Streamlining Volunteer Mobilization
Dileepa Samarasinghe
31 ජනවාරි 2020

This article was formulated based on the feedback received from Mr. Adheesha Perera who is the Sustainability Manager at the Nations Trust Bank & Mr. Hemantha Senevirathne, who is an Assistant Manager of Sustainable Business at HNB. Mr. Adheesha Perera handles almost all the CSR activities in NTB. Mr. Hemantha Senevirathne leads most of the CSR and environmental assessment activities in HNB. He is an avid birder, scout and environmentalist who gets involved with lot of projects where volunteering is very much needed and used.

Coordination and Mobilisation of Volunteers should be a significant component of the National Policy on Volunteerism. The drawbacks in coordination and mobilisation often brings about numerous problems and discourages many novice volunteers who are willing to contribute to the 2030 agenda. These are a few recommendations that I was able to extract from a couple of experienced volunteers.

Creation of an Online Registration System for Volunteers Using a Questionnaire

It would be very convenient for both volunteers and their hosts if there is an Online Registration System for Volunteers based on a questionnaire developed from research which can in turn be used for profiling and classifying volunteers.

E.g.: Whether a volunteer is willing to contribute on long-term knowledge-based programs such as mentoring/incubation or one-off events/activities such as tree planting projects, etc. Also, the areas of interests or causes they associate with. Enlist the support of behavioural scientists and data scientists to conduct such profiling so that those with a project can search, filter and select volunteers that match their need.

Improving Engagement with Information Sources on Volunteer Opportunities

Engage with information sources on volunteer opportunities (for example: for information on private sector initiatives engage organizations like CSR Sri Lanka, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce’s Panel of Evaluators on Best Corporate Citizen Sustainability Awards, etc, who might be privy to information on areas that different corporates might focus on. Reach out to corporate to request them to share details of available projects and volunteers.

Leverage Social Media as a Source of Information

Leverage social media as a source of data gathering and communication on volunteer interests and volunteer opportunities. Form partnerships with Facebook, LinkedIn, etc for this purpose.

It is also possible to tap into school and university alumni networks.

District Level Sub-Committees for Volunteer/Project Enrollment and Coordination

To make this an inclusive, island-wide implementation, there needs to be at least district level sub-committees for volunteer/project enrolment and coordination. Independent redress mechanisms to monitor the administration of these committees, to ensure they remain inclusive and provide opportunity for all individuals and organizations to contribute at grass root level.

Launch an Online Platform for Easy Accessibility

Launch an online platform where people with projects can declare and the online volunteer registration system is also linked, so that an automatic notification will go out as events are created. Creating event calendars with geographic filters is also possible. Link with GudPpl, Facebook, etc, to enhance this platform and to track volunteer contributions and final impact and outcomes from projects.

Partner with Media Organizations

Partner with media organizations and run campaigns on “volunteerism” as a brand and attract stakeholders to both the online platform and district level committees.

Host Events in Order to Create Inter-generational Dialogue

Host events that bring out intergenerational learning and experience sharing from senior citizens, to professionals to undergrads to school going children. Perhaps on thematic areas.

You can’t force the community or an individual to volunteer. It is under the discretion of the volunteer. Therefore, the policy should provide adequate provisions to avoid certain (may be private sector) entities to use these definitions of volunteerism to hide forced labor.

Many people do voluntary work, but these volunteers have been often discouraged due to various reasons. If the policy can address some of these areas, that would be great.

For example, if an unknown person met with a road accident or an illness, there can be many people who are willing to help that person, but the fear of running into unnecessary troubles due to certain formal procedures discourage them of acting.

There’s a major lack of Institutional Support for volunteerism from state institutions. For example, the International Waterfowl Census conducted by the Wetlands International produces vital information for global conservation efforts of wetlands and waterbirds. Sri Lanka’s census is conducted by a team of voluntary bird experts with the capacity to do such a major count. They use high-value equipment for this purpose purchased by themselves. The country is divided into sectors and these volunteers count waterbirds in the sectors allocated for them. The count in Sri Lanka is carried out since 1984. However, the participants who count birds in protected areas such as Wilpattu, Yala, Bundala, Kumana, etc. have to purchase tickets to enter into these parks and also, they cannot even get down from vehicles for counting purposes since they do not have research permits.

Another reason is that the formal frameworks that are necessary for volunteerism, are not in order. A simple example is, the scout movement; the scout movement is a worldwide voluntary movement. The scout masters, leader trainers and other staff work voluntarily. But in certain instances, the support required from school administration is not there and there are no proper procedures to get this support. If the school principle is supportive, things will move forward.

Corruption is another discouraging factor. This is an account of events experienced by one of my friends personally,

“We had a collection of funds, a few millions, collected by donating a day’s salary of all staff of an institution, and wanted to utilize it for a flood prevention activity such as cleaning a blocked canal etc. An officer attached to one of the state institutions working on disaster relief, was coming behind us to get about 100 sewing machines from these funds. He was even unable to justify the request as to whom he will distribute them”

If a formal policy and a framework is available for volunteerism, the work will be recognized and as it seems the policy also states that the volunteers can even be entitled for a living expense if the work exceeds certain parameters. If so, there can be situations where people who are not suitable for certain work coming and volunteering for some personal benefits. This is not good. There are some restrictions under ‘Responsibilities’ in section 14, but I feel there should be some standard / baseline to be established for such work. For example, an under-qualified person teaching a student shall be prevented.

Achieving a task shouldn’t solely depend on volunteerism but it can complement any formal effort. The responsibility mainly lies with the formal structures or frameworks and it would be even better if this can be included in a suitable way.

Dileepa Samarasinghe
31 ජනවාරි 2020
Dileepa, is a highly motivated, creative and versatile sustainability professional and trainer. He is a Mechanical Engineering graduate from the University of Nottingham, U.K (Malaysia Campus) with a Diploma in Executive Management from the Graduate School of Management. Dileepa is currently working as a consultant to several leading organizations in the areas of foreign financing and sustainability apart from being a trainer at Rainbow Institute. He is a product of St Peter’s College, Colombo.

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