Empowering volunteerism the social way

  • An online platform acts as a matchmaker for volunteers and non-profits in a fun way
  • Over 30 organizations, 1,000 volunteers on board; availability in Bahasa Malaysia and going nationwide in September

FOR centuries, volunteerism has been practised by a continuum of people regardless of age, creed, color, religion and social beliefs.
 
The goal of volunteering is to help worthy and noble causes or organizations advance their goals and objectives, many of which form the basis of making society and people at large a better place to work and live in.
 
In truth, the goals of volunteerism haven't changed much, and while this is a good thing, the same can't be said about the current methods of matching people who want to volunteer with those who need the help, a lot of which are not-for-profit organizations. 
 
This is where technology can play a vital role, says Kal Joffres, director of Tandemic, a social enterprise dedicated to helping companies use all things social to advance their clients' objectives.
 
The Canadian entrepreneur noted that while Malaysia has both a vibrant volunteer community as well as many non-profit organizations, the two are having difficulty connecting with each other. 
 
Empowering volunteerism the social wayJoffres (pic) says he realized this as Tandemic was involved in Hati.org, a central web-portal of Malaysian charities, non-profit, non-governmental organizations and underprivileged communities.
 
"A lot of people, even as young as teenagers, have expressed their desire to want to volunteer but they have no way of knowing how to do it and/or which organizations to volunteer in," he tells Digital News Asia in an interview. 
 
"What we've done is to create a platform driven in part by technology and social networking by which volunteers can connect to non-profit organizations, and where the two parties can communicate which each other."
 
Joffres was referring to the recently launched Do Something Good platform (DSG), launched in June. The website is essentially an online platform that helps people find local volunteering opportunities, while non-profit organizations’ volunteering opportunities are automatically aggregated in a single place.
 
The organizations can also can set up volunteering opportunities and manage registrations and have a tool that enables the registering of volunteers from their own web sites, he adds.
 
Joffres says what makes DSG different from other platforms is that it isn’t just a repository of information for people to go to like an online notice board. Rather, DSG incorporates heavy elements of social networking and “gamification” concepts, borrowed from other new media websites such as Foursquare and Facebook.
 
For instance, he says that volunteers can gain points and badges for participating and they login to DSG via Facebook.
 
“Volunteers can easily and quickly begin registering and benefit from one-click registration to the site thanks to integration with Facebook,” he explains. “They can stay in touch and see streams of updates from the organizations they have previously volunteered all on the front page.”
 
Non-profit organizations, on the other hand, can track volunteers for particular events, collect volunteer information when they sign up, update them with the latest changes and upcoming volunteering opportunities, and control the registration process, he says.
 
“They can also publicize an organization’s profile with all its volunteering events, stream its latest events into each user’s home page, and allow others to embed widgets showing your upcoming volunteering opportunities onto their website,” Joffres explains.
 
Joffres says the idea for DSG was conceived in October last year, a good portion of which was built over a hackathon event.
 
Usually held over a weekend, a hackathon is an intense get-together of computer programmers and web designers over a period of 72 hours to hash out conceptual ideas and write the necessary programming codes to build a specific web-based creation they have in mind.
 
When asked what were the motivations for Tandemic to take on such a project, Joffres says that the goals of DSG were in line with the core objectives of the company. 
 
Claiming that Tandemic had nothing to gain financially from this project, Joffres says, “It a problem we wanted to solve for a long time but hadn't got around to doing it.
 
Empowering volunteerism the social way“DSG also falls within our company philosophy, that is to help non-profit communities by using technology and social networking. Volunteering is still a word-of-mouth kind of thing and so it needs to be brought into the 21st century.”
 
Joffres reveals that Tandemic has to date spent about RM50,000 (US$16,300) on the project thus far, much of which was incurred by programmers who spent time adding new features to the DSG.
 
Doing well

According to Yap Jin Rui, team leader for DSG, Tandemic began private beta testing of the platform in April, some two months before the launch. Friendly parties were then asked to test the platform and the site was launched (pic above, left to right, Joffres with model Amber Chia, Dato' Saifuddin Abdullah, deputy minister of Higher Education, and Yap) on June 12.
 
Yap says the response to DSG has been good, claiming to have 1,000 volunteers and 30 participating organizations (chart below, click to enlarge) signing up, and 50 volunteering opportunities publicized.
 
Asked how effective the DSG platform has been, John King of SPCA says, "Our initial impression is that the platform is very good. The site is easy to use, both for organizations and individuals, and it fills a big gap for us. At SPCA, it's been very hard to get volunteers for some events and regular work at the shelter and we're hopeful that DSG would make life much easier for us."
 
Danutcha from SOLS 24/7 says prior to the DSG volunteer platform, it did not get many Malaysian volunteers but ever since the launch, the awareness of its volunteer positions has been amplified and the recruitment process made so much simpler thanks to the website.
 
SOLS 24/7 is an organization that provides a unique education program with boarding facilities for free to underprivileged youths.
 
Empowering volunteerism the social way“It was very easy to navigate and it’s extremely heartening to see many Malaysians who are passionate in connecting with community projects." 
 
On the future, Joffres reveals that Tandemic would want to add features such as geo-location ability so that volunteers’ attendance can be tagged, as well as to help the cause to be more viral.
 
“We also want to improve volunteer reliability and quality by enabling features to rate volunteers, automatically and also match volunteers’ interests and preferences to which organizations they want to help with.”
 
“We also have plans to move into major cities in Malaysia, including Penang, Johor Baru, Ipoh, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching by October and we will begin our nationwide availability of volunteering opportunities and localized the platform in Bahasa Malaysia by September.”

 
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