Volunteering for Social Change

By Benetech, posted on

Did you know that April is National Volunteer Month? We’d like to take this opportunity to recognize and thank Benetech’s fantastic community of dedicated volunteers who amplify the positive impact we make in the lives of our beneficiaries by contributing their time and skills to support our initiatives.

Volunteers have been crucial to Benetech’s success since the launch of our first venture—Bookshare, the accessible online library of copyrighted materials for people with print disabilities—which depended on members and volunteers to scan books and add the converted digital files to the library’s database. Thanks to their joint efforts and the support of the broader Bookshare community, Bookshare has grown into the world’s largest library of its kind, currently serving more than 300,000 people with a collection of over 230,000 (and counting).

Bookshare today receives the majority of its titles in the form of digital files directly from the socially responsible publishers who partner with us, but each year our volunteers continue to help build the library by scanning and proofreading titles not made digitally available to us as well as books of personal interest. Additionally, as we’ve expanded the scope of our work, the ways in which Benetech’s community of volunteers engages with our multi-issue initiatives, too, have grown.

Still within the realm of our Global Literacy Program, volunteers now also help us advance the accessibility of the Bookshare collection by describing images in textbooks, using our open source Poet image description tool developed by our DIAGRAM Center. Since we launched Poet in 2012, our volunteers have contributed tens of thousands of image descriptions of Bookshare textbooks, thus significantly improving the learning experience for Bookshare members with visual disabilities.

Consider the wonderful contributions of our student volunteers from Brigham Young University (BYU), who regularly meet to describe Bookshare textbook images. It all started when Bookshare launched a partnership with BYU students through the University’s Peery Social Entrepreneurship program. The successful partnership—now in its third year—involves each semester a new team of interns who work to promote the creation of accessible images for textbooks. Each team builds upon the work accomplished by the prior semester’s team, making sure to document all of their efforts so that the work can be passed forward. BYU students have not only organized dozens of “image slam” volunteer events resulting in the creation of hundreds of image descriptions, but they have also streamlined processes, created training documents, evaluated software, and forged strategic relationships with campus groups to engage hundreds of students in volunteer service with Bookshare. Their entrepreneurial goal is to create a replicable model for establishing similar programs on other college campuses.

Moreover, Benetech now proudly operates at the hub of technology-for-good volunteer engagement, bridging the technology and social sectors. We do this through our newest initiative, SocialCoding4Good, which connects software development professionals with opportunities to volunteer their time and technical talent to organizations creating open source technology solutions for social good.

First launched as a Benetech Labs pilot project, SocialCoding4Good has become a vibrant community driving social impact through Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software (HFOSS). SocialCoding4Good’s HFOSS Project Partners work on some of the world’s toughest challenges in areas spanning disaster response, education, human rights, and poverty alleviation. They include Amara, Medic Mobile, Mifos, Mozilla Webmaker, and Wikimedia Foundation, among others.

By matching mission-driven organizations that create open source software for social change, on the one hand, with corporate social responsibility programs and pro bono teams as well as individual technical volunteers, on the other hand, SocialCoding4Good is igniting sustainable, cross-sector collaboration and long-term volunteer engagement that accelerate social progress through technology. We’ve observed how this model underscores the power of a single contributor to create transformative impact. You can learn more, for instance, about the impact that Medic Mobile has achieved with support from SocialCoding4Good.

We invite you to join our vibrant community of volunteers. If you’re a software development professional with web, mobile, or data expertise and passion for building technology to make a positive difference in the world, then head to SocialCoding4Good’s Volunteer signup form and tell us more about you. If you’d like to learn more about or get involved with other Benetech volunteer opportunities, please visit our Volunteer webpage and complete our signup form.

Finally, to all our amazing volunteers: thank you so much for your invaluable support, time, energy, and generosity. We’re blessed to have you as part of the Benetech family.

Happy National Volunteer Month, everyone!