Does Ghana comes after Singapore-My experiences of VSO volunteers

11 years and a few hundred VSO volunteers, the iVolunteer overseas program has come a long way. Not only it gave Indians an opportunity to volunteer overseas and gain valuable skills but also helped them broaden their horizon and provide a whole life change experience. And it was not all work. Since we started we have had volunteer having babies, volunteers finding love in the countries where they were placed. Talk about changing lives and yes we were doing it.

I had my share of incidents while interacting with volunteers. Earlier we used to conduct in person assessment days to select volunteers. Our personal interview was very deep had questions around relationships . I remember once I was training another selector to take the interview. He was asking the questions about marriage and relationships. The applicant was someone in their 40s. And this is how it went.

Selector: Are you married?

Applicant: Yes I’m married and my wife works with a NGO.

Selector: Are you in a relationship?

Applicant ( Little confused) : I just told you that I’m married

Selector ( in a slightly hush hush voice) : Don’t worry, you can tell us we will not tell anyone.

There was this 2 second silence which seemed like hours.Thankfully the applicant started laughing and an awkward movement was avoided.

One of the qualities that we look in our volunteers is sensitivity to the need of others. During one of the earliest assessment days we asked an applicant as to why he wants to go overseas keeping in mind that his wife was  going to deliver a baby in the next couple of months. He answered  with a straight face ” See the baby is going to sleep for the first 12 months most of the time, so I  can just leave and come back in a year and neither the baby nor him would have missed much”. His interview ended there.

As you work with volunteers you realise that in India we never grow to be an adult- first parents and then wife :). My colleague Ranjan would get calls from desperate parents who want to know where we are sending their kids never mind the kid is 40 something. Ranjan was very strict and all calls will to him will come with terse reply ” Mr Sharma, your son is 40 years old. I refuse to speak to you about his placement”. I was not so strict and as a result one day I got a call from a volunteer who was supposed to go somewhere in Africa ” Mr Rahul I really want to volunteer but my wife is not letting me do that. Can you please speak to her and convince her”. I promptly responded ” Sir I can’t even convince my wife to make Parantha’s for breakfast, what makes you think I can convince yours”  and the conversation ended.

Sometimes volunteers will come with their family to Delhi before they board the flight to their placement countries. For a lot of them this is the first time they were travelling abroad. So naturally everyone is super excited. Their families asks all kinds of questions about where in Africa we are sending them or if its safe for them. One of the cutest incident that I remember was with this volunteer who was going to Ghana. Her sister who was in her 30s came to me and then with all her earnestly asked me that while travelling to Ghana whether Ghana comes before or after Singapore. For a moment I was at my wits end and then I remembered that earth is round. Quickly gathering my wits I responded ” Well it entirely depends upon whether we go clockwise or Anti-clock wise from India. But for now we can only afford to send your brother clockwise which means he cannot do a day stop at Singapore”

Those days were fun and then Salesforce came into our lives. That would be a story for another blog post.

Code for a Cause

This November several Non Profits from across India were invited to participate at the eBay Opportunity Hack. Held at their Chennai and Bangalore offices this tech for good event was created by a cross-functional team at eBay with an idea of matching highly-skilled volunteers (i.e. top-notch engineers and other professionals from eBay and other local companies) with Non-Profit organizations that need technological solutions to address critical challenges.

iVolunteer presented our challenge of ‘Inspiring a nation to Volunteer by sharing stories of Everyday Heroes to this platform.’ We made it through the initial rounds and were invited to ‘Pitch’ our challenge to an audience of about 120+ software engineers, developers and designers.

Ebay Hack-a-thon 2014It was heartening and encouraging to see the diverse and intriguing nature of 20 odd challenges that were presented in total. These included a whole range of needs from Web cum Mobile based Apps that  aid in real time updates for Blood Donation to apps to help identify missing children and ways for people to track and monitor their carbon footprint.

All the volunteers were engaged and determined to leave only once they had achieved some tangible good.


The three volunteers who worked on the ‘iVolunteer Awards Web App’ were Charanjit Singh, Pulak Bhattacharyya and Jignesh Kakadia. They didn’t sleep at all, determinedly coding for 36 hours!

These volunteers not only built this platform from scratch but are also co-ordinating with friends and colleagues to help finish the iVolunteer Awards Web platform and add new features to it!

Here are excerpts from a chat with these volunteers.

Tell us about yourself – “I am currently working as software engineer at InMobi and have I worked on C++, Javascript and C. My area of expertise is Full-stack Web Development, Node.js and Backbone. I heard about Hack-a-thon via - Jignesh Kakadiya

“ I am a technology enthusiast having more than 9 years of experience in varieties of web technologies like HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript MVC frameworks. I came across Ebay hack-a-thon through social media and a few friend told me about it.”  – Pulak Bhattacharyya

“I work as an independent software contractor. Being a freelancer, I’ve worked in diverse technologies from writing web, desktop and mobile applications to Javascript and Python. I also have experience in maintaining infrastructure for large apps aka database/sys admin. I came to know of Ebay Hackathon from Pulak whom I met at a meeting.” - Charanjit Singh

Any particular reason why you chose to volunteer / hack for iVolunteer Awards?

It was my first hackathon and it was a wonderful experience. Writing code for about 30 hours straight with two very smart people, well that’s a luxury. I came to ebay hackthon with my own idea about creating awareness among masses, about people who actually care about society. iVolunteer has similar motives and is an already established platform, so I decided to hack for them. We had very limited deadline and we were almost done with writing all the code. We were wondering if we had got it right? But When team iVolunteer liked the app, that was a glorious moment. - CharanjitEbay Hackathon volunteers

I really appreciate the job what iVolunteer is doing and strongly believe in encouraging and rewarding people to volunteer for a social cause. This can make a big impact in our society and the Ebay hack experience was amazing. During the project execution, we did not sleep! That was quite memorable as i remember how darkness ended with the morning sun” – Pulak

“There were many NGOs that participated at Hackathon. I was excited and even If I was able to solve a single problem of organization, it would be a great experience. This was the first time I was awake for 40 hours straight. It was fun to see the project grow from zero, to live and usable by the end of the day. We all had different skill sets. But after few hours of started working on project, it felt like we are the team that any project requires.” – Jignesh

Tell us about your other volunteering experiences

 I have volunteered before with Mozilla and KDE, both are Open Source Organizations. It feels amazing after you contribute. Volunteering is an opportunity you should never miss. Please contribute to open source and volunteer with NGOs. They are looking for volunteers to make peoples life easier and while contributing and one gets an opportunity to work with great minds. - Jignesh

Ebay hack, was the first time I volunteered for a social cause and I felt very happy and satisfied to contribute technologically towards a noble cause that iVolunteer has been doing all these years. I urge fellow I.T professionals to volunteer their technical skills and expertise to help such NGOs  – Pulak

I have volunteered  before in my home town, but never as a software developer. Volunteering to code for a cause is good and one of the best things a coder can do for himself. It’s inspirational and fun at same time. – Charanjit


Looking for brave hearts to volunteer abroad with VSO @ Voluntary Services Overseas


We are looking for committed professionals between the age group of 27 to 64 with a minimum of four years of work experience and with a penchant to share their skills and learn about new cultures. Most importantly you should be in a position to give a minimum of 6 months and a maximum of 2 years of your time towards this effort.

About VSO

VSO is the world’s leading independent international development organisation that works through volunteers to fight poverty in developing countries. Their high-impact approach brings people together to share skills, build capabilities, promote international understanding and action to change lives and make the world a fairer place.

Along with your skills and experience check if you have the following traits which will make you a volunteer extraordinaire! -

You’re resilient and adapt well to new situations. You’re able to facilitate positive change and build sustainable working relationships. But most of all, as this is the vision of VSO, you’re competent to seek and share knowledge.

What we offer:

  • Home country funded allowance, medical insurance, travel costs, accommodation and an allowance to cover your basic living expenses while overseas according to the destination country
  • The chance to gain a new life experience and professional development in an international setting

In case of interest, please write in and/or send in your CVs to Only shortlisted CVs will be responded to.

When it all came tumbling down – Week 4 – LVP

“Am sorry, you had informed me on Friday, but I forgot to tell you that we have exams in the morning”. I appreciated the Principal mentioning this to me on Monday morning. Her chance meeting with one of the core organizers from the corporate team on a local train resulted in the postponement of the morning session to afternoon. The session on Hand washing techniques and Hygiene was conducted by the volunteers later in the afternoon that day. Here’s what the Lifesaver volunteer has to say:

“Got a good feedback from Headmistress saying children are washing hands with soap before lunch and after they come from toilet. It’s really a positive sign… Everyone remembers “No Good” who is villain and no one likes germs. Everyone wants to keep away “No Good”. Almost all of the kids knows when and how to wash the hands with Soap. They got the enrollment card signed from family and friends..” Hope all the kids follow forever and be role model for others in their community…in keeping oneself clean and healthy… IMG_3740

However that could not be the case with the two other schools where sessions had been planned for the first half of the day. Three sessions had been conducted so far with minimum hitches in terms of venue, time and support from the school authorities. But then that Monday morning had something else in store for us!

One of our representatives from iVolunteer reached a school on time and found that the exams were due to start in half an hour’s time. A volunteer group arrived by then and conducted the sessions.

“The session went well and the children responded to the questions. In future we can plan for some activities for the children during the third and fourth session and complete the story telling in the first two sessions” – expressed one of the Life saver volunteers.

The other volunteer group arrived 10 mins before the exam was to start. Hence there was just enough time to distribute the goodies brought for children and collecting up all the collaterals that were kept at the school premises .

The third school asked us to come a week later to conduct the final session. Exams had started and they didn’t want the students to be disturbed during the week. (Though I contacted the Principal on Friday for firming the session timings I didn’t receive the communication about the exams beginning on session date itself. He also conveyed that many companies had been approaching the school which causes a dent in the teaching hours.)

The entire episode reminded me of the trainer’s words in our GYAN training sessions on ‘Project Planning’ – Plans are meant to change and so you can use post-it notes for writing them. When a program runs successfully it is easy to work as everything falls in the right place as planned. However when things move slightly in wrong direction it is an opportunity to learn about alternative planning and not losing focus in times of stress. Hope to carry this learning forward.

GYAN- Crowd funding for non-profits

I recently conducted a GYAN session on crowd funding for non-profits in Dehradoon where I shared my experiences of raising money through crowd funding for a range of projects. These projects included raising money for a school to raising money for rehabilitation work in Uttarakhand. I shared how one can create a projects on crowd funding websites and how one can then go about raising awareness about the same.

As I sat there answering questions about crowd funding I realised that most of the questions were around communication and not so much about raising money on the internet. I feel NGOs do a fairly good job of raising money and very soon they will figure out how to do it through the internet. My worry is that even after so much capacity building in the field of communications NGOs seems to have very little idea of what to communicate and how to communicate. On top of it the array of tools available also confuses them. Half of the questions that were asked to me were about what is a blog and how to open a blog and what are the benefits of having a blog. And then there is facebook. NGOs are still unsure about how to create a facebook page and whether they need facebook or not.

The other problem is that no one wants to write. Everyone wants to find someone else to do their job. Unless people who work in NGOs start writing themselves and share what is happening in their work the problem of communicating with the wider world is not going to be over in the near future.

I guess the need is to do more and more communications workshops with small NGOs and get their staff and founders used to the idea of writing and sharing. The world has changed tremendously in the last few years and days of sending printed stuff are over. All of us have to create and share and over the internet. That is the only way forward.



Volunteer to capture stories of change


Design For Change (DFC) is a global movement that inspires children to be ‘changemakers’.

We at iVolunteer are inspired by this movement and invite you to pitch in too!

Volunteer to shoot and share stories of children overcoming challenges from ‘teaching their parents to read’ and ‘stopping child marriages’ to ‘fixing potholes on the street’.

Till date 2,70,000+ children have participated in the DFC India School Challenge and have submitted over 5000 compelling stories. Read more…

Help showcase these stories so more children and youth feel encouraged and empowered to participate in India’s social development.

Volunteer to:

blogspot - Copyblogspot - Copy (2)

Here is an example of the movie you will help create:

 We look forward to hearing from you!

About Us: iVolunteer is a social enterprise that promotes volunteering. Our Mission is to bring volunteers and organizations together to share Time, Skills and Passion to promote India’s social development. Read more…

Celebrate Pro Bono Week with us

fb cover pic

We invite you to join us in celebrating ProbonoWeek with a Tweet Chat on the ‘Potential of Pro Bono in India’

But first… are you wondering ‘Why Pro Bono?’

Professionals and corporate organisations alike, are increasingly looking for ways to give back meaningfully. Non Profits on the other hand are expressing a need for voluntary skill based and capacity building support. Pro Bono or Skill based volunteering thus is picking up like never before. Volunteers are contributing their skills, helping Non-profits function more efficiently and to maximize the impact of their work.

We recognize that the current scenario is ideal to leverage this ‘volunteer power’ for social change.

Through this tweet chat (conversation on Twitter) we aim to engage with the key ‘Pro Bono’ stakeholders – Volunteers, Non Profits and Corporate Organisations to raise awareness about the impact and potential of skill based volunteering.

We want to hear from you…

Your presence and thoughts would add a great deal of value to this discussion and help mobilize many more to share their time and skills. Do join us!

To participate:

emailer tweetchat

Where: Login to your Twitter

When  : On October 21, 2014 between 3 to 5 pm IST

What   : Tweet using #probonoIndia or follow the conversation @iVolunteerindia

Register here to confirm your participation:

About us: iVolunteer has been championing volunteering in India with a focus on skill based projects for over 15 years. We are a social enterprise that promotes volunteering, bringing volunteers and organisations together to share Time, Skills and Passion to promote India’s social development.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 111 other followers