iVolunteer: Helping those interested in serving society

A Mumbai initiative is helping those interested in serving society to get better access to projects

Finding a place to volunteer is a difficult task for many do-gooders. A visit to the villages of India during a rural internship project, lead then MBA students Shalabh Sahai and Rahul Nainwal to start iVolunteer. The Non-Governmental Organisation or NGO-volunteer connection programme started in 2001 and has been organising awards for volunteers and NGOs for the last three years.

Co-founder Shalabh Sahai says, “We started with the premise that there are a large number of NGOs in Mumbai as well as India and that connectivity to these is difficult for the common person who wants to volunteer. At the time we started, iVolunteer was purely online. The digital revolution in India had just started. Rahul and I were studying in Pune so we started everything from a small hostel room.”

SPREADING SMILES: Pravin Tulpule (r) entertains a child while in clown avatar
SPREADING SMILES: Pravin Tulpule (r) entertains a child while in clown avatar

The concept helped Information Technology (IT) professional Niraj Ramjiyani to volunteer with Toybank, an NGO that works with children. He says, “An urge to give back to society, to spread smiles and share happiness inspired me to spend my free time volunteering. Children’s shelters, hospital wards, old age homes and similar places afforded enough opportunities to volunteer. But the work Toybank was doing touched my heart.”

Rahul Nainwal
HELP ABROAD: Rahul Nainwal at an NGO in Sierra Leone, Africa

“The experience has been extremely satisfying and rewarding apart from sensitising my mind to the issues of those less fortunate. The NGO’s ‘Click for a Cause’ Contest is my brainchild. The best pictures will be featured in the 2016 Toybank annual calendar. The contest is part of marketing and fund raising for Toybank. I worked on formalising the contest, promoting it on social media, in schools, colleges and residential areas, getting participation, getting the entries judged by the panel, announcing and awarding the winners,” says Ramjiyani.

SERVICE: The team of Bhumi after a workshop for street kids

Using the skills he has for social good has been bliss for the 32-year-old. He says, “I am really grateful to iVolunteer for helping me to help others. Volunteering is much simpler and one can choose the cause that he or she wants with ease, rather than search for an NGO, oneself which is time consuming and often, a tiresome affair.”

Pravin Tulpule, a retired officer from the Indian Navy is now a professional clown also working for Toybank. He says, “I like to consider myself a professional clown, and magical ‘Edutainer’ who spreads laughter, joy and happiness all around me. My clown persona is ‘Happy Toybanker’ and I visit slums, children’s shelters, anganwadis, orphanages, etc to spread smiles. Clowning helps break barriers and connect easily with children.”

LEAD THE WAY: Niraj Ramjiyani (c) with his NGO
LEAD THE WAY: Niraj Ramjiyani (c) with his NGO

Happy or Tulpule has participated in various marathons, walkathons and events to showcase causes. He says, “I teach children about cleanliness, road and fire safety, through clown acts. I also spread anti-tobacco messages. Personal hygiene and clean habits as well as highlight the evils and ill-effects of gutka so the children can tell their parents and those around. I also try to encourage blood donation and organ pledging.”

WITH THE KIDS: Ratish Ramachandran (r) with the children he serves in his NGO
WITH THE KIDS: Ratish Ramachandran (r) with the children he serves in his NGO

Tulpule also volunteers with SPROUTS, an NGO that spreads awareness about the environment, anti-littering, pollution, water conservation, rainwater harvesting among other things. Between 2012 to 2014 his clown avatar Happy has visited 400 schools in and around Mumbai to conduct the ‘Go Green’ Clown Acts.

Shalabh Sahai
Shalabh Sahai

He says, “I try to spread messages on serious issues with humour. This works very well for adults and children. Making others happy gives me immense joy and satisfaction and so I volunteer with two NGOs and work with many organisations to help as many people as I can, and make this world a better place.”

Kannupriya Sethi and Sandip G Patil(L-R) Kannupriya Sethi and Sandip G Patil

Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) student Kannupriya Sethi also has similar wishes. The Bhumi (an NGO that works with youth, education and environment) volunteer says, “Initially, when you join, you don’t know how things will work out. You join for a purpose. Mine was to impact lives positively in any way I can. So I started with it. The smiles on the faces of kids when I meet and work with them inspires me to give more.”

Sethi says, “Under the guidance of Rajashri Sai, one of the Bhumi coordinators, I approached orphanages in Mumbai in July last year, when Bhumi in Mumbai, particularly, was weak and had no significant presence. Centres were identified, and after contacting at least 35 centres, we found a centre where we presently teach Maths and Computers at.”

Working from scratch has helped the 19-year-old grow as a person. She says, “I was looking for an education related NGO where I could volunteer. There were big NGOs that were options, but I wanted to work for an organisation which was growing and struggling. The good part about Bhumi is they accept you as their family member, make you feel at ease, and the entire team is amazingly enthusiastic.”

Civil engineer Ratish Ramachandran is a football enthusiast and he has been using his love for the beautiful game to give to others. The 24-year-old says, “I work with Vision Rescue, an NGO that seeks to transform the lives of underprivileged children through sport. I work with kids in Shivaji Nagar slum and take regular football coaching sessions for them. Sport teaches you a lot of life skills such as hard work, leadership, team spirit, the right competitive attitude, taking a loss positively. Most importantly, it keeps one fit and healthy, which is a necessity for underprivileged children who do not have proper access to food.”

There are two sessions every week — on Wednesday and Saturday at 7 am. The slum has an open ground next to it which is used as a practice ground. Ramachandran says, “Initially, there were 10 kids, this increased to almost 25 kids in a few more sessions as the children really enjoyed football as a sport and were very excited to learn. The process of teaching is better when the students also have an equal passion.”

Explaining how he learnt about iVolunteer, Ramachandran says, "I came to know about iVolunteer through my workplace. I have always believed that giving back to society is very essential. Volunteering gives me peace of mind and satisfaction.”

Through iVolunteer, Sandip G Patil is helping 30 NGOs in Mumbai and Thane with his IT skills. He donated an app he created to Sankalp Foundation which works in the field of education. The app helps students earn and learn.

He says, “I also counsel students when it comes to personal issues as well as their careers and conduct confidence building sessions, too. I help NGOs to make new websites and create awareness campaigns for students. I also help with book distribution and free seminars.”

When Sahai and Nainwal started iVolunteer, many NGOs were unaware of going online and the power of the web, so getting people onboard was tough. “In 2003, we started iVolunteer in Mumbai and at that time there was a big mismatch between volunteers and NGOs. There was a lot of on field work that was done to convince NGOs to seek volunteers online,” says Sahai.

But today, iVolunteer has more than 300 NGOs across India whom they help to get volunteers into. “We also partner with international NGOs and help volunteers go to Asia, Africa and South America to help the less fortunate there. The volunteers and NGOs are not charged, we have various corporate partnerships that fund iVolunteer,” says Sahai.

The Mumbai resident adds, “Many corporate companies look for employees who are socially aware. The exposure that volunteering gives is very positive and helps in business management. We started a white board initiative which is a programme that helps volunteers guide NGO boards and deal with challenges. These comprise senior professionals, homemakers, senior citizens and others. Volunteering opens many avenues for those involved in it.”

iVolunteer and associated causes:
>> Education
>> Poverty Alleviation
>> Environment
>> Health
>> Gender Equality
>> Human Rights
>> Disability
>> Youth Welfare
>> Elderly People Welfare
>> Child Welfare
>> Active Citizenship

Second innings

Xperience Powerhouse Limited, an IT firm with its office at Opera House is providing senior citizens with a chance to work again. The community service project has about 90 retired people who have signed up looking for jobs.

The agency is looking to provide part time and full time employment to seniors. Manisha Yadav, Corporate Head, HR of the company says, “We have people with 25-30 years experience who have registered. They are accountants, admin staff, clerical staff and other categories. Work on the concept from a research perspective started way back in 2014. Towards the end of 2014 we finally decided to implement the concept.”

The senior citizens are between 58 to 83 years. Explaining how people registered, Yadav says, “The Dignity Foundation, senior citizen associations, conducting pre-retirement workshops at banks, contacting corporates directly to allow us to register people that are retiring, etc. The volunteers are not charged but the places where they are placed will be.”

Keeping themselves engaged and at the same time earning something is the main reason why the senior citizens are seeking jobs. “We believe that these people if utilised efficiently can add value to society. In fact remaining engaged helps you to be mentally fit which in turn keeps you physically fit,” Yadav ends.

Contact: Xperience Powerhouse Limited Phone number: 022- 61591204

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