Daan Utsav: Every Indian Volunteering
Volunteers prepare and serve food to flood victims in Alappuzha, Kerala, on Aug. 23, 2018. (Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg)

Daan Utsav: Every Indian Volunteering


My favourite story about ‘giving’ is that of a retired Army officer from Pune, who once proudly told me that he donated Rs 10,000 every year to UNICEF, and how he felt good about being a good citizen. Turned out that he had a 12-year old girl working as a maid in his house. Little did he realise that putting the girl through school would have been a bigger contribution to society than his donation.

Millions of people donate every year in India and contributions continue to grow, with more and more sophisticated ways to get people to give, such as ‘checkout charity’. This is where you give a small amount, say, Rs 5, online at checkout, which alone now totals over Rs 50 crore per annum.

Yet, the citizens who ‘give’ are often creators of social problems in the first place; the problems they create need funds far in excess of their own contributions, to be fixed. 

Net-net, most of us, even philanthropic individuals, are ‘net damagers’ to society, than a positive influence. For example, the average carbon footprint of a middle-class Indian would need between 30,000 to 50,000 trees to be planted in their his or her lifetime, just to break even.

So how does one change this? Unfortunately, in a world seeking quick fixes to everything, there is no solution other than the complex, difficult one: getting deeply involved.

Daan Utsav: Every Indian Volunteering

What Does That Mean?

If you care about children, for example, it means understanding why children are out of school, why there’s a flourishing trafficking industry, why they beg at traffic lights and getting to know what it will take to change this. Not just for a few hours or days, but permanently.

Children play in a dried-up field in Tikamgarh, Madhya Pradesh. (Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg)
Children play in a dried-up field in Tikamgarh, Madhya Pradesh. (Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg)

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If livelihood is your focus, ask whether:

  • Most skilling programmes create incremental jobs or only replace one person for another;
  • Where people are currently employed in India;
  • Which jobs are shrinking, which are growing;
  • Directionally, are we creating more jobs or fewer; and
  • What can increase the total employment rates in the country.

Not all of us are researchers, though, and merely reading and analysing data may not help us feel fulfilled. How does one even know what the right questions are, to ask?

Ergo, Volunteering!

Unlike giving money, once you start volunteering your time, you will regularly interact with the people you are helping, and you are bound to start understanding their lives better. It helps you figure out what the root causes of problems are and you’ll gradually move down the path of being more involved.

The CAF India Giving Report 2019 says, among other things, that 96 percent of those who did volunteer, donated money, as compared to 72 percent overall. So even if you believe that it is money that makes a difference, encouraging volunteering is the best means to your end!

Flood victims look through donated clothing at a relief camp set up in Alappuzha, Kerala. (Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg)
Flood victims look through donated clothing at a relief camp set up in Alappuzha, Kerala. (Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg)

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The iVolunteer report on volunteering in 2017 found that the biggest need to promote volunteering was “making people aware of volunteering opportunities”. So, a year ago, we set about trying to understand the ‘volunteering ecosystem’ in India.

As we interacted with various organisations, our biggest learning has been that there is low systemic capacity to engage volunteers.

A handful of organisations that are volunteer-driven or volunteer-based are finding money to be the biggest constraint to their growth, and very few donors seem to understand why such efforts also require money.

For example, if 1,000 people land up to clean a beach, there’s a lot of expenditure in equipment to support them, a team to plan and assist and trucks to transport the collected trash.

Platforms find that neither volunteers nor NGOs are willing to pay for ‘matchmaking services’ and hence are unable to create sustainable models except in the corporate volunteering space.
Volunteers clean plastic  debris from the sea shore at Mahim Causeway, in Mumbai, on June 1, 2019. (Photograph: PTI)
Volunteers clean plastic debris from the sea shore at Mahim Causeway, in Mumbai, on June 1, 2019. (Photograph: PTI)

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It is true that a whole new range of technology platforms are being created to help people find the right volunteering opportunities, with the hope that they can lower unit costs of volunteer matchmaking.

Most of them, unfortunately, seem to believe that tech is the solution. In reality, the challenges are very different. Finding a right match between a volunteer and a need requires a matching of not just interests, but also geography, timings, skills and cultural fit.

However, cultural and content descriptions are not objective pieces of data and hence require more curation. What we need, therefore, is a far bigger database of curated opportunities than what exists currently in any of the platforms. Against the current average of 1-2 per pin code or less, we need at least 100. Tech alone is not going to solve it.

On the positive side, though, we’ve found many organisations engaging volunteers at a large scale – be that corporates, NGOs, or simple community-based groups. These offer a potential blueprint for what could be done to increase the scale of volunteering in India.

This #DaanUtsav, BloombergQuint brings you a series of first-person accounts on volunteering that narrate stories of how different organisations across India are engaging volunteers at scale, or in depth, and bringing about significant transformation.

Do read their journeys and see how you’d like to get involved.

We’ll also provide you a listicle with 10 simple ways that you can volunteer this #DaanUtsav. After all, most people who volunteer or give have said that the main reason they do so is because it makes them feel good about themselves.

So go ahead, experience the joy in giving!

Venkat N Krishnan is principal trustee at the India Welfare Trust.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.

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