COVID-19 disrupts volunteer workAs the COVID-19 pandemic has swept across the world, no area of life has been left untouched. From millions of people working remotely to the severe curtailing of international travel, COVID-19 and its impacts are inescapable. One area of work in particular has been impacted. In many ways, COVID-19 disrupts volunteer work around the world. Efforts to fight the pandemic have been absorbing much of the global community’s attention and resources. However, the global community is now in danger of neglecting some of the most essential and under-appreciated workers in the word: volunteers. As wallets tighten due to the economic impact of the coronavirus, volunteerism may experience harsh cutbacks.

In some cases, volunteer organizations are finding that their previous model of activity, usually focused around bringing people together, is no longer possible due to social distancing requirements. This has sparked creative and thoughtful solutions about how to serve people who most need help without further endangering their health, overcoming the ways in which COVID-19 disrupts volunteer work.

Who Are the Volunteers?

While these solutions are helpful, there is another problem that is more difficult to confront: the general decline in volunteers. American senior citizens volunteer at a rate of 23.9%, as opposed to the 18.8% of people in their early 20s who volunteer. This rate is consistent in other countries, such as in Northern Ireland, where an estimated 25% of volunteers are over 65, and in France, where the vast majority of regular volunteers are over the age of 55. CDC data shows that COVID-19 becomes far more deadly as people age, with hospitalizations per 100,000 increasing exponentially past the age of 50. Regardless of creative solutions, the essence of volunteer work requires close contact between volunteers and the people they are trying to serve. Thus, the crisis in volunteerism becomes evident: older people are the majority of volunteers but are also those most vulnerable to the coronavirus. Consequently, COVID-19 disrupts volunteer work.

A Local Impact

Ms. Violaine Motte, a volunteer at the Église de la Sainte Trinité, understands how COVID-19 has disrupted volunteer work. The Parisian church distributes food four times a week to any who ask. Motte, who has worked with the church for six years, says that they have been distributing food for over 30 years.

The church sees a large variety of visitors seeking help, from workmen who cannot afford local prices to homeless people to retired people living on a fixed income. In the time of quarantine and social distancing, people coming from such diverse and varied backgrounds present a danger of infection. It is impossible to control or even fully know their movements and contacts. This is a particularly relevant risk for the volunteers at the Trinité church, as they fit the global trend of volunteers. Ms. Motte says that, before the pandemic, volunteers “were getting quite old because the average of the ladies coming is more or less 70 years old.” This creates a serious risk for volunteers at the church, who are thus unable to help while protecting themselves from infection.

As a result, COVID-19 disrupts volunteer work at the church. “The day of the confinement, due to the fact that we have old people in the volunteers, they were no longer allowed to come,” Motte says. “They’re too old; it’s a risky population. The priest decided not to have them anymore preparing the meal or serving the food.” Furthermore, Motte says that as a result of the new rules, the group was forced to take its operation out of the church and into the street, as well as drastically reduce the size of the team preparing food.

In addition, COVID-19 disrupts volunteer work through forced quarantine, which impacts many elderly volunteers. “For the old volunteers, it’s something very sad because they were told not to come anymore. In my point of view, the service is very important for the people who receive the service, but also for the people doing the service,” said Motte. “A big part of them are people living alone, and to come to the church and prepare food for others is a way to be inside their lives.” As the church moves forward in its activities, it remains unclear what can be done to ensure the participation of older volunteers.

This is a problem for the church, as they find it difficult to attract new volunteers. Motte says, “Since I’ve worked there, it’s still quite the same volunteers.” As a result, while older volunteers have been compelled to stay home, there hasn’t been anybody coming to take their place. Motte is frank about the challenges the church faces as a result of the coronavirus: “Now the rules are totally changing, and we don’t know what’s going on in September.”

However, Motte is equally frank about what needs to be done in order to ensure that this important work continues, despite the ways in which COVID-19 disrupts volunteer work: “Encourage more young people to volunteer.”

– Franklin Nossiter
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

volunteerism in IndiaAs the effort to contain the spread of COVID-19 continues globally and conditions remain unclear for many people throughout India, what started out as a 21-day lockdown has since been extended for high infection areas until June 30th. The country has slowly started re-opening a variety of businesses and organizations by the Ministry of Health Affairs despite a spike of 68,566 reported cases from May 25 to June 3. The vulnerability of poor and homeless people throughout India poses an additional threat to the already fragile hunger crisis underway. Luckily, volunteerism in India is saving lives.

Migrant Workers and Homelessness

There are currently more than 1.7 million homeless people living in India. During a nation-wide lockdown, this is extremely problematic with lacking resources and little capacity at homeless shelters. Previous to the lockdown, an estimated 250 million Indian people were living underfed or malnourished. According to statistics gathered over the course of the last three months, these numbers have increased by 22.2 million. Many migrant workers trying to return home were forced to isolate in conditions that put their health and livelihood at risk. In many of these places, following social distancing guidelines is extremely difficult if not impossible.

Homeless shelters in India are working to get as many people off of the street as possible; however, this comes at a price. When the country went under strict order and work was quickly put to a halt, migrant workers had no choice but to begin their journey home. Many shelters houses more than 10,000 migrant workers and homeless people. This results in limited masks and sanitizers becomes an added issue on top of limited food and space. For nothing more than “a ladle of poorly cooked food poured roughly into a plate or plastic envelope”, masses of people would stand in line for hours, uncertain of when their next meal may come.

How Volunteerism in India is Saving Lives

Once lockdown restrictions began to lift, the community of India wasted no time giving back to those most vulnerable. The reliance on government programs during crisis can be taxing, specifically when there is not near enough meals to cover the amount of people in need. Many charities and organizations saw this need and teamed up with locals to shine a light on the issue. Together, they urged the government to provide aid as soon as possible. Here are a few stories of how volunteerism in India is saving lives.

Project Mumbai

Khaana Chahiye, created by Project Mumbai, in an initiative that continues to work tirelessly to provide meals for thousands of migrant workers and displaced people during the lockdown and pandemic. The initiative does not discriminate against who receives the meals; however, the focal point of this initiative is to feed as many homeless and migrant workers as possible. During this time, the organization averages an output of 70,000 meals per day to the poor. Luckily, the consistency of this output has sustained the lives of thousands. The organization also offers ways for civilians to bring attention to areas in need not being reached.

How An Individual Has Made a Difference

Local Tagore Government Arts and Science College Principal Sasi Kanta Dash, PhD, has always dreamt of helping his community. Dr. Dash knew that the lockdown could go on for a number of months and saw the need for positive change. At the beginning of the lockdown, he gathered a group of volunteers and started by feeding 250 people on the very first day, and the “immense satisfaction at the end of the first day catalyzed the actions on the future”. Over the course of 40 days, Dr. Dash has served more than 10,000 meals to the elderly, sick and poor across India.

The reality for thousands of people in India means limited access to preventative measures for the coronavirus, extreme food scarcity and the uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring. Although this can be daunting, with the help of local heroes like Dr. Dash and Project Mumbai, the goal of sustenance for all becomes that much closer.

– Katie Mote-Preuss 
Photo: Flickr

explore_corpsUsing local talent and resources, Explore Corps is able to change the future of developing communities by working with youth to grow up to be leaders, conservationists and to practice sustainability. Explore Corps helps youth gain knowledge, mature and develop on their terms while working on projects that are community driven, culturally sensitive and environmentally friendly.

Explore Corps’ mission is to explore different communities, educate locals and empower youth. The Explore Corps’ team consists entirely of volunteers who are equipped to work with challenging communities and address the complexities of enacting youth projects. Volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds including outdoor education, recreational programming and youth development.

Explore Corps has worked on four major projects comprising of the Search Spark Stoke Tour, which took place in 2012, The Gaza Surf Club, Surfing 4 Peace, and Gaza Surf Relief. These projects focus on using local resources in Gaza, like surfing, to help children on the Gaza Strip affected by war.

The Gaza Surf Club was founded by Explore Corps director, Matthew Olsen, in 2008. The project serves as an educational opportunity for Palestinian surfers on the Gaza Strip. Members of the clubs work with local organizations to develop workshops and tailored educational programming to educate locals on how to properly utilize local resources, development training and international outreach. The team consists of 25 surfers who dedicate their time to teaching.

The Search Spark Stoke tour took place in the winter of 2012 after Concrete Wave Magazine creator, Michael Brooke, approached Explore Corps to help him initiate his project, Longboarding for Peace. Brooke worked to secure the funding and public relations side of the project, while Explore Corps was in charge of creating venues and workshops and assembling instructors for the tour.

Longboarding for Peace successfully created a new delivery system for peace programming on the Gaza Strip while permanently creating an after school longboarding program for students.

Another project started by Explore Corps is Surf 4 Peace. Surf 4 Peace works to break through cultural and political barriers between communities in the Middle East and bring everyone closer together. The project was started in 2007 by surfer, Arthur Rashkovan and ambassador, Dorian Paskowitz and is based in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Gaza Surf Relief was created to raise funds for Gaza’s surf community. The project was started in the summer of 2007 by Seweryn Stalkoper, who is an associate for Hedge Fund Trading. He worked from his home in Santa Monica, California gathering donations and successfully raised enough money to buy 15 brand new surfboards, several used surfboards, board shorts, t-shirts, and rash guards among other items. Explore Corps currently has several new projects in the works that will continue to help the youth living on the Gaza Strip utilize surfing.

Julia Hettiger

Sources: Explore Corps, BBC, The Goodwin Project
Photo: The Goodwin Project

Funds are critical in advancing the fight for poverty, and for nonprofits addressing these issues sponsorship in the form of charitable donations allows them to engage in various development, humanitarian and policy-related initiatives. Sponsorship of an organization can take place at any level, from individual to corporate, depending on who is donating and how much they are willing to give. While any amount no matter the size may be considered a sponsorship, nonprofits sometimes add in benefits for supporters who give larger donations.

The Borgen Project defines four specific categories in which donors may fall should an individual give large contributions: bronze partner, silver partner, gold partner and benefactor. Starting at $2,000, each offers benefits ranging from acknowledgments with the donor company’s link and logo on the to an opportunity to join The Borgen Project’s National Council and be the subject of a news feature in BORGEN. Donations go toward the operation of this nonprofit and its efforts to bring about poverty and hunger alleviation through advocacy centered in Washington.

The U.N.’s World Food Programme is another example of an organization for which donations are critical, as it is completely funded by donors. Aid organizations will typically have a webpage for donors where they may select an amount and pay immediately through the site, making contributions quick and easy.

At a time when the WFP is seeing a record number of hunger crises, it is in great need of people willing to make contributions to better the nutrition of malnourished and starving people around the globe. Ninety percent of every donation made goes toward anti-hunger operations.

Organizations usually have a couple of options for the frequency of the donation. Those interested may make a one-time donation or, if they have the capability and willingness to continue their donation throughout the year, a monthly option is available.

It is especially important to note that sponsorship of any amount is meaningful and necessary for the operation of a nonprofit. Individuals, rather than corporations, foundations and other nonprofits, accounted for most of The Borgen Project’s revenue in 2014. Whether it’s $25,000 or $25, every amount counts and is valuable to the initiatives being carried out by an organization.

– Amy Russo

Sources: The Borgen Project, WFP 1, WFP 2
Photo: Don’t Shoot the Costumer

Graduation season is in full swing and high school seniors around the nation are getting ready to accept their diplomas. . . . as well as finish their senior projects! With the high stress of leaving high school and becoming increasingly independent, graduating seniors often hurry to finalize their end-of-the-year, self-directed projects. What better way to leave a legacy behind than to use a senior project to help change the world? Here are four project ideas that inspire social change:

1. Host a presentation about U.S. foreign aid statistics.

There are many myths in public opinion that hurt positive policy making and social change. For example, contrary to popular belief, the U.S. actually spends 2 percent of its budget on foreign aid and not 25-30 percent. Sending foreign aid to nations with high rates of corruption does not make them more corrupt, and the U.S. actually does receive positive returns when we increase our foreign aid. These social myths make social change harder to achieve.

For a senior project, create a slideshow correcting social myths. Take full advantage of an eager, energetic crowd of friends and family, and spread knowledge to educate and inspire people.

2. Volunteer at a nonprofit organization for a semester.

Volunteering: good for the soul and good for the community – and also good for the brain.

Volunteering at a nonprofit organization for a semester gives students the chance to learn the inner workings of the nonprofit industrial complex. Students can learn how resources are obtained and distributed, how politics play out in charity affairs and how a group of people with passionate ideas can become an organization in the first place. Learning this process and sharing it with classmates has invaluable domino effects of inspiration. Volunteering for a semester gives students the tools to build social change.

3. Collect garbage instead of throwing it away.

A senior project consisting of not throwing out the trash, sounds easy right? We often underestimate the amount of trash we produce. Storing full trash bags is more difficult than it sounds and produces a shock factor to any audience. Use a senior project to weigh the school’s waste and make people more aware of their waste. This will instigate social change as people will be inspired to use less and recycle more. The environment will appreciate it.

4. Host a graduation party to raise awareness.

Use this occasion to reflect not just upon personal successes but upon other successes in the world as well. Dedicate a party to raising awareness about a particular cause and spend the evening educating friends as well as celebrating them.

There are various ways to make a difference in the world. We are seldom given audiences as eager as those that attend high school senior project presentations. By spreading awareness among our friends and family about social issues, graduating high school seniors can help change the world – and maybe even an “A” along the way.

– Tanya Kureishi

Sources: Borgen Project, The Hill
Photo: Flickr

Venture philanthropy originated in the mid-1990s in the United States and began spreading through Europe around 2002. It is largely modeled after venture capitalism, in which professional investors use third-party funds to help startup businesses get off their feet.

In a similar way, venture philanthropists use their influence and skills to provide charities or socially minded enterprises with financial and non-financial aid. Venture philanthropy is often undertaken by organizations, which lend support to anywhere from 3 to 15 charities or socially conscious businesses. Individuals, families, and institutions usually provide the organizations’ funds.

The venture philanthropy movement originally began as an alternative to traditional philanthropy, in which high-quality nonprofits are given capital and room to work as they see fit.

Meanwhile, venture philanthropists are much more highly involved. Beyond just donating significant amounts of money, they may hold positions as board members or offer skills-based donations, such as business planning or executive coaching.

According to a 2004 report by Venture Philanthropy Partners, small and local nonprofits often lack the support they need. They can, therefore, be significantly helped by venture philanthropy, which provides long-term financial support, strategic advice, and helpful professional connections.

Depending on the goal of the philanthropy, and the types of organizations supported, venture philanthropists often choose to give in different ways. While some organizations dole out non-returnable grants seen as investments with only social returns, others use various types of loans to help charities or social enterprises get started and continually grow. Once these loans are repaid, the money is reinvested in another organization or startup company.

Venture philanthropists also generally commit to multi-year support at a substantial level, with the goal of financial independence once funding ceases. Additionally, venture philanthropists aim to improve the long-term viability of their investees by funding core operating expenses, rather than individual projects or programs.

Finally, venture philanthropists highly emphasize results and good business practices. They generally hold their recipients to high accountability and management standards, and expect goals to be achieved. This highlighting of measurable outcomes is one of the more obvious similarities between venture philanthropy and venture capitalism.

Venture philanthropy allows donors to become highly invested while working with charities and social entrepreneurs. It also provides many organizations, especially small and local ones, with the long-term and varied assistance they need.

By providing an alternative to hands-off donations, venture philanthropy encourages people to actively change the world around them. It has possibly even substantially widened the range of people becoming philanthropists by appealing to a field of entrepreneurs whose experience and expertise can be valuable assets to charities and socially conscious startup businesses.

Venture philanthropy offers a unique and very often successful approach to improving our society and the world, and should therefore enjoy continued support.

– Katie Fullerton
Sources: Social Innovations Europe, Forbes, Slate, Venture Philanthropy Partners
Photo: Francis Moran