Volunteerevolution – Am I a virtual mug?

Here’s something I’m going to watch closely. Micki in Auckland in New Zealand has set up a blog called Volunteer Evolution. She is using it to ask people to help her raise $20,000 dollars to allow her to stop paid work and instead volunteer for a year in her local community (wherever she happens to be).

This has similarities to students looking for financial support for voluntary work or gap years. However it’s seems a touch different, I think new – because (if genuine) it’s entirely bottom up – drawing its potential power from a network created online. So I emailed Micki to find out more and this is what she told me:

I’ve only just launched the volunteerevolution website this past week so I’m still waiting to see what kind of support I get before quitting my current job (which is customer service for a company that makes environmentally friendly household cleaners & bodycare products). The community I live in is much like any other large city. Auckland has about 1.5 million people including a large number of immigrants. There are big problems with urban planning, I don’t think the city can cope with the growth it’s experiencing which leads to transport problems and social conflicts. Non-violent crime is common (I just had my car stolen last week) and there are definite racial divides between middle-class and poor.

For my first project, I am currently training with RMS Refugee Resettlement and will be volunteering with a new refugee family over the next 6 months to help them adjust to life in New Zealand. It’s a fairly big challenge since they come from Burma, have lived in non-western society their whole lives and don’t speak English. They will be living in state housing which will give me some more insight into the problems faced in these low-income areas.

I’m really passionate about addressing people’s basic needs. If people don’t have food, shelter and healthcare they’re not going to be interested in environmental, political or other issues, so that’s what I’m focusing my work on.

Now Micki has no charity status, I don’t know her address and I have absolutely no recourse if Micki takes the money and swans off on holiday. So given all of that – I’ve made a donation.

Why?

Think of it as a personal experiment in trust.

We have very finely honed mechanisms for establishing whether we can trust somebody when we meet them face to face. Sometimes we misjudge it – usually we don’t. The question in my mind is do these mechanisms have any hope of working in any online social network? I suspect I have a pretty good sense of how naieve I am in real social situations – so it’s time to start exploring my limits in online social situations.

My instinct is that Micki will make good use of the support. So I’m curious about how I will feel should I see her succeed (“hooray”), should she fail (“nice try”) or should she disappear (“I was mugged”).

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10 comments

  1. Jeremy Pollock says:

    She could always consider leaving her current job and applying for something in one of the agencies that exists to look after this sort of thing. If she’s looking for money to support her while she does it, it’s not really volunteering, is it? Volunteering is about giving up your own time to help others. What she’s doing is looking for subsidies to enable her to do something she finds more rewarding – which is fair enough, but it’s not voluntary work.

  2. Jeremy Pollock says:

    She could always consider leaving her current job and applying for something in one of the agencies that exists to look after this sort of thing. If she’s looking for money to support her while she does it, it’s not really volunteering, is it? Volunteering is about giving up your own time to help others. What she’s doing is looking for subsidies to enable her to do something she finds more rewarding – which is fair enough, but it’s not voluntary work.

  3. Jeremy, your point is valid, if you’re getting paid it’s not “volunteer”. If you check out my podcast you’ll hear that I did initially try to get a “meaningful” job but found most agencies underfunded as well as under-resourced. I’m trying to challenge the problem that people aren’t able to equate meaningful work with a living wage. My long-term goal is to find new ways of supporting willing workers who have to pay rent and feed their children while they provide much needed support to organisations trying to achieve social change. It’s more social entrepreneurship than volunteering and if you’d like to rename the project, send me your suggestions. Thanks for your comments.

  4. Jeremy, your point is valid, if you’re getting paid it’s not “volunteer”. If you check out my podcast you’ll hear that I did initially try to get a “meaningful” job but found most agencies underfunded as well as under-resourced. I’m trying to challenge the problem that people aren’t able to equate meaningful work with a living wage. My long-term goal is to find new ways of supporting willing workers who have to pay rent and feed their children while they provide much needed support to organisations trying to achieve social change. It’s more social entrepreneurship than volunteering and if you’d like to rename the project, send me your suggestions. Thanks for your comments.

  5. Jeremy Pollock says:

    Micki – what about changing the bigger picture by going into politics while volunteering at the weekend? Your idea, taken to its logical conclusion, would amount to a new tax on people who want better services, wouldn’t it?

  6. Jeremy Pollock says:

    Micki – what about changing the bigger picture by going into politics while volunteering at the weekend? Your idea, taken to its logical conclusion, would amount to a new tax on people who want better services, wouldn’t it?

  7. Jeremy, I’m not sure what you mean about a “new tax”. I’m working to develop a BUSINESS model where income generated can provide funds to pay wages to people who want to work for charitable organisations that cannot afford to hire more staff. I don’t like the idea of relying on donations any more than you seem to, and I think social entrepreneurship is the way to go for the future. As for just jumping into politics and using spare energy to volunteer on the weekends, try it and see how easy it is. If it works for you maybe I’ll take your advice. Meanwhile there are new ideas afoot at volunteerevolution so stay tuned.

  8. Jeremy, I’m not sure what you mean about a “new tax”. I’m working to develop a BUSINESS model where income generated can provide funds to pay wages to people who want to work for charitable organisations that cannot afford to hire more staff. I don’t like the idea of relying on donations any more than you seem to, and I think social entrepreneurship is the way to go for the future. As for just jumping into politics and using spare energy to volunteer on the weekends, try it and see how easy it is. If it works for you maybe I’ll take your advice. Meanwhile there are new ideas afoot at volunteerevolution so stay tuned.

  9. Florian says:

    Hi,
    I found your blog via google by accident and have to admit that youve a really interesting blog 🙂
    Just saved your feed in my reader, have a nice day 🙂

  10. Florian says:

    Hi,
    I found your blog via google by accident and have to admit that youve a really interesting blog 🙂
    Just saved your feed in my reader, have a nice day 🙂

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