Malak Yacout – Executive Director and Co-Founder, The Volunteer Circle, Lebanon
The Volunteer Circle is a non-profit social enterprise. It provides an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered platform that matches the supply of volunteers’ time and skills with community needs on demand, and predicts effective matches between both parties.
The Volunteer Circle’s platform is designed to enable anybody who asks, “how can I use my time or skills to make an impact in my community?” or “who needs a person like me?” to find an immediate answer. Our smart skills-sharing platform connects users to volunteer opportunities that match their individual skills, interests, location, availability and the impact they wish to make in real time. By unlocking access to hands-on professional experience and skills development, The Volunteer Circle empowers youth and helps improve their chances at employability, employment and social inclusion, even in a struggling economy. In this way, it is helping to address Lebanon’s high youth unemployment rate.
Volunteering is the beginning of everything, no matter how old you are and what you do.
We position volunteering as the first touchpoint for employability, employment, social entrepreneurship and sustainable development. In doing this, the platform creates a marketplace for volunteering that turns talent and time into measurable impact on a social, environmental, cultural and economic level.
Volunteering during crises
Volunteers have contributed to relief efforts and have continuously proved to be an invaluable resource in Lebanon’s recovery from ongoing economic, security (stemming from the Port of Beirut explosion in August 2020) and health crises.
As part of COVID-19 relief efforts, The Volunteer Circle, in partnership with the Ministry of Public Health, mobilized health care workers to set up a Coronavirus Hotline. In parallel, the organization worked with volunteers to fill critical gaps that the local authorities were unable to fill, thus providing a vital social safety net for communities.
With the agility of a start-up and the responsiveness of a humanitarian organization, The Volunteer Circle provides relief support and mobilizes volunteers and organizations to help families in need.
During the August 2020 blast, The Volunteer Circle set up multi-skilled volunteer teams comprising social workers and engineers who visited each zone affected by the blast to ensure that no one was left behind. Data on the types of aid needed, from diapers and chronic medication to assistive devices and shelters, was collected and the funds raised were used to respond to these needs. In addition to social workers and engineers, other volunteers who used their time and talents during the relief effort, including quality assurance specialists, interior designers, architects and project managers, acquired professional experience and landed jobs that matched their professional background.
The collaboration between volunteers and organizations differs in a crisis setting. The sense of urgency—of “if we don’t act and volunteer now, things will only get harder, and the effects will become more difficult to reverse economically, socially, environmentally and culturally”—drives us forward. When crisis hits, the solidarity of the local community and volunteering efforts by all save lives.
When we launched The Volunteer Circle in April 2019, our vision was to create a readily available community to support Lebanon and respond to as many needs as possible in an already precarious context. We started with three volunteers and 27 organizations. Little did we know that in the following year we were going to face several crises. Despite the challenges, we emerged as role models of local development and solidarity. In less than two years, as a result of its innovative volunteering approach, The Volunteer Circle has had a significant impact on volunteering in Lebanon. In addition to contributing to the development of skills of more than 5,000 volunteers and partnering with more than 200 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), more than 500,000 people have benefited from our work. In November 2020, these efforts were recognized and The Volunteer Circle received the Young Innovation Award 2020.
The way forward
While traditionally people volunteered with one organization for an extended period, today’s volunteers—particularly those aged 15–40 years, who comprise more than 70 percent of the volunteer workforce—volunteer for several causes. They want to gain exposure to different causes, meet new people and experience different leadership styles.
At The Volunteer Circle, we believe that the process that links volunteers with opportunities should mirror their needs as they evolve personally and socially. Having a platform that functions in real time and offers the diversity and flexibility needed enables us to deploy volunteers, serving as a catalyst for sustainable development. Not only do we need more volunteers given the current state of the world, but we also need volunteerism for our own well-being.
Volunteers and social enterprises could collaborate better to develop innovative solutions to ongoing development challenges. Beyond matchmaking, The Volunteer Circle presents an innovative model with a focus on holistic skills management that maximizes the impact of volunteers’ output and helps organizations assemble high-performing volunteer teams.
We need volunteers to help navigate the needs of the new social contract. Besides equipping them with the skills needed, volunteering opens volunteers’ eyes to the challenges around them and the resilience needed to overcome these challenges. The world needs more volunteers and social entrepreneurs. If you can’t be one, help one.