“The small size of the group is good for interaction”

Ms. Shalini Gambhir, a CSR consultant and an alumnus of Delhi University and Delhi School of Economics volunteered her time and efforts in contributing towards GYAN an acronym for Get Your Answers Now. GYAN is an  initiative of iVolunteer that offers Volunteer led capacity building workshops for the Non Profit sector.

We spoke to Shalini about her eShalini-Gambhirxperience of conducting the session on “How to Pitch To a corporate” for the Non Profits in Bangalore. Her decision to volunteer and the following narration of her experience highlights the spirit of  peer learning within the sector;

Tell us something about yourself?

I am fortunate enough to be a part of both the corporate and social sector through the two caps I don. As the Head Community Services at NGO Bangalore Medical Services Trust, I design and head implementation of community outreach programs for youth, community members and workplace populations related to Life Skills, Gender, Gender Based Violence, Alcohol Abuse, Sexual & Reproductive Health and HIV/AIDS. As a CSR Consultant to Weir India I have designed their strategic CSR initiatives using the participatory approach. I also facilitate the implementation of their social responsibility initiatives in India. Straddling both sectors has helped me use my subject matter expertise to share best practices with both the sector.

 What is your take on volunteering in the development sector?

I think volunteering is a great motivational factor which is recognized the world over. It can be used as an effective tool for employee engagement and motivation in the corporate sector. It is an opportunity to do something beyond small charitable deeds such as making a donation in the temple, or, donating old clothes.

How did you know about GYAN & what motivated you to volunteer for the initiative?

10375127_818789621484187_7678976910724285642_nI learnt about GYAN through word of mouth. A friend of mine through my professional network referred me to GYAN. What motivated me to volunteer is that I wanted to find the time to share my knowledge of social sector with others who are working towards developmental goals. I had previously been approached by other NGOs to conduct sessions but couldn’t find the time for the same. So when you contacted me for the GYAN Session, it was a tipping point for me and I knew I had to make time for this.

 What was your overall experience of taking the GYAN session? 

It was a fulfilling experience for me. Apart from sharing what I could share I also learnt from the participants. It enabled me to know what others were doing in the social sector. Ours is not a cut-throat sector where people compete with each other. We all are working towards a similar goal and all our efforts add up in achieving it. Hence learning and sharing with each other becomes vital.

As a working professional in the social sector how do you perceive the GYAN approach to training?

960208_818789198150896_7393425688967411293_nThe small size of the group is good for interaction. The session was a nice mix of different sectors in the non-profit segment and it was better represented than the other sessions that I engage with. There were participants working towards disability, child rights and the like. The arrangement of the session was nice, neither was it too formal or informal which made the entire group feel like a whole. I didn’t feel myself apart from the group.

Would you consider volunteering for a GYAN session again ? Would you recommend other volunteers or NGOs to GYAN? If so why?

Yes, if you would like me to conduct another session, I would consider volunteering again. I would also recommend other volunteers and NGOs to take part in GYAN where they could share knowledge and learn from each other in a small group.

To read more about GYAN visit http://gyan.ivolunteer.in/

The other side of volunteering..

So I have been doing on and off volunteering for a couple of years or is that 2 decades now??  I know it started when I was in school and annually we would visit either an orphanage or an old age home. Religion too contributed significantly – at one point we were visiting a Hostel for girls every 2 weeks to teach and just talk to the kids. The passion grew and I took up psychology and social work professionally. Somehow, I was always always inclined to volunteering with children and I was able to continue doing the same at work – organizing opportunities for beneficiary related volunteering and events through CSR.

Ever since I got to know of iVolunteer’s Impact Projects – an opportunity for volunteers to share their skills with NGOs, thereby strengthening the functioning of the NGO, I wanted to get involved. Last year, I did one-off tasks for various NGOs. These projects made a lot of sense to me and gave me flexibility in my volunteering life….I could volunteer from home  or even while travelling on the bus to get back home by editing documents or making calls on behalf of the NGO. Given the fact that I had a two year old and travelled two hours a day, it made a lot of sense and I felt good that I was able to make a teeny tiny contribution to the NGO sector.

This year, I felt I needed to get more involved and when I read the annual report of the NGO Kili Kili, which works on inclusive play spaces in public parks, it thrilled me and I knew I just had to write and connect with them. I quickly met Kavitha Krishnamurthy, who is part of Kili Kili and Sampoorna Music Therapy centre (which is a hop, skip and jump away from home) and have been volunteering for them for three months now – I try to make it once in two weeks or whenever there is a requirement. So far, have helped them with a back log of reports – since they migrated to a new website, I was able to do some backend help. I have also helped create and maintain a mailing list of volunteers, and support the NGO with timely emails and reminders when there is a requirement/programme.Eventually, I hope to be a rapporteur for a monthly event they organize and partly help with their social media. I will continue to volunteer with them and more such organizations in whatever area they feel I can add value. It also helps me practice what I preach on the ethics of volunteering :)

Though these are small and probably insignificant tasks compared to what the NGO does in totality, it feels good to help out – I have a strong belief it helps the organization take its mind off these small tasks and move ahead… so that they can worry about the bigger things that are required to be put into place…and it gives them space to do what they do best…Serve! 


Random act of kindness

Recently I was standing outside a mall waiting for my ride to get home when I noticed this elderly couple who I thought was trying to cross the road. They would walk right in middle of the road which was experiencing a mad traffic rush and would return back to the pavement looking disheartened. The elderly gentleman was trembling and the woman holding on to his shoulder was carrying a grocery bag in the other hand.

I walked up to them and offered help when I realized that they were infact looking for a rickshaw.   If you stay in Mumbai you would know that getting a rickshaw at a peak traffic time for short distance is an arduous task. My next few minutes went in pleading, threatening and arguing with atleast 10 rickshaw drivers when finally one person agreed. God Bless him!! The couple happily bid their goodbyes to me from the rickshaw and I felt a sense of achievement. I had volunteered!

Lot of people I talk to often express the desire to volunteer. They have the willingness to do something but cannot make time to take on formal assignments.  So here is my bit to solve this problem. Each one of us can do random acts of kindness without disturbing our routine. Here is a handy list that can help anyone to do small acts of kindness

  • Give a lift : Its getting more and more difficult to find rickshaw’s and taxi’s these days and you will see so many of them plying with single passengers. You can always offer someone to ride with you and ask them to do the same in future.
  • Offer your seat: If you are blessed with good health offer your seat to someone who really needs it. You will always find tired faces with heavy laptop bags, women with children, elderly people who would need the seat more than you. So go on show some chivalry!
  • Connect people: The simplest act ever! There is always someone or the other in need of getting connected to someone – a future employer, a vendor or even a potential life partner. Don’t hesitate to introduce or connect. You never know how it might help.
  • Treat manual laborers more kindly: Offer water/tea to electricians, plumbers, courier guys who would visit your house. They have demanding schedules and strenuous jobs.
  • School books: Our kids would always have more note books that they will ever fill and then there are those who would write in small handwriting to let the notebooks last longer in schools. These kids are everywhere – in a neighbouring municipal school, creches near construction sites and orphanage’s near your house.  Collect and donate these books to children who really need them.

If  you look around there are so many opportunities to do little acts that can make someone’s day and yours too.

“Our first and foremost duty is to serve humanity”

IMG_0098 Ms Roma Mehta, from Living Design, a design house that believes that design and creativity elevates communication. She has created promotional material in print and digital media for nonprofits and foundations in Taiwan, Australia, DRC Congo and India. She manages a design and print business in Taiwan and is now based in Kolkata. Roma also loves art and works on creative art projects with children. Coming from a family where serving the society was an integral part of prescribed duties, volunteering comes naturally to Roma therefore she is an avid volunteer and for many initiatives like Daan Utsav, GYAN etc. Her GYAN workshop on Powering Your Presentation was a roaring success in Kolkata

  1. Tell us something about your move and interest to the development sector?

My involvement and work in the development sector is not new. It has been an integral part of my life since I was a child. For 35 years, my father managed a free school for street kids, a Narishala as an income generation project for women, and a Mass Feeding of the Poor which still happens every Sunday on Sudder Street. After moving to Taiwan, I have been involved with fund raising, organsing charities and providing print collateral for non-profits from many different sectors of the NGO world. It seemed natural to join Daan Utsav in Kolkata and continue the flow of work related to the development sector. Our first and foremost duty is to serve humanity.

  1. How did you know about GYAN & what motivated you to volunteer for the initiative?

I learnt of GYAN through Tanveer. He has been attending the Daan Utsav Volunteer meetings at my office and this is how we got to know each other. When Tanveer suggested that I participate in the GYAN initiative, I was more than willing to help NGOs improve their visual communication tools. Visual language is my main line of work and if I can help people that are in the business of uplifting humanity, what better use could there be of my skills?

  1. How was your experience of taking the GYAN session? Any take ways for you as a volunteer?

The workshop was an excellent experience. It was good to be able to give some much needed pointers on better communication through PowerPoint. My suggestions would include better channels for feedback and follow up. I don’t think that one day is sufficient for a workshop like this if it needs to be effective. Two or three sessions would give participants a chance to put the knowledge they gain into practice; allow the mentor to show them how to improve their existing presentations; allow new presentations to be made in accordance with the basic rules of effective presentations.

  1. Now working as a professional in this sector do you think the GYAN approach to training is beneficial in the sector?

Yes, I do believe this is a good initiative. However, as mentioned above, some of the topics require more than one day of participation.

  1. Would you recommend GYAN to volunteers as well as NGO’s? If so Why?

Definitely. I would recommend it to NGOs. Most of them are so busy with the work they are doing and have neither the time nor the resources to develop their communications. These workshops can become a good way to gain bite sized knowledge and skills.

Thank You

Am going back to school !!

I visited a school the other day. It was part of the Corporate Employee Volunteering Program wherein we partner with corporate companies to design activities to promote volunteering among their employees. In this particular project we require getting permissions from schools to conduct an environmental awareness program for their students in partnership with a corporate company.

My stint at the school was about an hour or so when I was waiting for the School Principal to return to his cabin. He was taking one of his morning classes. I had arrived at the time when he was supposedly to be free ( or I was rather informed so by the administrator. ) As I waited in his office little did I know of the mischievous little adventures that would unfold!

A group of 6 – 7 students assembled outside the office room with small notes in their hands. One of them entered first and showed his note to the administrator. He wanted to take the day off. Why didn’t any of his parents accompany him to take the permission ? This was the school rule – emphasized the school administrator. The student dramatically explained touching his forehead and tummy that he was suddenly unwell and needed to go home. When asked to call home, he dialed and began speaking to his mother. Meanwhile the administrator got busy attending to other official work.

A second student entered and showed a permission note for taking leave. ‘Why didn’t you bring any of your parents ?’ ‘They are both out-of-town Madam’. ‘Then call your parents for me to speak to them’. ‘Sure Madam, once this boy puts the receiver down’. Only then did the administrator and me realized that our little friend who was suddenly unwell after reaching school was still on the call with his mother. He was speaking so softly that neither of us in the room could feel for a moment that somebody was on a call ! The administrator stormed at the boy and took the receiver to speak to his mother. Keeping the telephone receiver down, the administrator exclaimed:  ‘Is this your home land line or school property ?’. ‘Sorry Madam, I am just unwell, please let me go home’. ‘I think you better speak to the school principal when he returns’. ‘I already did so, he said I could go’. ‘Then no harm in talking to him again, please be seated outside’.


That hour of waiting didn’t feel like a waiting time at all ! I got a chance to go back to school and relive my own memories of being a student. It is such a very vital phase in our lives. What touches us now lingers and becomes a part of us and stays with us throughout our lives. Hence it becomes the moral responsibility of the schools, parents and the society at large to ensure that these young minds are aware and empathetic to the real issues around them. This can go a long way in making them tomorrow’s responsible citizens. Looks like our corporate partner has strongly realized this and wants to catch them young!

“I got lost in volunteering for 3 days!”

Volunteer Hero Selva Ganapathy is back!

Selva received an opportunity to participate in Points of Light’s conference on ‘Volunteering and Service’ at Atlanta USA, one of the world’s largest gatherings on volunteering when he won the Volunteer Hero Award earlier this year. This award was sponsored by Deutsche Bank.

Here he shares his experiences and highlights of the conference with us…

What does the title of  Volunteer Hero mean to you?

Selva G. receives Volunteer Hero Award at iVolunteer Awards Ceremony

Selva G. receives Volunteer Hero Award at the iVolunteer Awards Ceremony

“I need not mention that ‘it means a lot’ to me. That’s understood. I realized that the award has given a new meaning to how people see me. I am the same person that I was before winning the Volunteer Hero Award, but I think people see me differently after receiving the title of Volunteer Hero.

While it’s good to be introduced in a group of people as Volunteer Hero, it also adds tons of responsibility. In a way it’s a heavy title :P I hope to try to live up to its value and expectation.”

What was the highlight of your trip?

“I got lost in volunteering for 3 days!

The highlight of my trip was to meet so many people and get inspired by them. It was a trip packed with meetings and sessions so at times I forgot to have my breakfast and lunch…


Selva with delegates at the Points of Light Conference

I was completely immersed in the atmosphere and it was great to celebrate volunteerism on a global platform and that too as a Volunteer Hero from India.”

What were your expectations from this trip and conference? Were those fulfilled?

“After reading Kartheeban’s blog post and interacting with him, I was eagerly awaiting the conference.

I had thought of making several new contacts there, and I did.

I was able to talk to every single person that I wanted to. There was no hierarchy and that made it easy to just walk up to people, shake hands and get going!

Selva with Neil Bush

Selva with Neil Bush, Chairman Points of Light, an international Non Profit that promotes volunteering

I was able to meet many people who had contributed significantly as volunteers apart from having successful careers; interact with them, learn and share.

I was overwhelmed when they came up to me, to appreciate the award I received. I was delighted that by the second day many of them recognized me and called out to me by my name.


Selva with Maho

One such volunteer I’m glad I met was Maho Harada, a Hands-On network volunteer from Japan. She was taking a lot of photos and I was closely interacting with her learning about her work back in Japan. Listening to how she organizes events with the help of volunteers was very inspiring and I was also was amazed by her photography skills. It was also great to learn that she has also worked as production assistant on many TV documentaries.”

Describe any key instances from the trip that you will always remember?

Selva shares his journey at the Corportae Service Council Dinner

Selva shares his journey at the Corportae Service Council Dinner

“I received an opportunity to share my volunteering journey at the Corporate Service Council dinner, which was a networking event. In attendance were heads from many Fortune 100 companies.

After my talk a few of them from companies based across the world came up to me to congratulate and complement me. I think I’ll always cherish that…

Another such incident occurred at one of the sessions organized to introduce the international participants. We were requested to go up to a person we didn’t know, talk to them about ourselves and our work.


Selva with Caroline, Hands on Network

I interacted with Caroline, a Hands-On network volunteer from Hong Kong. Caroline was born in the UK but moved later to Hong Kong. She is a passionate volunteer mainly in the animal welfare sector. She complemented me saying that she was very inspired by my work and went on to share my routine with all the participants there!

What surprised a lot of the people I met and those who heard of my routine, was that I have been volunteering for over 10 years with an organization, apart from having a full time job and making time to practice archery, as a result of which I end up sleeping for barely 4 hours a day!

Being able to inspire others is something I find very valuable.”

How was it meeting other AID volunteers?

AID Buffalo volunteers taking me around Niagra

AID Buffalo volunteers take Selva to visit the Niagra Falls

“Well, I have been interacting with AID volunteers in the US over emails for more than 8 years now. I have hardly met any of them. This time when they invited me to visit chapters, I was thrilled to meet them all. I met volunteers of AID Atlanta, Austin, Washington DC, Baltimore, Chicago, Troy, Buffalo and Seattle chapters.

Meeting with the AID Chicago volunteers

Meeting with the AID Chicago volunteers

Everywhere I had so many volunteers with so much to discuss and it was complete fun. It was so amazing that I hardly got a chance for sightseeing.

Thankfully, Buffalo volunteers gave me free time and also took me to visit the Niagara Falls!

Meeting people who I’ve interacted with over several years without knowing what they look like was

Meeting with AID Atlanta volunteers

Meeting with AID Atlanta volunteers

amazing. I also had time to meet some of my old friends from AID Delhi who were now in the US and to share my work with them.

One volunteer I was really glad to meet was Dr. Raj Rajaram of Pratham Chicago, a fellow AID volunteer who greatly inspired and thrilled me!

Dr. Rajaram is a geo-technical and environmental engineer with 34 years of experience in sustainable environmental management.

Dinner with AID Austin Volunteers

Dinner with AID Austin Volunteers

He had learned from AID Chicago’s mailing list that I was visiting them and he wanted to meet me despite his busy schedule. I met him over a quick lunch. He was very enterprising, full of enthusiasm and ideas and quick to offer his help.”

After this trip has your understanding of being ‘Volunteer Hero’ changed? If yes, how.

“Oh yes, to me awards hardly mattered or made a difference. I always believed in do your duty and do more to your duty! I began to realize that the title Volunteer Hero made people look at me differently. At the conference, people introduced me saying ‘he won the Volunteer Hero Award in India’ and then others would treat me with much more respect and come up to me and share their appreciation. It also puts an image of volunteering in India on a global platform.

Since childhood, I have always been a film fanatic and have cherished every movie ‘Hero’ who made a difference on screen. I would be thrilled whenever a hero rose up to save people and do good; and today I have the title for myself which is something awesome!”

Is there something/s that you wanted to do but could not?

“Yes. I wanted to be there at the Service Unites trip organized to a local baseball match which could have been fun. Unfortunately, my talk at the Corporate Service Council dinner was at the same evening and I had to miss the baseball match because of that! The talk indeed went really well though.”

Key learning from the conference as:

  1. “A volunteer: There is no limit to what one can do as a volunteer and once you start volunteering you’ll always try to do more which keeps you going. Volunteering is endless! You can shape up so many things by volunteering.
  2. A volunteer leader/ manager: It’s important to learn from your volunteers, get inspired by them and time and manage them effectively. This is no lesser than a task that the Human Resource Manager performs in a company. Managing people with different skill sets is great work in itself and needs a very precise professional approach to it.”

What were the similarities and differences between volunteering in India and abroad?

Selva with participants from various countries

Selva with participants from various countries

“There are a large number of volunteers who want to volunteer both here in India and in the USA.
There are huge differences in the way volunteering is perceived though.

Volunteering is treated much more professionally in USA. There is ample scope for networking, working together and there are many more avenues to encourage volunteers who want to contribute their time.

These are some things I find lacking in India. Here a volunteer has to overcome and sacrifice so many other things including resistance from his/ her own family to come and volunteer whereas in USA it’s very easy and simple.

The way schemes are built to engage volunteers are also professional. Here I find that a volunteer spends a lot of time trying to identify the right organization for him/ her to volunteer with.

However, I found a lot of similarities are shaping up in terms of companies in India planning to engage their employees as skill based volunteers with non-profits.”

A message/ advice for volunteers:

“A very simple one –

“Everyone wants to do something for society. Many fail to start. If you are a volunteer, then it means that you have started. Now that you have started you’ll go out and explore yourself more when you volunteer and at stages you’ll unveil yourselves to the world and to yourself as well!

Keep doing what you think would make a better world. Be kind and be the change”.


A Day at Lakshyam

tomTom Thomas- an Academician with a background in Hotel Management, was the perfect choice in leading the Seva Sandwich Activity at iVolunteer’s Impact GupShup- a quarterly volunteer meet. Here’s how he feels about the experience! 

In a small basti near the urban locality of Vasant Kunj, there is an NGO working for the development of the under privileged- Lakshyam. Living in Delhi NCR (Faridabad for most part of my life), finding the location was a bit of a task. After being religiously helped with directions- I reached the place. Unable to locate the center , I met a 10 year old boy Abhishek and asked for directions to the school. “Aapko lakshyam jana hai, chaliye main aapko le chalta hun, main bhi wahi padta hun” was his cheerful reply and walking for around 2 minutes through the basti we reached the venue.


The volunteers were a mixed bag of individuals

A small office room, followed by another room with wooden chairs neatly placed around the walls  (having murals )and floor covered with rugs. Students sitting on the rugs were waiting patiently (most of them were girls with few boys). As soon as we entered, everyone greeted (in a chorus) – “Good afternoon!!! “ (Reminded of our good old school days, all the innocence, when we used to greet our teachers)

By the time introductions were over with children all the volunteers had arrived, everyone carrying with them some materials for a Sandwich Activity.

The group of people present were a mixed bag of individuals coming from different professions , some were College Students , Academicians , I.T guys, people working with NGO’s etc but all of us had a connect instantly ( I guess that is what the phrase “like minded people” is used for)
After an ice breaking session (as most of the volunteers were meeting each other for the first time),the iVolunteer team (Rubitah & Priyanka) introduced all the volunteers to the SEVA SANDWICH CAMPAIGN AND IMPACT GUPSHUP.

During the Impact GupShup- volunteers discussed topics ranging from “measuring impacts of volunteering to dos and donts of volunteering”. Those who have finished projects with NGO’s narrated their experiences. After the discussion everyone presented their view point and very good results came out from these discussions. (It was heartening to see college students taking their time out on a weekend to be present there & leading the discussions. Being from an academic background I come in contact with lots of students and the way these students are channelizing their energies for activities like these, I must say-we have a great future ahead & we can all proudly say “ache din certainly aane wale hai!!” )

After the gupshup- with lots of zeal and energy the sandwich making started. Students of Lakshyam helped us in the activity; sandwiches were shared with the students, with each volunteer getting time to speak to the students and getting to know them better.


Volunteers and kids made sandwiches together

The sandwich making was followed by some singing sessions with the multi talented students of Lakshyam (Gosh those students are talented- thinking what I used to do at the same age). They even performed a Nukkad Natak for us on saving natural resources.

Being my first impact GupShup , I really enjoyed the day , made some new friends , got inspired listening to people  who are giving their time and skills for the under privileged and who all have passion to bring a little change in the lives of others.

Impact Volunteers from Delhi

Volunteers from the event

As Salman desperately wandered for a kick in his latest flick (had to get him in this blog- brings glamour) , I feel this event would have certainly given a kick  to some of the people who came by. Surely gave a big one to me….!


Volunteers with the kids of Lakshyam!

Big thanks to Lakshyam & iVolunteer (Rubitah & Priyanka) for making it happen (can’t forget to mention you guys :))


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