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Using Technology for Healthy and Sustainable Volunteerism

Using Technology for Healthy and Sustainable Volunteerism
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NOTE: This is a guest post from Nilima Abrams, a documentary filmmaker, social entrepreneur and the founder of Chalo, Inc.

I often tell people, casually, that I don’t really like apps. They say, “but you’ve been working for two years to launch a mobile app business!” This is true, but it’s not that I think the technology is so cool; rather, apps are tools, which oftentimes end up creating more problems. How many of us have more time now? Sure, slicing flying fruit and flinging cartoon animals across the screen is fun, but these only provide fleeting distractions, until the next gimmick replaces them. Do we have shorter attention spans, and a jaded sense of excitement?

It’s not that technology is inherently a waste of time, or that people shouldn’t use it for entertainment, but the proportions are, in my opinion, off. Luckily, there are truly useful apps and programs that facilitate everything from “micro volunteering,” to helping people with autism communicate better. There’s no reason that technology cannot continue eroding the perceived dichotomy between doing good and having a good time, but to do so, we must offer consumers a range of technological tools to fit their needs.

Last summer Cabot Cheese Cooperative approached our social-venture startup about making an app to unite and recognize volunteers. They explained that the farm families who own their company give back to their communities, often un-recognized, and they wanted Americans to have a way to celebrate each other’s good work. To build a program that would be useful and fun, we first sought to distill key factors and barriers to successful volunteerism. The following two anecdotes help to illustrate these:

1) One weekend in college I told my friends that I was going to walk stray dogs at a local animal shelter — they shrugged. The kennel was in a depressed area and the dogs were sometimes scary. I felt lonely as I walked the lonely dogs, thinking that if I were bitten or fell I would be all alone. For some reason I kept going back to the kennel, probably out of a sense of pity, but I knew I would quit soon if something didn’t change.

One weekend, to my surprise, one of my friends asked to join. The next weekend another, and then another until we had too many to fit in my car. Suddenly it was the cool thing to do, and no one wanted to be left on campus. We cooed over the dogs and enjoyed the wooded trail, laughing and chatting. Then, one weekend, the fawn colored pit bull I was walking turned and lunged at me, bared teeth gnashed towards my stomach. I tried to back away but was still holding his leash and his teeth just missed me, biting instead the down vest I was wearing. I should have been scared, but rather than panicking and spurring the dog’s panic into a full-out attack, I managed to assert a “top dog” attitude, correct him and safely walk him back. Just knowing other people were providing support — mostly moral support — gave me the confidence to help avert disaster.

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Photo by Peter Higgins

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3:28AM PST on Jan 10, 2014

Quality stuff may be the key to invite the users to visit begin to see the blog site, that’s what this site provides.

10:08AM PST on Jan 15, 2012

Good people do good for people!

1:33PM PST on Jan 13, 2012

It does feel good to help others...

10:42AM PST on Jan 12, 2012

Thanks for your story.

9:05AM PST on Jan 12, 2012

great idea

7:26AM PST on Jan 11, 2012

great idea

4:03PM PST on Jan 10, 2012

It is awesome for apps and social media to help spur volunteerism!

3:13PM PST on Jan 10, 2012

Super! I hope all those thinking of volunteering will be nudged a bit by the support offered in this article! We all can make a difference!

11:18AM PST on Jan 10, 2012

This would be a good app for local commuinites to use to recognize those that give back to the communities in which they live. Sometimes a little recognition goes a long ways and it does help other to feel comfortable in getting involved. Great story,

8:27AM PST on Jan 10, 2012

Very interesting article - thank you!

Katherine H - I signed your petition and thanks for posting it...

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