As many as 22 million people volunteer across the UK each year, a rise of nine per cent according to latest statistics Evidence also suggests that more people are enquiring about volunteering too – 86 per cent of volunteer centres nationwide reported an increase in inquiries, and the value to the economy of those volunteers is significant, estimated at in excess of £21.5 billion.
Although enquiries are on the up, many people are ‘time poor’ – trying to retain a work/life balance by juggling family, a job, and also leaving time for themselves. It’s now recognised however, that people want to be able to do something positive with their free time and as a result, the opportunities to volunteer need to appeal to and meet the changing needs of those keen to get involved.
Some experts claim that budding volunteers are also becoming much more selective and are keen that their experience will benefit them too; bolstering the skills they already have, or helping them to learn new ones. The requirement to use volunteering as a means to develop skills and grow professionally is becoming increasingly evident and is pertinent when considering UK unemployment at 2.67 million.
That’s why Bright One developed BrightWorks, a microvolunteering app for charities. Volunteers can complete tasks to help charities at a time and place that is convenient to them, as it is an online platform. The skills needed to complete the tasks will also help develop volunteer’s professional skills, meaning that they add to their employability as well.
Yet latest research from Do-it, the UK’s largest online database of volunteering opportunities shows that one of the most popular reasons for volunteering is to help others, with 72 per cent citing this as key in their decision to take part. Similarly, 71 per cent of prospective volunteers said they would get involved to do something positive with their spare time.
This is reflected particularly in the 16 – 25 age group – the age group most likely to volunteer and the age range whose registration on the Do-it database increased by 37 per cent in 2010. The Do-it survey also found that 78 per cent volunteer to gain or improve skills, with 71 per cent wanting to learn new things through volunteering.
As well as learning new skills, it is becoming more important for the incentive for volunteering to be borne out of more efficient use of spare time. Although repeated claims are made that we are a time poor nation, there remain pockets of time for the taking – during a lunch break, before work or school, whilst travelling during the day and in the evening and before bed are a few examples. Accumulating these small spots of time can cumulatively make a significant difference for charities whilst at the same time have a positive and lasting impact on not only the volunteer but their local community too.
With this knowledge, Sony’s Open Planet Ideas community, which was made up of people located across the globe, set about to source a solution. Open Planet Ideas provided a platform for people throughout the world to highlight their concerns for the future of our planet and develop creative solutions. Paul Frigout of France created the idea of +U, a mobile volunteering application which enables people to commit to location based, volunteering opportunities in response to an interested, yet time poor public.
Sony has been working with YouthNet, the charity that runs the UK’s national volunteering database Do-it, to make +U a reality. Initially previewed at IFA, Europe’s largest consumer electronics fair in September 2010, the mobile Android application is now available for the public to use. The open source code is also available for other likeminded organisations to repurpose to suit their own needs.
Susanna Halonen, Assistant Manager Sustainability, Marketing Communications at Sony, said: “The innovation, collaboration and enthusiasm generated by Open Planet Ideas had demonstrated that great things can happen when we all work together and we’ve been excited by the response to this challenge.:
Sony hopes that the release of the mobile application will inspire other organisations to embrace Paul Frigout’s vision of how, by bringing volunteering opportunities to the people, you can tap into even wider audiences to deliver a greater social impact.
“With its freely adaptable open source code and its focus on putting the fun factor into volunteering, the +U app has the potential to benefit charities and volunteers alike,” Halonen added. “It has also shaped our efforts in exploring open innovation as a way to benefit our business and future generations too.”