Charity apps are supporting people and helping to find new volunteers

Like most 24-year-olds, Caitlin Hernandez leads a full and active life. The Californian postgraduate student sings in an eight-piece a cappella group, is a member of an acting troupe and loves rollerblading. But unlike her peers, she has been blind since birth. While the trainee teacher’s lack of sight hasn’t stopped her pursuing her dreams, sometimes – just sometimes – she needs a helping hand. Whether it’s reading an envelope or making sure an outfit doesn’t clash, assistance isn’t always nearby. Thankfully, there’s now an app for that.

The Be My Eyes app connects blind users with sighted volunteers who communicate via video link to provide the help needed. At the touch of a button, the app finds the first available volunteer who receives a push notification on their phone. The beauty of the app lies in its ease and simplicity, with volunteers giving up just minutes of their day without having to travel from their current location.

Hernandez explains that she was initially shocked that people would want to download the app and help someone they have never met. She says: “I love that spirit of sharing and giving back in little ways, because those little ways can pile up and make such a difference.”

Since its launch in January, the number of registered sighted users has swollen to more than 150,000, eclipsing the 15,000 blind people it currently serves. Hernandez believes there is a huge need for apps such as this within the blind community and the success of Be My Eyes suggests it is a model of attracting a fresh wave of time-poor, digitally savvy volunteers that other organisations can replicate.

Co-founder Thelle Kristensen believes people genuinely want to make a positive difference in the world, but the demands and pressures of modern life mean many simply don’t have time or resources to commit to volunteering on a regular basis. Everyone, however, has a few free moments here and there, in their daily lives. Using an app, he explains, means the volunteer can relax on the sofa and still make a big difference to another person.

Kristensen hopes to see more organisations using this technology to serve their communities and enable people from all walks of life to volunteer, no matter how little time they may have spare. To help facilitate that ambition, he has made the code for the app entirely open source, providing access to everyone who wishes to follow in their footsteps.

“Seeing technology being used for something that can make a direct impact on people’s lives means a lot to us,” he says. “It would be wonderful if we can extend this to other communities and let people work with our code. There is a lot of exciting potential for collaboration with other organisations and we are willing to do what we can to help.”

Innovation charity Nesta is supporting volunteer organisations to develop their digital offering through the UK government’s Centre for Social Action Innovation Fund. Mandeep Hothi, senior programme manager, believes that we have only just begun to “scratch the surface” of how apps and digital technology can be be utilised by the voluntary sector. With nearly 80% of the world’s population owning a smartphone, that potential is huge.

The future of digital technology, Hothi claims, lies in its greater integration with the local services that matter most to us. GoodSam, an app that enables people to directly alert trained volunteer first aiders to the scene of medical emergencies, is an example of how technology can be used to push innovation in vital services such as healthcare, saving lives as a direct result.

“The development of more apps like GoodSam will facilitate social action in a way that wouldn’t be possible without technology,” he adds. “We’re also likely to see more people taking part in traditional forms of social action that many people across the UK rely on, from volunteering in times of emergency to peer-to-peer support for carers and people with long-term conditions.”

Apps may make it more convenient for people to volunteer, but can digital technology make people more altruistic? The Ripil app was designed to do just that, enabling users to share their charitable deeds and encourage others to do the same. The app’s founder, Charley Johnson, believes using social networking to help people develop a kinder mindset is the next step for voluntary organisations.

He believes doing good for the sake of doing good isn’t enough to encourage more people to volunteer. Instead, organisations should utilise the potential of social networking to make kindness go viral.

“If we want people to volunteer more, to give more money, to do more kind acts and just be a better person in general, we need to take advantage of where their eyeballs are at,” Johnson says. “If we can create a network where people are addicted to kindness, can you imagine what that would do?”

Source:  Guardian News