Dave Donaghy CITP examines the potential for skills-based volunteering to help address the digital divide, and looks at ways for organisations and individuals to get involved.
The idea behind skills-based volunteering is simple: we use our industrial skills and experience to help charities and other voluntary organisations.
There may be some areas — the digital divide being a natural one — where skills-based volunteering might directly address the front-line goal. For example, Age UK Bath and North East Somerset run several digital divide initiatives. These include device loan schemes and drop-in sessions, where professionals in our industries might naturally be able to help out directly and immediately. In these cases volunteering commitments can be as low as just two hours a month.
Additionally, rather than limiting our efforts to fulfilling the front-line goals of charities, we might consider supporting the charities themselves. This would mean they, and their volunteers, can be more effective in doing what they do. The goal is to make the whole operation more slick and productive.
In our day jobs, we would take it as read that practical IT function is absolutely critical to allowing everyone else in the organisation to do their jobs. In the voluntary sector, though, we may not be able to take this function for granted.
Why should employers encourage people to volunteer?
One additional — and not entirely altruistic — aspect of this kind of volunteering might be that we can tie it in with existing Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programmes, and against the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA). If we do this well, volunteering work can add genuine value to career development, make individuals more skilled, and increase their value to employers.
Personally, I prefer the idea of volunteering for its own sake, but I am aware that realistically speaking, we might need to sell this in a different way.
Be part of something bigger, join BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.
This is where BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT — and in fact any professional body — might be able to add considerable value to the picture: by framing the whole notion of skills-based volunteering effectively. Perhaps if we tie it in with CPD processes, we might get more volunteers and even redefine volunteering itself.
How can I get involved?
At the end of August 2023, Michael Warman and I gave a talk on this topic to the Bristol & Bath and South Wales branches of BCS. We talked about who the players are, focusing on Reach Volunteering, and on a role that BCS branches might play.
Reach Volunteering offers an immediate way to find opportunities that charities have already registered and need to be fulfilled. Alternatively, you may know of local charities or other voluntary bodies needing help.
Local BCS branches might already be set up, depending on where you live, to support this effort. BCS has ways of contacting your local branch if you’re not already in touch. If your local branch is not involved here, you might consider covering this area yourself.
Charities use volunteers to deliver their objectives, but they also need internal effort to support that delivery — IT skillsets might not help deliver the objectives, but they will unlock the right skills to provide necessary support.
As I wrote for the Digital Poverty Alliance, ‘…my own skills and experience don’t equip me to get so directly involved or act as effectively [in every area, so] this is my thing: in an area where I have the skills and experience to act to address an issue that affects people more vulnerable than me, I can do that.’
About the author
Dave Donaghy MBCS CEng CITP FRSA is Chair of the Bristol & Bath branch of BCS, Vice Chair of the Digital Divide Specialist Group, and Inclusion Officer of the Pride Specialist Group. He volunteers as a school governor in Bath, and has previously volunteered as a charity trustee in Bath.