7 years, 4 months ago
#MakerMonday with VOLO
We spoke to Melissa Mitchell, founder of VOLO Group, about how technology is changing the way we volunteer.
Volunteering in the UK has remained stagnant for over twenty years despite a huge willingness, especially amongst millennials, to give back to the community. VOLO Group is working towards changing that with their digital platform designed to develop talent and demonstrate the impact volunteering has on all parties involved. We caught up with Melissa to find out about their platform and how technology is changing the way we think about giving.
Q: Tell us a bit about your background.
A: I’m a social entrepreneur passionate about changing the way we address social issues in our local communities.
I’m originally from San Diego, CA. I moved to London from NYC in 2011 with Bloomberg LP to manage the launch of a disruptive recruitment technology into higher education markets throughout Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). The aim of the product was to level the playing field in financial recruitment and give students from anywhere in the world access to the top roles in finance, regardless of which university they were attending or where they were located.
By the start of 2015, we offered the product at over 500 universities in more than 40 countries throughout EMEA. Through launching this product, I had the chance to interact with incredible students, professors and academic staff from around the world. The experience was also a fantastic introduction to understanding how technology can bridge gaps in well established markets and how social conventions can be challenged through creating and providing access to new data. And getting the chance to see the impact that our efforts had on the students we helped, cemented my dedication to social entrepreneurship.
Q: What exactly is VOLO?
A: VOLO is a digital platform that brings companies, charities and individuals together through volunteering in order to create local social change. We aim to encourage more participation in volunteering by using technology to make volunteering easier and more beneficial to everyone involved. There are a lot of valuable skills to be developed and shared through volunteering and with more participation in this space we can not only start to address important social issues, but we can also develop a stronger and more socially conscious work force.
When you volunteer with VOLO, you’re not just giving back, you’re also developing skills that are directly transferrable to the workplace. We help individuals locate skill-building volunteering opportunities, track their personal development and impact and connect with companies for employment opportunities.
Q: What inspired you to start VOLO?
A: I’ve been volunteering for as long as I can remember. As a manager at Bloomberg, I became aware of how valuable my volunteering experience was to making me an effective leader. It struck me that, despite the importance volunteering plays in soft skill development, due to the fact that there is no objective way to evaluate volunteering efforts, it is, in most cases, excluded from the recruitment process. I realised that though using technology, we could begin to create, capture and validate data around volunteering in order to make it easier for recruiters to integrate this information into the recruitment process.
Competition has served us well in pushing innovation and progress forward to this point, but it will take collaboration to solve many of the biggest global challenges that lay ahead of us. Volunteering provides a fantastic avenue to develop important soft-skills that make for more effective communicators, proactive collaborators and socially minded leaders. These are key attributes that are needed in the workforce of the future.
Q: Where does the name come from?
A: It’s actually a funny story. When we were looking for a name for the company, a friend of mine told me that “VOLO” meant “volunteering” in German and we loved it! We later realised that this wasn’t a direct translation, but we thought the name was cool, catchy and a great fit with our brand, so it stuck.
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
A: As with all startups, we are working on A LOT at the moment. Our focus is on building relationships with key strategic partners (companies, charities and universities) that believe in the value of VOLO and want to help make our vision a reality. Simultaneously, we’re running impact focused volunteering projects and events, to see how strategic skill-building volunteering can provide a sustainable solution to addressing local social issues.
We’re also pitching to take part in Virgin Media Business #VOOM 2016.
Q: What’s the dream for VOLO?
A: While the majority of our marketing over the next year will be aimed at volunteers in higher education, the “dream” is to have everyone benefit from using VOLO to volunteer. A long term goal of ours is to help those who are out of work and in between jobs develop new skills through VOLO in order to integrate back into the workforce. Ultimately, we believe that volunteering helps to inform the public of important social issues and encourages community-based learning and cohesion. More participation in volunteering will result in the development of stronger communities and a more socially conscious workforce.
Q: Why do you think it’s so important that individuals, companies and charities come together?
A: Improving our communities is everyone’s responsibility.
Through using technology to enhance collaboration between companies, charities and individuals we can leverage the necessary skills, resources and delivery channels to increase the impact of voluntary efforts.
Q: What’s your favourite story of how someone has benefited from VOLO?
A: We recently ran a volunteering event to help charities harness the power of smartphone filmmaking in order to highlight social needs. This was a fantastic event that transferred cost saving marketing skills to charities, while at the same time raised awareness of important social issues amongst new audiences. You can read more about the event on our blog.
Q: How do you think online technologies are changing the way we think about giving?
A: What I’ve discovered over the past year, is that very little technology addresses community development, there’s a huge opportunity to bring efficiency to the Third Sector by applying the cutting edge technology and streamlined business practices used in the corporate sector VOLO wants to help facilitate the necessary connections to make this sharing of information and skills possible.
Q: How are you funded?
A: We are currently self-funded, but are also working with strategic corporate partners to ensure a successful launch of VOLO.
Q: What are your plans for the rest of the year?
A: We’re looking forward to launching VOLO on university campuses throughout the UK this autumn. We will also continue to grow our charity and corporate partnerships.
The team are currently pitching to take part in Virgin Media Business #VOOM 2016 - see their pitch here and vote for them.