FFE Magazine

Why are volunteers helping strangers online?

by FFE EU News staff


Photo source: PA.

A Mumbai-based doctor is regularly giving out guides to families in HIV/Aids stricken communities halfway across the world. Doctor Radha Taralekar has so far taught Imelda of the Kitega Community Centre in Uganda how to protect herself and her family from the deadly disease, all for free.

Of her contributions, Taralekar only said “I'm just not very money driven. I want to serve people, I want to come up with ideas.”

American Kate Anderson is meanwhile happy to file grant applications from her home in the US for a charity in Pakistan. She says this was a far better way for her to make use of her professional experience.

Both Taralekar and Anderson are part of a community that have used the internet as an opportunity to donate their time to others.  Writer and web theorist Clay Shirky said that this phenomenon provided people “a sense of membership or generosity [that gives] positive feedback of the sort that cannot [be had] from earning money.”

Shirky added that educated people all over the world have a trillion hours of free time that can be spent in collaborative projects, an activity he called “cognitive surplus.”

Today, more online volunteers are willing to take on projects on a scale that outweighs “micro-volunteering.”

Wikipedia, the world biggest online encyclopedia, is one such example. The site is written entirely by contributors and committed developers who work for nothing. Apache, a community-developed web server that underpins a great portion of the internet, was also started as a way to rebel against internet giants like Microsoft.

Author Steve Weber said that the success of Apache was in part due to “a meaningful set of people who just think ‘Hey, I'm going to do this and give it away because it's good for the world.’”

For volunteer co-ordinator David Clemy of the Kitega Community Centre in Uganda, the online volunteers are responsible for carrying out the project. He said that volunteers are motivated by a sense of idealism, and that their help was in no doubt valuable.

He added “They want to change the world.”              

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