundraising project, a small Facebook group, and ask for further action.

That brings up the questions: What organization will and can play in the future? We are slowly moving into ad-hoc peer-to-peer voluntarism independent from organizations. A nightmare for a classical fundraising approach. Certainly, organizations which depend on personal donations and mobilization of members will have a tough time if they do not include their audience.

But lets come back to new ways of volunteering. No doubt it is and will always be difficult to come up with new projects to fund, but there are now many existing projects which developed around all types of volunteer work efficiently. In many of this cases, costs are minimal and the output much higher thanks to all the expertise from participants. This is the case for a project outline not only written by two experts, but in a Wikipedia kind of fashion by numerous volunteers, which highlights all kinds of experiences. Will the chances of success be higher, or is the complexity of the project setting overwhelming? I imagine the more expertise there is, the better the project can be implemented. Look at the Katine project by the Guardian, where suddenly a project is portrayed from all different angles.

Another promising aspect of micro-volunteering can be seen on pages such as microvoluntarios.org and extraordinaries.org. In the first, volunteers can contribute with small tasks, which seems also attractive to companies, who donate the time of their employees. In the second, you can even donate through your mobile phone from wherever you are. Giulio Quaggiotto wrote a nice blog post about it.

Waiting for the bus and have nothing better to do than play around with your phone? Games are no longer the only options - now you can volunteer. The Extraordinaries (hat tip: Chris Kreutz) "delivers micro-volunteer opportunities to mobile phones that can be done on-demand and on-the-spot." Here's some examples of what you could do while waiting for your doctor's appointment: translate micro-finance loan applications (Kiva); transcribe subtitles for human rights videos (Witness) or help immigrants improve their English (Phone ESL). A nice example of tapping into the collective "cognitive surplus" for social innovation purposes.

So, not mass, but micro-collaboration might be next big thing. There are many examples which show that this could have working results even though, so far, only a minority knows about these new ways of engaging. Donating was yesterday, engaging yourself is next.