WSIS Volunteer Family, Phase 1 Report


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Volunteering and ICTs: Case studies

Viola Krebs and Gail Hurley

Volunteers carry out a wide range of activities for which they use ICTs. They also develop many ICT applications. In the words of Susan Ellis of Energize, "volunteers are pioneers, the voices for the future". In this chapter, we provide a few specific examples of projects in which volunteers play a fundamental role. Many of these have been presented in the WSIS process.

Awareness raising and capacity building

Training of trainers in Nigeria: As pointed out by Rose Ekeleme of IAVE Nigeria who participated in the International Symposium in Dakar, "Technology is still in its childhood in Nigeria. Nigeria has a large number of NGOs, of which about ten percent are managed by volunteers. IAVE Nigeria offers training classes in the field of ICTs. Through the first training program, 25 trainers were trained who then trained 1,000 volunteers in 36 states all over the country. These volunteers then further spread the information. If the experience needed to be summarized in a word, it would be 'networking'."

Connectivity in Europe: The digital divide has many aspects to it and is not just a developing country issue. There are also important differences in Europe and within individual communities. In England for example, 96% of volunteer-involving organizations registered access to the Internet in 2002 (National Centre for Volunteering, England). In the autonomous community of Valencia in Spain however, only 23.4% of regional NGOs boasted access to Internet technology in 2003 (FSVCV). The reasons given by Valencian NGOs for this lack of IT "connectivity" was a lack of financial resources with which to purchase the necessary hardware and operating systems. A similar story is echoed in the Czech Republic. The Czech Government Council for the NGO Sector estimates that around 90% of Czech NGOs operate on financial resources of less than 20,000 EURO per year (Fristenská, 2003). In such cases, the work of dedicated volunteers a key concern.

EduCities: EduCities ( are educational cities created in Taiwan (Province of China). They adopt the structure and operation of real cities for cultivating a learner-oriented learning society. Citizens in this cyber city can be students, teachers, parents, and anyone willing to participate and contribute on a voluntary basis, with the goal to learn, teach and promote social responsibility as well as good citizenship. The interactive networking opens doors to new ways of learning, where sometimes students become the teachers. A 13 years old boy, who won the best online teacher award, is a good example. He has created online courses, which are very popular. In total 2,400 courses are offered and 25,000 classes provided on the net, used by 1.3 million participating citizens. 

ICTs, volunteerism and diaspora: ABANTU for Development, which was founded in 1991 by African women living in England, applies a gender approach. The organization works in the field of poverty reduction, focusing on governance and conflict issues, as well as the contribution that ICTs bring to development. Volunteers are an important element in the organization: On one hand, these offer their experience, their enthusiasm and sometimes even their knowledge of Africa, and, on the other hand, they acquire a professional experience which enables them to develop competences in the field of research, information generation, awareness raising, political analysis and development experience.

UNITeS: UNITeS, the United Nations Information Technology Service, is an initiative of United Nations Volunteers that channels the creative energies, skills and solidarity of volunteers around the world to collaborate with people in the South and improve their capacity to make practical use of information and communications technologies (ICT).

Internet Child Safety: An estimated 50,000 people are today connected to the Internet in Mauritius. Internet Child Safety Foundation (ICSF) ( is a coalition of organizations fighting for child security on the Internet. The aim of ICSF is to raise awareness among all groups of society, including parents and children about the risks linked to the use of the Internet by children. The campaign distributes leaflets and other materials and offers practical advice. The campaign of ICSF is powered by volunteers.

ICT and volunteerism working group in Colombia: In 2003, IAVE Colombia ( organized a multi-stakeholder roundtable to look at the situation of ICTs and volunteerism in Latin America. Focusing on the needs of the volunteer sector, they proposed to formulate public policies supporting the use of ICTs in volunteering. According to Carlos Rodrigues of IAVE Colombia, public policy, rather than government policy is what is needed. IAVE Latin America supports the use of open source software. Further, there is a need for more web contents in Spanish. Some other challenges are: lack of financial resources; cultural challenges (resistance to change, individualism); lack of promotion (NGOs, governments, media) and low levels of literacy.

Capacity building for women in Uganda: Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) promotes and supports the use of ICTs by women organizations as well as individuals to improve conditions of life for Ugandan women by enhancing their capacities and opportunities for exchange, collaboration and information sharing. Many of WOUGNET's programs involve volunteers, including the Space Satellite Radio Program (WSRP) which aims to provide access to satellite radio. The volunteers of WOUGNET also install IT equipment, train and support the beneficiaries. 

fille ordi cassola ISOC Mali: ISOC Mali offers training for trainers, be it with respect to contents generation or network administration. In addition, ISOC-Mali organizes regularly the "Fête de l'Internet" and was at the origin of the first sub-regional workshop of the Internet Society in Africa, which focused on network administration on Linux Bamako 99. All of its projects heavily rely on volunteer effort. Among the partners of the program are MINTI, Sotelma, USAID-Mali, and BMS.

Capacity building in Israel: ELEM ( is an association of volunteers believing that voluntarism is a fundamental building block of Israel's civil society. ELEM is currently active throughout Israel where some 1,800 volunteers (adults and teens) and 170 devoted workers have helped more than 60,000 children and youth at risk, regardless of their cultural and ethnic origin, religion, gender, and physical, social or economic condition [2002 figure]. One of its projects it the Hafuch al Hafuchis, a center that assists young people in difficulties, helping them to find jobs and a new place to make a living. The center operates eleven outreach-training vans, each equipped with computers. Volunteers provide the training. Once they are trained, many of the trainees join in as volunteers themselves, now training others. This has been a key element of the success of the program. The latter does not establish an exhaustive data collection, but considers it important to recognize the people and ensures a certain amount of follow-up of individual cases. ICTs are used to run the administration and allow better monitoring of various resources and processes. 

Youth Environment Network: In Armenia, a Network of Youth Environment Centres (YECs) is being launched to promote environmental activities, provide information, as well as training and seminars. The aim of the network is to provide a connecting link between the various branches of the YECs, as well as between the YECs, government and international organizations. 

Software development (free / open source and proprietary)

Volunteers can be brought in to help in the fields of deploying end user application. 

For example, the GNU Project ( focuses on writing, distributing and promoting free software, which is often developed by volunteers. The "free" in free software refers to liberty, not price: the freedom to use, modify, share, and improve the software. 

Debian ( is a free computer operating system (OS). An operating system is the set of basic programs and utilities that make your computer run. Debian uses the Linux kernel (the core of an operating system), but most of the basic OS tools come from the GNU project; hence the name GNU/Linux. The Debian Project consists of volunteer developers who have some technical knowledge and contribute to the development and improvement of the system.

Content generation

'La mairie vous écoute', connecting Timbuktu: Timbuktu used to an ancient isolated city, situated near the Niger river, but otherwise surrounded by desert. It is a center of culture and education, and also the center of a large administrative area within Mali. In Timbuktu, there is an increasing interest in the new technologies and connectedness with the outside world. The "Programme d'appui à la decentralization" of the United Nations Volunteers Mali has assisted the Mayor to build the first online city hall of Mali, which was launched in fall 2003. It has been made possible through a multi-actor partnership involving public and private entities. The website provides visitors with information about the area. It offers new services under the slogan 'la Mairie vous écoute', which gives local people access to local government services. As a result of this technology, Timbuktu has become less isolated and local government has become less centralized and more transparent. Funding has come through the UN, and it is hoped to extend the project to other communes. In addition, Swisscom has equipped Timbuktu's high school with 16 state-of-the-art computers. UNVolunteers is providing training to both teachers and students.

OneWorld volunteer editors: Through its network of 12 regional centers, OneWorld supports and facilitates an online community of over 1,500 global partner organizations working for human rights and sustainable development. Its most visible product is the development portal, which since 1996 has become a new media site for multi-lingual audiences in over 100 countries seeking news and analyses on issues neglected by mainstream media. Until recently all its editors were professional journalists or development workers, but now there are also about 35 volunteers who edit specific pages. Volunteers have changed the strategic outlook of the whole organization and help reduce the old imbalance of a predominance of editors from the North. Starting this new strategy, the web page for Senegal has been edited by a local volunteer. In the past, volunteers from the developed world assisted in developing countries. In the case of Senegal and other countries where local volunteers are updating the web content, the information is provided by people from the South and is primarily read by an audience in the US and Europe. Energize Inc., a group based in Philadelphia in the United States, works internationally to deal with issues of volunteerism. Founded by Susan Ellis, Energize went online nine years ago when the web was just starting. Today, publishes articles on the subject and is an important web resource on volunteerism.

Conference online news services: Since 1998, MCART ( and ICVolunteers ( have been working with volunteer reporters to produce, edit and publish information linked to international conferences. An online editing system, called the Global Data System, allows volunteer reporters and editors to access the information from wherever they are in the world. Among others, past news services have covered the World AIDS Conference, the International Symposium on Volunteering 2001 ( and more recently the UN Commission on Human Rights and the World Health Assembly ( 


Partnership with Microsoft and Jump: The Foundation for Solidarity and Voluntary Work of the Valencian Community (FSVWV) works directly and indirectly with some 1,600 associations and 60,000 volunteers. For many of these organizations, appropriate ICT equipment is unaffordable. Trying to address this problem, the Foundation has launched a partnership program working with private sector companies. To date, it collaborates with Microsoft and Jump, which provide equipment and training, as well as technical assistance at a reduced price, thus making information technologies more accessible.

One form of partnership between the volunteer sector and the private sector is "employee volunteering" or "employee engagement", which may be described as the giving of an employees' time and skills to the benefit of the communities in which they operate. It is thus a three-way partnership between the employer, employee and the receiver of the volunteer. Private, public and voluntary sector organizations constitute an enormous reserve of resources, skills and expertise, which can be called on to support local schools, communities and organizations. Businesses on the other hand, benefit from a much-improved public image, and better skilled and motivated employees. 

Examples from the United Kingdom include "E-mail Pals", a partnership between a well-known British bank and a local school. The system allows school pupils to e-mail their questions to bank staff and engage in dialogue to improve literacy and information technology skills. 

mobile hong kongIn Madrid, Spain, a well-known supermarket has engaged in programs to support the IT tutoring and mentoring of local youth at disadvantage (El Pais Negocios, 2002), while in Romania, a multinational business operating within the region has donated computer equipment to local schools and has delegated a number of employees to assist both teachers and students make use of the new tools (ProVobis, 2003).

Iko Poran (IKP) (, a Brazilian NGO caters to an increasing demand for better logistics in the reception and allocation of international volunteers who wish to perform in social development projects in Brazil. Based on a cross-sectorial approach, IKP partners with companies such as IBM, the employees of which are for example installing computers in schools in small Brazilian villages. The benefits are twofold: there is the obvious benefit to the school, but IBM also achieves its aim of spreading corporate responsibility. The IBM employees discover the realities in the field, go back to their work more motivated, and able to share their experience with their colleagues.

ICT volunteer sending

Netcorps (Cyberjeunes) Canada International ( Netcorps (Cyberjeunes), a program managed by Canada World Youth, allows young Canadians to experience volunteer work in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe. Netcorps' work mainly involves web-based ICT-volunteering, training, as well as web and database programming. Netcorps is a five-year old Canadian coalition of 9 NGOs, financed by the government of Canada. Each year, Netcorps sends more than 250 volunteers around the world to help in range of sectors, from agriculture to education, health to the environment. Among others, Netcorps (Cyberjeunes) is in touch with Geekcorps (, a US-based organization that matches private sector experts with needs of private sector companies in developing countries. Netcorps (Cyberjeunes) also works with Netcorps Americas (, a project of the Trust of the Americas (TOA) that specializes in providing technological assistance to people with disabilities in the Americas.

Volunteer Management Resources

The new information and communication technologies may also be used to support and manage individual volunteers more effectively. Email communication and the Internet, for example, have shown themselves to be important new tools, since they provide volunteer managers with effective means with which to keep in touch with current and potential volunteers. Such new tools as Internet recruitment, on-line volunteer training and e-mail communication are all having a major impact on the way the volunteer community recruits, trains and supports volunteers. Spain meanwhile boasts, its largest database of both paid and volunteer opportunities, not only in Spain but also around the globe, for example with a Mexican version, a new web portal,, that connects organizations and volunteers and enables a fruitful exchange of experience and information. In the United Kingdom, one of most innovative Internet-based volunteer projects has been "", a site that contains on-line volunteer projects and an on-line database of volunteer opportunities searchable by local postcode. The site receives on average 110,000 visitors per month (National Centre for Volunteering England, 2003) mostly among young people. 

Time Bank UK: "Making giving time easy and inspiring" is the motto of "Time Bank UK". Volunteers are called "time-givers", and the site details ways to get involved, opportunities from around the country, as well as stories of successful volunteer projects. and The Netherlands has also seen significant levels of investment in databases of volunteer opportunities and other, volunteer-related websites. "" enables the user to search volunteer opportunities by sector, while "" aims to permit everyone who was not brought up with the computer to experience the possibilities of the computer and Internet for themselves (SeniorWeb, 2003). SeniorWeb's volunteers give courses throughout the country that aim to be "understandable and affordable for everyone". There are now 900 active volunteers or "ambassadors", most of whom are also seniors and therefore understand the difficulties that late beginners often experience. This clearly demonstrates one of the ways in which volunteerism and the information society can together be harnessed to bring digital dividends to those who would otherwise be excluded.

European Voluntary Service Programme: The same is also true of the European Union, and in particular the European Commission, whose Directorate-General for Education and Culture operates the European Voluntary Service Programme. Potential young volunteers may search a database of approved host placements by country and sector, while potential host organizations may submit details of volunteer projects for approval and posting on the European Commission website. More recently, DG Education and Culture has established the "Ploteus Portal", which includes details of education, training, work and volunteer opportunities throughout Europe. 

In many cases, such Internet-based volunteer projects aim to increase opportunities for people to become involved in voluntary activities in a range of different sectors, which promotes more active participation and inclusion in society, as well as diversity in volunteering. TimeBank in the UK for example, has proved popular with many young people in a Europe which overall has seen a downward trend in the number of young people engaging in voluntary activities. SeniorWeb in the Netherlands meanwhile promotes active ageing, which is increasingly important in a Europe that suffers from the common policy challenge of an increasingly ageing but healthy, active population.


"Virtual" or "e-volunteering" is defined by Ellis (2000) as "volunteer tasks completed in whole, or in part, via the internet." Examples of popular activities include translation, research, campaigning, mentoring or offering professional advice such a web design and development or legal advice.

E-volunteering has a number of distinct benefits: it enables those who would otherwise find it difficult to volunteer participate, such as those with home commitments or disability. It also allows volunteers to assist those in other countries, and in this sense it is not limited by geographical or time boundaries. For example, Volunteering Ireland's website was designed and is maintained by a dedicated volunteer living in Scotland.

VolunteerGuru and Online Volunteering: “VolunteerGuru” (powered by NetAid) and “Online Volunteering” (powered by United Nations Volunteers) are two web sites that allow individuals and organisations all over the world to join in the fight against poverty via a multitude of ebased volunteer opportunities.

Computer recycling programs

Computers for Schools Kenya: Computers for Schools Kenya has organized a collection of hundreds of computers among Kenyan companies, as well as their reconditioning, distribution to schools and training of beneficiaries. The project heavily relies on volunteer work.

World Computer Exchange: World Computer Exchange, an international NGO, relies on virtual volunteers in its mission to bring computers to schools in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Between its foundation in October 1999 and April 2004, the organization has connected 1,052 schools with 400,560 students by 38 shipments of 10,095 computers valued at US$2,845,850 to 23 countries.


Intro | Context | Case Studies | Action Plan | Docs | Recommendations | Partners | Links