IVolunteer International is an online platform that mobilizes volunteers to local projects and exposes thousands to volunteerism. The nonprofit powers mostly grassroots movements and connects them to volunteers in their local area in real-time. The co-founder, Nipuna Ambanpola, envisions a world of 7 billion volunteers. By addressing barriers for volunteers and digitalizing the process, the organization is simplifying the process of volunteering. IVolunteer International is reimagining the future of volunteerism and creating a space for volunteers to unite across the globe.
The Borgen Project spoke to Nipuna Ambanpola, the executive director of IVolunteer International. Ambanpola was born and raised in Sri Lanka and moved to the United States as an international student in 2015. During his time as a student, Ambanpola searched for volunteer opportunities and found many obstacles to the simple act of volunteering. The creation of IVolunteer International stemmed from a basic question: “what are the barriers of volunteerism?” Since its creation, IVolunteer International has mobilized more than 6,000 volunteers worldwide and promoted volunteerism to more than 200,000 people.
The Reasons 7 Billion Volunteers Do Not Exist
In the process of creating IVolunteer International, Ambanpola and his team spoke to individuals worldwide about the difficulties of volunteering. Ambanpola finds that four main problems exist that deter people from volunteering. First, devoting time to volunteering is a challenge for people who already have commitments to other tasks. People occupied with jobs, children or other obligations do not have the spare time to attend weekly meetings or volunteer projects.
Second, volunteering has a financial obligation from transportation costs to membership fees. Financial well-being is a privilege that can permit or prevent someone from volunteering.
Third, there is no single user-friendly platform to find volunteer projects. And fourth, organizations that rely on volunteers often have a finite group. To generate 7 billion volunteers, organizations must find the potential of every community member to participate.
Without time, finances, listings and open groups, there is a low likelihood that people will devote their efforts to volunteering. IVolunteer International compiles the needs of volunteers and addresses these complications. Ambanpola describes IVolunteer International’s solutions to volunteerism as a combination of “a mobile app, projects to raise awareness and mobilizing local activists.” A future mobile app will include real-time access to volunteer efforts in a user’s local area. Currently, the website offers location-based and virtual volunteer projects that it categorizes by project focus. From alliances with grassroots movements to United Nations service projects, the volunteer opportunities appeal to a sizeable audience.
Initiatives: #BirthdayDeed and IVolunteer Series
To create action and awareness for volunteerism, IVolunteer International promotes inspiring initiatives in its campaign. As part of the action campaign, IVolunteer International encourages users to register for #BirthdayDeed. People sign up and pledge to do one act of service on their birthdays. A week before an individual’s birthday, IVolunteer International sends an automated email with personalized volunteer opportunities. Whether writing a letter to a loved one or participating in a beach cleanup, this campaign is spreading positive change. By simply involving people on their birthdays, this initiative can be a catalyst for people to realize the importance of volunteering.
The IVolunteer Series is part of an awareness campaign that brings attention to volunteerism. The series spotlights individuals that share their personal experiences with grassroots movements, finding a passion for volunteerism and other social impacts. The goal of the IVolunteer Series is to show relatable stories that can motivate people to start their volunteer journey. The interviews range from presentations on eradicating college hunger to finding a passion for volunteering in a new city. This initiative spreads awareness of activism and generates interest from potential volunteers.
How Volunteering Unites the World
Volunteering is a worldwide effort to better communities and uplift those in need. The benefits of fulfillment and connection are the main reasons that many choose to volunteer. Volunteering can strengthen ties and create an investment in the future of a community. When Ambanpola moved from Sri Lanka to the United States, he formed a network and community with those he met while volunteering. As Ambanpola found, participating in local activism can increase connections and provide insight and awareness for local issues. The generosity of volunteers worldwide shows that volunteerism has a personal gain at stake. From combating depression to finding a support system or fulfilling a purpose and avoiding loneliness, any number of reasons can inspire people to find the benefits of volunteer work.
A New Era of Volunteers
With technology increasing at an exponential rate, volunteer organizations are utilizing new methods of communication and outreach. The future of IVolunteer International is a mobile app that serves both volunteers and nonprofit organizations. An app stands as a user-friendly and convenient way to link organizations or individuals to passionate volunteers. The user will submit their location and be able to immediately connect to real-time projects happening near them. These projects can be low-level commitments to encourage more individuals to participate. Organizations and individuals can find volunteers by simply submitting a project and each party will benefit from the streamlined process.
Since technology provides vast amounts of data, a long-term goal of IVolunteer International is to compile data about volunteerism. The data will be available to the public as well as governments, organizations and agencies to give insight into who volunteers in their community. Also, statistics will be a meaningful way to attract certain populations to projects they would find interest in. IVolunteer International proves that technology provides the tools for change. The organization continues to empower local communities to find solutions and is contributing to a new era of digital volunteerism.
– Eva Pound
Photo: Courtesy of Nipuna Ambanpola