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News — 02 February, 2023

Volunteerism in the 21st Century: The way to go

A panel discussion with panelists Sabrina Szeto, Juan Arellano and Laura Mugeha, moderated by Laxmi Goparaju

On 9 December 2022, the Humanitarian Open Mapping Community Working Group hosted a panel discussion on volunteering. All the speakers were volunteers who had also built volunteer communities.

Key Takeaways

  1. Volunteering is a privilege because not everyone is able to volunteer

  2. In volunteering, find what you are interested in. It can be something that aligns (or not) with your career

  3. Know that volunteers cannot volunteer forever

  4. Volunteering has a very positive impact on one’s career and personal growth

  5. It is fine to compensate your volunteers for their time and efforts as it motivates them to do more and help cater for some costs like transportation, lunch and internet

  6. Make use of online platforms to to find volunteers

  7. Know that if people are always willing to volunteer with your organization then it means you have a good volunteer management system

  8. Volunteering gives you the chance to make mistakes and also learn from them

How can I fit volunteering into an already busy schedule?

Sabrina: Volunteering is a way to engage in topics that people care about, and the advice is to identify a passion and find a way to dedicate time to serve that group, regardless of how small the contribution may be.

Juan: Volunteering should be enjoyable and aligned with one’s life plan, making it easier to find time.

Laura: To make volunteering a part of our routine, it’s essential to align our interests and hobbies with the volunteer activities we choose and commit our time and energy to them, such as dedicating social media skills to an organization we love.

What are the differences between online and in-person volunteering?

Sabrina: Volunteering online and in person both provide opportunities to interact with people and develop relationships, but in-person volunteering allows for face-to-face interaction and the use of different skill sets, while online volunteering requires adjusting to different time zones and asynchronous work. The barrier of a stable internet connection is present in online volunteering, while transport cost is a barrier for in-person volunteering.

Laura: Online volunteering offers more flexibility than in-person volunteering, offering a wider range of activities and opportunities to learn and try new things.

Juan: The main difference between in-person and online volunteering is the time flexibility as in-person volunteering is subject to schedules while online volunteering allows collaboration when convenient. Additionally, online volunteering often requires digital skills and a stable internet connection, which may not be necessary for in-person volunteering.

How can volunteering help my career? What skills do you learn from volunteering?

Laura: Volunteering offers opportunities to practice technical skills, such as open data and OpenStreetMap. It also provides networking opportunities for career development, such as mentorship and coaching.

Juan: Volunteering in a subject related to your career has two benefits: learning more about the subject and connecting with new people in the same field. However, volunteering in something not directly related to your profession can also help develop a second career. Skills acquired through volunteering include interacting with different people and work styles, gaining multicultural skills, and learning time management, proactivity, and discipline.

Sabrina: Volunteering provides a safe space to try new things and learn from experienced people, building confidence and skills. It also helps individuals be comfortable with making mistakes and learning from them.

What is your motivation in volunteering and in encouraging others to volunteer?

Sabrina: Volunteering benefits ourselves as well as others. The joy and satisfaction we get from seeing the positive impact of our contributions make us feel valued. People should think about what they can offer and find opportunities that fit with their life and interests.

Laura Volunteerism can help solve challenges and problems in communities, and even small contributions can make a difference. By taking action, we can create better lives and make a difference for future generations.

Juan: Volunteering is important for gaining knowledge and skills, as well as to broaden one’s perspective and awareness of the world. Participating in projects and meeting new people also brings joy and motivation.

What challenges have you encountered in managing volunteers and how did you overcome it?

Sabrina: I volunteered mostly online with Women+ in Geospatial due to the pandemic. People were initially enthusiastic about volunteering online, but eventually had less availability due to caregiving demands and online meeting fatigue. The manager’s role is to be understanding and adapt to fit the community’s needs, and it’s okay if volunteers can’t commit. Being respectful and open is important when working with people.

**Juan: **I faced challenges in finding volunteers, but was able to recruit them after an article was published in a newspaper. I learned the importance of recognizing the benefits of volunteering not just for the organization, but also for the volunteers themselves.

Laura: It is difficult to plan for long-term work due to time and energy commitment issues, and that a lot of volunteers are long-term. This makes it difficult to plan with timelines to know how soon things may end or start.

What is your #1 tip in managing volunteers?

Sabrina: I would use the phrase “Building a team.” That means enabling everyone to feel connected as we work towards a common goal while we have different roles in the team.

Juan: Patience, motivation, and gratitude are essential for success in life, as you will encounter people who know better than you and those who have to be taught from scratch.

Laura: Understand your volunteers, be empathetic and recognize thier efforts

You can watch the webinar discussion here :

Also join the thread here to ask questions, give feedback and comments.