Years back, at a workshop on volunteer management, I asked volunteer managers at leading NGOs in Bangalore for words or images that the word ‘volunteer’ conjures in their mind. The outcome, if real, would have been very close to that of an ‘angel’. Ask a lay man and the image of a volunteer would be anything but resembling his own. Why? For long we have burdened the volunteer with – selfless, caring, a be-spectacled jhola-wala, shram-daan believing, quiet, unassuming even to the extent of unambitious – connotations that anything but alienate him/her from everyone we have around.
The real volunteer, however, has changed meanwhile.
We have the snazzy corporate honcho wanting to soil his hands solving a social problem with as much zest and professionalism as unfolding a new business paradigm. (I know of a tech CEO who rallies his team, voluntarily, to develop cutting edge apps – mobile based, at times – to help NGOs increase the effectiveness of their grassroot workers. We have the contemporarily dressed and perky teenagers creating a campus buzz building a new age gang of volunteers who take pride in teaming up for a cause they espouse. We have the ambitious home-makers organizing campaigns that engage other like minded citizens to ensure a better neighbourhood or even a better India overall. We even have the solitary volunteer from a place unheard of, leveraging technology to make a social impact, virtually.
So have changed the motivations for volunteering. While making a difference and self satisfaction lead the way, the desire to explore new regions, the intent to learn from the community engagement, the opportunity to perk-up one’s CV, the chance to taste a new work arena (with job satisfaction topping the priority scores of private sector professionals are willing to take a plunge), a new life and the zeal sometime to pick up a lost cause and make a lasting impact are fast covering ground.
Volunteering, as a result is no longer what it used to be. There are, now, volunteers strategizing the scale-up of a social enterprise; there are volunteers helping a non-profit design cool creative for a campaign blitzkrieg while sitting thousands of miles away; there are volunteers fundraising for their favourite non-profit by undertaking a personal challenge; there are volunteers mentoring a child using a phone call, a voice chat or plain simple Skype; there are volunteers fueling public campaigns for a systemic change they want to see; elsewhere in the world, there are even volunteers bringing an entire government on its knees.
Times are changing. The volunteer is changing. And the country will change. For better.