Creating a Structured Volunteering Ecosystem in India
India’s youth is a force that is waiting to be harnessed. It can be the power that turns the wheel. Volunteerism is a constructive way to harness this power. Volunteering offers young people the opportunity to engage with and solve developmental challenges and gives them skills that they can use in their professional lives as well.
The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) recognizes volunteering as a key driver of development and has been working to create a vibrant volunteering ecosystem in India through an Industry-led initiative called India@75. This initiative seeks to create a morally, economically and technologically advanced nation, capable of leading the world, by 2022, India’s 75th year of Independence.
Each year in the month of January, it celebrates the National Volunteering Week from 18th-24th January to create a consolidated volunteering drive and add to the momentum of various projects at the grassroots. Typically, there is an overarching theme for each year. While there are volunteering opportunities in different sectors, an umbrella theme serves to draw attention to a specific issue facing the country.
In 2014, the inaugural year for the National Volunteering Week, the theme was Count Me In to spread awareness around volunteering and its potential. In 2015, it was Swachh Bharat while the 2016 theme was I For India. In 2017, the week focussed on rural campaigns under the umbrella theme of Mera Gaon Swachh Gaon. Since its inception, NVW has generated more than 26,48016 volunteering hours. The 7th edition of the National Volunteering week in 2020 had a total of 200 plus volunteering activities across 23 states. These were planned by stakeholders like NGOs, corporates, MSMEs, and Volunteer Involving Organisations (VIOs). The activities included cleaning drives, tree plantations, health camps, awareness drives, donation camps, making seed balls, and nature walks.
In fact, India@75 is working to institutionalize the process of volunteering in India by putting together a system that generates a volunteer base and also captures the overall social and economic impact of its work. To this end, it has set up the National Volunteering Grid (NVG), an online volunteering platform (www.nvgindia.org), that brings together NGOs, corporates and individuals to collaborate on projects that contribute to strengthening the country in different ways.
A platform like the NVG works for all involved. It gives non-profits an opportunity to mainstream their work, where Pro Bono Volunteers [subject matter experts] contribute by imparting training on income generation skills, thereby creating a long-term impact. It gives individuals the opportunity to invest their skills and time into making society a better place.
Volunteering is not just about giving; there’s much to be gained as well. There’s a strong link between volunteering and self-development. Volunteers gain alternative experiences, new skills and are able to see and understand the complexities of development. Employees who volunteer are often more grounded individuals with the ability to see matters in a more inclusive light. Corporates, therefore, are increasingly encouraging their workforce to volunteer, both for social as well as business reasons.
India@75 also undertakes ad hoc volunteering activities throughout the year such as lake cleaning drives, awareness workshops on sanitation, workshops on Pro Bono volunteering, and cleaning drives to engage its partners and stakeholders.
There is still some distance to travel in order to create a strong culture of volunteerism in the country. Raising the desirability of volunteering and consequently, the profile of volunteers will be a strategic step in the direction and something that CII is actively working on. Businesses are increasingly recognizing volunteering experience as a strong point in a candidate’s resume and incentivizing it in different ways.
Volunteering can change the way we approach a development challenge. An issue in India is usually his, her or their problem. Volunteering makes every issue our problem and therefore sets the tone for participatory solution-finding.
When a billion-plus people side with the solution, there is only one way to go – forward.