As a neophyte in the world of social entrepreneurship, volunteerism, and in general, giving, I have been looking at ways in which donating time, money or resources affects those it is truly intended to serve and help. Just because you are giving, in whatever form it may be, does not mean the outcome will substantially elicit positive change. Often times, the responses from generous gifts may provide a superficial change. For example, travelers are frequently looking for ways to 'give back' while on the road. Commitments to orphanages for a short period of time, although provide a monumental experience for the volunteer, do not positively inspire the children that the program is designed to help. In the short term, those in institutional care may be happy to have company, but the commitment of a long term mentor is what will positively change their life. If you have always had the love and support of your parents, try to imagine what it would be like without them. Would strangers coming into your life for a short amount of time positively or negatively impact you?
How can you help? Ask yourself four question when considering volunteering or when developing a product aimed at addressing social problems: 1) Is it needed? 2) Does it work? 3) Will it get to those who need it? 4)Will they use it correctly when they get it?
The above video is a presentation by Kevin Starr, the director of Mulago Foundation, a small philanthropic organization that supports "the best solutions to the biggest problems in the poorest countries." Ostensibly, the best indicator for companies deciding to invest in you is whether your solution is sustainable and scalable. Apply these concepts when considering short term volunteering. If you are joining an organization be sure to ask the right questions. Be honest with yourself: as a short term volunteer do not expect to work hand in hand with children or those the program is designed to help.
A willingness to help is only the first step in the process of giving. Do your research, give wholeheartedly but not haphazardly.