Virtual Volunteering

Computer Supported Cooperative Work, CSCW for short, may be self-explanatory, but it carries with it complications of how individuals and groups interact with others using technological means. In my point of view, CSCW isn’t restricted to business only. Its tools and techniques can be applied to what is known as Virtual Volunteering.

With more than 55% internet penetration in Bahrain, you’d think that Virtual Volunteering is widespread.

Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of what virtual volunteering really is. Some of us however do it unawarely (Yes, it is a word, check the link).  There are different types of Virtual Volunteering, and I would like to share a few with you. But first, what is volunteering anyways?

People volunteer, or give some of their time for a cause they believe in without expecting anything in return, except feeling good. They volunteer to improve the quality of life of others, as well as their own. They volunteer to gain new skills and experiences, without being afraid of punishment when not successful. Some volunteer as administrators, others as event organizers, and there are more ways to volunteer than you’d imagine. One of these ways is Virtual Volunteering. Simply put, virtual volunteering is doing tasks online, or via telephone in a collaborative manner.

There are many benefits to virtual volunteering aside from being on the receiving end. The first of which, is that it is not bound by time or space. The best example of this is the UN’s Online Volunteering Service. I can for example help “Develop a website with WordPress” for the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation in Cameroon, from the comfort of my home in Bahrain. Where is my benefit? This would probably be my best opportunity to market my skills and gain a reputation for being a good web developer. Virtual volunteer work would serve both sides in this case. People love freebies, and we as humans love attention as well.

Another benefit of virtual volunteering is that it enables persons with disabilities to do volunteer work. Some of the virtual volunteering activities may include typing, translation of documents, research, web administration, ….. etc., all of these activities and many more can be done with limited mobility. Which also brings us to one more added benefit of virtual volunteering, which is the vast pool of potential volunteers created. There are many of us who wished they had more time to go out and volunteer. But who said you have to “go out” and volunteer? You can “stay in” and contribute to local, or even global society.

In the Recycle IT project, which aims at creating a culture of recycling electronic waste in Bahrain, the awareness team tried and tested the concept of virtual volunteering by creating a web design competition for the project’s website. Perhaps becoming involved in a competition isn’t really considered volunteer work, but the prizes were modest, and introducing a new concept to the community takes time.

Participation in the competition was fair, and the real virtual volunteers were the common people who went on our Facebook page and voted for whichever design they thought was best. Yet another example of virtual volunteer work done unawarely (I’m just in love with this word now).

The ground for virtual volunteer work in Bahrain is solid, as usage of smart phones and the internet increases by the day. There is a golden rule to keep in mind when it comes to selecting or recruiting volunteers whether virtual or not;  description of the task must always be ready and as detailed as possible, with a point of contact assigned. Otherwise volunteers would lose interest.

So where can you volunteer virtually in Bahrain?  There are more than 500 non-profit organizations in Bahrain, and you can be sure that need your skill whatever it may be:

  • Website design and development
  • Website maintenance
  • Online recruitment of volunteers on forums and bulletin boards
  • Managing social media channels
    • YouTube
    • Twitter
    • Facebook
  • Translating documents
  • Graphic design of brochures and pamphlets

and the list goes on.