ICT and Volunteering: a tool for development

08 September 2006

Djibril Fall, a sociologist and researcher, qualified in development studies at the IUED in Geneva, joined the project co-ordination team at ICV in Geneva and is currently studying ICT and volunteering. Particularly interested in issues related to young people and citizenship, he made these the subjects of his dissertation.

Addressing the relationship between Volunteering and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) may initially seem like another academic fad, given the interest aroused by these two subjects over the last decade. But if Volunteering and ICT have become de facto reference points, this is mainly due to the fact that both of them offer new ways to understand human interaction. If Volunteering, (which we can define as 'a willing commitment to help one's neighbor, with the aim of creating well-being within the community without financial remuneration') is not a new concept in itself, then ICT appears as the essential element for building a 'new society' characterized by the spread and the exchange of information: Information Society.

Information Society is creating radical upheavals in all sectors

According to the supporters of the advent of Information Society, the latter is the natural successor to agrarian and industrial society. Starting from the premise of a dynamic process which characterizes all human society, they predict, as highlighted by the International Union of Telecommunications (ITU), "radical upheavals in all areas of our lives: the dissemination of knowledge, behavior within society, economic and commercial practices, political involvement, media, education, public health, leisure and entertainment."

Volunteering is also accessibility

That is to say, therefore, that Information Society as I have described it constitutes on the one hand a dynamic continuity in the progress of human societies, but it also wants to break with the diagnosis that predicts a greater commercialization of human interaction. However, for such a break to take place, Information Society must escape from the dominant, mercantilist vision and build sustainable, solid elements of liberation and equality. These are factors in well-being and social cohesion.

The liberating dimension of information society is in sharp contrast to the economic grip displayed in the industrial world, and its egalitarian element helps to reduce the glaring differences in the social well-being of different groups of people. These two basic dimensions have the main goal of bringing information to the largest number of people. That is the biggest challenge facing this 'new society'. In other words, how can we make information more democratic and accessible? This is also the main question which allows us to link Volunteering and ICT. Because, it is important to remember, the principle of Volunteering is also accessibility: making services available to those who need them. Accessibility therefore appears as a federative notion within this debate.

In a world context in which economic solvency is the only guarantee of access to resources, how can Volunteering provide the least well-off populations with access to ICT, perpetuating in this way an Information Society?

A written or even verbal undertaking by a legal entity can take the place of a contract

That is an issue which could guide our thinking or deeper research on the real potential of ICT and volunteering within the perspective of sustainable human development. Such an issue could require a clear and practical redefinition of the central concept of Volunteering as an act of solidarity, exchange and fair division of resources, thus a driving force for a 'new human society'. It would be necessary then to question the very principles of Volunteering as we accept them today, and especially the idea of individual commitment.

It is well known that in certain societies, especially in Africa, the written or even verbal undertaking by a legal entity can take the place of a contract for an entire community. From this starting point, it would be interesting to conduct some serious empirical research into the perception of volunteering in these societies where an unspoken social, moral or symbolic contract can push people to delegate their 'free will' to a third party such as social elders, religious leaders, tribal chiefs, village chiefs, district chiefs or any person invested with some power. That is the essential condition for being able to evaluate the human potential available for a sustainable social development in these societies.

Djibril Fall

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