Long before internet became an effective mode for activism,a group of young students hit upon the idea of using World Wide Web as a tool to work for a social cause.
In 2001,Shalabh Sahai,who was then studying at Institute of Rural Management,Anand,and some of his batchmates,decided to use the internet to provide a platform for people to find ways of volunteering.
Thus,iVolunteer was born to bring like-minded individuals from across the country together and exchange ideas. One thing led to another,and soon,the exchange of ideas online translated into an initiative on the ground. Unlike most NGOs who specialise in one field,iVolunteer requires its volunteers to be passionate for a cause,irrespective of the field.
The organisation held campaigns for underprivileged children,blind people and senior citizens.
Initially,volunteers who associated with the organisation lacked experience. As a result,we had to rope in experts to train them to recognise their skills, says Sahai.
At present,iVolunteer has seven centres in India,uniting 2,000 volunteers and 200 NGOs every year. It has a tie-up with a British NGO,through which it sends volunteers abroad to participate in social service programmes. Those who approach iVolunteer end up joining NGOs on a regular basis.
Bringing like-minded people together for a common cause was the real objective of iVolunteer, says Sahai.
The organisation seeks basic aspects like area of interest,willingness to travel,where is the person based and how much time he or she is willing to give, says Sahai.
iVolunteer holds regular meetings with representatives of NGOs in various cities and chalks out programmes. These include educational drives for underprivileged school children,self-defense training for girls and workshops for the blind. Sahai describes the experience as hugely satisfying.
During a drive in Bangalore,where we were teaching blind people accounting,I came across a female volunteer who later joined iVolunteer full-time. Some months later,one of the blind students she had taught came to us. He had passed his exams and secured a well-paying job. He,too,joined iVolunteer. The chain can only keep growing, says Sahai.
Sahai refuses to believe that we live in a world where nobody has the time to care for human beings. There is goodness inside people. Irrespective of the challenges,there are people who want to do their bit for others. There are people who genuinely want to make a difference.
Last year,the organisation started iVolunteer Awards,a platform for honouring the efforts put in by volunteers. Good work often goes unnoticed. So we decided that it should be highlighted. Now,people who are interested in pursuing a cause know they have a platform, Sahai explains.
After spreading its network to seven cities and establishing a presence out of India as well,iVolunteer is all set to move ahead. Now,we need to start thinking in terms of how best we can utilise the services of volunteers, says Sahai. Every hour of volunteering put in by thousands of people associated with iVolunteer has to make a difference, he adds.