International Options for Technology Volunteers

International Options for Technology Volunteers

What to do when wanderlust hits...

By: Joan Heberger

July 18, 2001

What are the options for technology volunteers who want to serve internationally?

Volunteer opportunities in the tech field vary as much as they do in any field. You can stay put and provide technology information via email or actually go overseas to provide long-term, in-country assistance. There is also a huge range of technology initiatives -- finding one that is appropriate for your skills and the community you'll serve is the key.

Challenges of International Volunteering

Even more so than in domestic situations, the appropriate use of technology becomes a huge issue when you think about applying your skills in an entirely different culture. According to Hans d’Orville, Director of the United Nations IT for Development programme, in the article "New Levers for Development and Prosperity", one of the biggest challenges facing the developing world is the lack of local language content and cultural diversity online and in digital media. Other needs include “creative solutions to connect the unconnected,” such as solar-powered hardware and iconic interfaces for people who cannot read.

For more information about IT initiatives and issues for the developing world, visit Observatory, theUN Development Programme's IT News/Discussion Site. Users of this site post articles that range from academic to amusing, covering everything from general discussions of the digital divide to more practical articles about specific solutions. Similarly, WorldVolunteerWeb provides stories from NGOs (non-governmental organizations) all over the world, including India, New Zealand, Uruguay, England and Japan. It's a great resource for learning about what volunteers do in other countries and researching possible NGOs you could work with.

Face-to-Face Volunteering Opportunities

If you're ready to hit the road and immerse yourself in another country and culture while volunteering, there are a number of sites that you can use to find opportunities that suit your skill set and interests.

The United Nations Information Technology Service, or UNITES, is a global volunteer initiative administered by the UN that allows IT volunteers from any country to assist developing countries. They accept volunteer specialists in computer hardware, database, Web development, and networking, provided that they meet other UN requirements as listed on the United Nations Volunteers Web site. UNITES recruits those who would be ready to start without additional training, and they provide travel expenses and a small living stipend.
GeekCorps pairs skilled volunteers from the high-tech world with small businesses in emerging nations, currently focusing on Ghana. They look for people with three or more years experience in software development, systems or network administration, Web-based graphic design, business development, sales, or marketing. Most projects last about three months, and scholarships are available.
Virtual Volunteering
If you’re not ready to pack your bags yet, you can still help through several “virtual volunteering” services that pair technology volunteers with nonprofits or NGOs in other countries, through the Internet. Volunteers build Web sites, moderate listservs, or simply answer questions for people trying to use a technology in that country.
NetAid and VITA
NetAid is a site listing over a thousand international virtual volunteering projects that serve organizations working to combat extreme poverty. NetAid volunteer requests vary from NGOs requesting 5 hours of Internet research to Web site design and more in-depth technical assistance about networking and telecom and satellite issues. VITA distributes requests for help through volunteer listservs. Volunteers then contact the local NGO to offer assistance.

You can also virtually volunteer internationally through VolunteerMatch, and CharityFocus.

To learn more about using your tech skills to help people in other parts of the world, you can visit the IVPA or Idealist. You can also check out theVolunteers for more articles and resource lists of volunteer opportunities.


About the Author:

Joan Heberger is a former project associate at CompuMentor.


Copyright © 2001 CompuMentor. This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

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