Micro-volunteering

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Micro-volunteering describes a task done by a volunteer, or a team of volunteers, without payment, either online via an internet-connected device, including smartphones, or offline in small increments of time, usually to benefit a nonprofit organization, charitable organization, or non-governmental organization. Micro-volunteering is a form of virtual volunteering. It typically does not require an application process, screening or training period, takes only minutes or a few hours to complete, and does not require an ongoing commitment by the volunteer.

Micro-volunteering has been practiced informally and on an ad-hoc basis, with nonprofits involving volunteers in short-term, low-commitment assignments via the Internet for some time.[1] The Extraordinaries, a San Francisco-based social enterprise founded in January 2008 popularised this form of volunteering via their microvolunteering product known as www.sparked. com (since then, the company pivoted to customer satisfaction analytics, and the iOS app abandoned[2]). The development of a smartphone app made microvolunteering accessible to any nonprofit with an internet connection.[3][4][5]

The first known instance of the term "microvolunteering" appeared on 9 May 2006 within a response to a blog post on the U.K. mySociety platform.[6] Spanish microvolunteering website first registered the phrase "microvoluntarios" as a web domain name on 27 November 2006.[7] Microvoluntarios created the first working publicly accessible online microvolunteering platform in May 2008,[8] somewhat after the first microvolunteering mobile phone application was submitted to a public Google Android competition.[9]

Micro-volunteering, online volunteering and online activism through social media are fast growing trends. Some observers contend that the digital divide may further exclude people with limited access to technology and that benefits are not as accessible in low-income countries. Others assert that technology has made volunteerism more impersonal, by discouraging face to-face interaction. As such, it could serve to obstruct meaningful volunteer engagement[10]

There are several definitions of the term "microvolunteering" in use:

  • "Easy quick low-commitment actions that benefit a worthy cause"[11]
  • "Convenient bite-sized crowdsourced and network managed"[12]
  • "The act of voluntarily participating in day-to-day situations that occupy a brief amount of time"[13]

Mass SMS communication is considered a form of “micro-volunteerism”, on account of its limited duration which does not require a long-term commitment.[14] Volunteer health workers, for example, send SMS text messages to report basic symptoms of illness and disease. Plotting the geographical occurrence of these symptoms on maps (or "crowdmapping"), using programmes such as Kenyan-based Ushahidi can help epidemiologists to identify patterns of disease and provide early warning of potential outbreaks. In Rwanda, the government distributes cell phones to volunteer community health-care workers in rural areas. These are used to monitor the progress of pregnant village women, to send regular updates to health-care professionals, and to call for urgent assistance when necessary. The scheme has contributed significantly to reducing maternal deaths. In Musanze district, for example, no maternal deaths were reported during the year following the launch of the programme in 2009, compared to ten deaths the year before. Given the success of the programme, there are plans to distribute 50,000 phones to reach all volunteer health workers in Rwanda and to extend the programme to agriculture and education.[15] SMS messaging is also a powerful tool for election monitoring organizations to support the work of volunteers. It can help them to address logistic challenges more rapidly as well as contributing to effective election oversight and the protection of citizens’ rights[16]

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