The United Nations’ best kept secret

BY Olga Zubritskaya-Devyatkina | November 28, 2018|Comments 0

When the 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal on 25 April 2015, a group of 14 people responded to the crisis within a few hours. With the support of the United Nations, they started to collect tweets and images that described the immediate situation in Nepal. They diligently classified the tweets and geolocated images to assess the damages and needs in the affected regions. They gave the information to the organizations that were providing relief services depending on a geographic area.

You might wonder why these 14 people are so meaningful to our response work in Nepal. As it turns out, they are part of a network of over 17,000 individuals worldwide who dedicate their time and expertise through the Online Volunteering service of the United Nations Volunteers programme. A service you can also benefit from, as will be explained at the end of this article.

Take Nepali UN Online Volunteer Vibek Raj Maurya, for example. He works for ActionAid International in Somaliland. He is a passionate supporter of open source software and open knowledge and had volunteered for Wikipedia and OpenStreetMap. “After the devastating earthquake in Nepal, I ran across the call on the UNV website. Instantly, I signed up for the cause. I was not in the country but I wanted to be part of the humanitarian response in whatever way and capacity I could,” he says.

Vibek worked in the Urgent Needs and Geographic Information System Group. He guided new volunteers on gathering data from social media and news sites as well as other public data sources.He taught other volunteers how to enter the data into the database to produce a good information repository for responders on the ground, including OCHA, UNDP, ACAPS and WFP.

The hard work and impact of these online volunteers that stepped it up and contributed to the emergency response in Nepal is priceless.

Sending life-saving messages out

In September last year, three hurricanes struck the Caribbean, causing a wide number of casualties and devastation across the region. To provide up-to-date information to those affected, UNICEF launched the Disaster Risk Reduction campaign, its boldest social media exercise to date. UNICEF partnered with Facebook, Viber and teams of UN Online Volunteers to get life-saving messages out to the communities living in Hurricane Irma’s path.

UNICEF used U-Report, a global platform where people are able to speak out on issues that matter to them, to upload pre-approved emergency preparedness advice, offering important information on how to prepare for the hurricane.

With over 25,000 people accessing information via U-Report, it was difficult to address all the incoming questions quickly. This is when UNICEF partnered with UN Online Volunteers. Within 30 hours, the volunteers were responding to the multiple inquiries from those affected.

“The great thing about onlinevolunteering.org was the speed with which we could engage the volunteers and the high quality of their work,” says James Powell, Global U-Report Lead from the UNICEF Global Innovation Centre, who coordinated the online volunteer teams.

Over the course of 21 days, working in shifts to ensure 24-hour coverage, and frequently forced to juggle their own commitments, the online volunteers responded to over 8,000 messages, using up-to-minute information provided by UNICEF.

The online volunteering service platform recognized the team of 7 UN volunteers for their outstanding work. “It was gratifying to see that giving some hours of my time helped UNICEF to provide important, sometimes life saving information. We can all be agents of change, each and every one of us. Our decisions can put us either on the right side of change, or on the wrong side. Working on this assignment made me feel I was on the right side of change,” says Nouriatou Ntieche, one of the UN online volunteers involved with UNICEF during Hurricane Irma.

A new form of partnerships

Across the globe, volunteers are helping over 40 UN entities reach their programmatic goals and delivery worldwide, with a simple laptop and an internet connection. Many of these online volunteer opportunities are related to research, communications, translation and graphic design. The sky’s the limit when it comes to finding a talented pool of individuals, however, what makes these UN Online Volunteers different is their passion and commitment to give their talents to help make this world a more inclusive place for everyone.

So, how can you engage UN online volunteer?

It’s as easy as 1-2-3:

  1. Register your office or team at onlinevolunteering.org
  2. Receive expert advice on how to best involve UN Online Volunteers and draft your assignment
  3. Select the best-suited candidate(s) who have applied to get them onboard!

Authors


Olga Zubritskaya-Devyatkina Olga is Chief of Volunteer Solutions United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme. You can follow UNV on Twitter.

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