World Volunteers' Day: Is volunteering a sign of noble intentions or is it a resume-boosting photo op?

Volunteering is not like a job. More often than not, you cannot afford to stay detached. It comes with an emotional connect and you cannot just brush that aside
Pic: Edex Live
Pic: Edex Live

Volunteering is a noble deed. But is it just that in the 21st century? Or has it evolved into a golden star on your resume? It's a mix of both and neither is harming social work in the larger scheme of things, said experts. While the sector has evolved and the Gen-next wants to volunteer with an incentive to add their social work to their CV, it has also amped up productivity in the field.

What is the reward here? Nihal Chhetri, a PhD scholar from Guwahati said that the utility comes from the service done towards society. "I come from a very privileged background and there are people who are not getting things that were very basic for me. I thought that if, in some way or the other, I could bridge that gap then why not," said Nihal, a Chapter Leader with U&I in Guwahati. He has been volunteering with U&I Teach, a volunteer-driven organisation focusing on after school education, since 2018. While he started off teaching kids, he has been involved in centre management and volunteer management as well. Nihal was a college student when he started volunteering and is now pursuing his PhD. How does he find the time? "I take out three-four hours on weekends. And now that it is online, it's easier to spend that time with the kids or working for them," said Nihal.

Volunteering is not like a job. More often than not, you cannot afford to stay detached. It comes with an emotional connect and you cannot just brush that aside. Neha Baid, a Kolkata-based HR professional, has been integrally involved with the Project Life Force, an NGO that works as the 24x7 blood helpline of the city and suburbs. Volunteering for PLF has gifted Neha some life-altering moments. "I was coordinating with a cancer patient from Bengaluru and her husband. She had come to Kolkata for treatment and they ended up staying here for two odd years. We had arranged for platelets for her and even the donors were attached to her and would call up to enquire about her health," said Neha. The patient started recovering but the disease relapsed and this time, sadly, she did not make it. "But after they went back home and she passed away, the husband wrote a very kind note to us thanking us. But the two years that they were here impacted me a lot. I do not even know how to put that into words," said the young volunteer who now handles PLF's social media.

While people bring in love and commitment when they sign up for volunteering, Anupama Muhuri, the National Lead of the Volunteer Action Department of CRY (Child Rights and You), said that many things have changed. "They now apply for a volunteering post with a lot of things running through their minds. Very consciously thinking that maybe a volunteering stamp from CRY will add to their CV or profile. The fundamental difference that I see is that people would volunteer for a much longer time before. I have seen that generation of volunteers who would come in and volunteer for the entirety of their college life. But now the term of volunteering is much shorter. While one would think that's a bad trend, I honestly do not judge it now because what you see is that they bring in their love and commitment. They give their best in these few months and somewhere the experience changes them where they decide to remain a life-long friend. They might not be actively volunteering but they come back with fresh ideas and help spread the word," she added.

Even though the productivity might have increased with people with more focused goals joining the ecosystem, has there been a loss in terms of the emotions and the sense of fulfilment that volunteers claimed drove them. "This is fragmented into two parts — of course, there are people who really want to support causes and there a people who only want an appreciation letter and the certificate," laughed Ashutosh Sharma who runs Humans of Volunteering, a platform for engaging volunteers across India. "While that type of mentality might hamper the ecosystem, when you look at the larger picture it helps build the ecosystem as well. Even if people come in for three months, they are very dedicated during this period. They deliver. That is actually helping build the ecosystem," he added.

Abhishek Saini, the founder of Those In Need, a platform that connects volunteers to organisations, said that the future lies in incentivising voluntary work. "When we started in 2014, the use of technology to connect volunteers with NGOs was just coming up. Now, more platforms are coming up and this makes volunteering much easier, engaging and incentivised. Our idea was that people come to our platform to connect with NGOs and volunteer for them, they earn points. We wanted to make it a gamified version where they can measure their impact. I think the future in India is walking towards a system where every individual holds their volunteering card which they can redeem for scholarships etc. There are countries that do this. We have a large database but we need a platform to verify each and every activity and reward those volunteers," added the Delhi youth.

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