Being a volunteer everywhere and every time due to digitalization. This is the way digital volunteering defines itself and thus offers a variety of opportunities to become an active volunteer. In order to introduce the residents of Saxony-Anhalt to this new form of volunteering, the organization Freiwilligenagentur Halle-Saalkreis e.V., has developed the platform “gutes-geht.digital – Engagiert in Sachsen-Anhalt”.
Clara Savinsky says that she became increasingly interested in the Jewish religion through a year abroad in Israel. Since this experience she has been fighting anti-Semitism in Germany, amongst other things. As she moved to Halle for her studies, she began to search for traces of Judaism in Halle. On the internet she came across the website gutes-geht.digital – Engagiert in Sachsen-Anhalt. There, the initiative Jüdisches Halle called for the development of a digital guided tour focusing on Jewish life in the Händelstadt. At this time, Clara had never heard of digital volunteering before but she was in the thick of it faster than she thought.
What is digital volunteering about?
Sulamith Fenkl-Ebert, long-time employee of the Freiwilligenagentur Halle and head of the project Digital engagiert in Sachsen-Anhalt – Gemeinsam Gutes tun explains what digital volunteering actually is. She notes that it “often seems as if digital volunteering only relates to social media activities.” With the platform which launched in the summer of 2021, she and her team want to show what diverse forms digital engagement can take on.
The volunteer agencies of Halle and Magdeburg have created this platform together to initiate a contemporary form of volunteering in Sachsen-Anhalt. Both associations daily observe social trends moving towards digitalization: The corporately design of this website is their response to the increasing demand for opportunities to perform digital volunteering.
By taking a look at the website, it quickly becomes clear that Sulamith is right: There are very diverse forms of digital volunteering that work with various tools such as ZOOM, Trello, Slack or the Actionbound-App. In order to create a wide range of offers, the team of Digital engagiert in Sachsen-Anhalt addressed organizations specifically and offered them to present themselves on the website. Meanwhile, there are already over 40 offers and more are to come because many organizations are starting to discover the benefits of digital volunteering and use the website to arouse interest in their projects. To get in touch with an initiative, volunteers can simply use the contact form on the website. In most cases, the organizations offer additional contact options for example by telephone, e‑mail or social media, so that there is an option for everyone.
“I simply contacted the initiative Jüdisches Halle via the contact field,” recalls Clara. That was totally uncomplicated and after a first conversation she quickly became a member of the team.
Who can get involved?
Sulamith explains that this form of engagement is ideal for people who are restricted in their mobility because they can carry out their digital engagement from home and thus avoid routes. “One objective of the website is to enable as many people as possible to access digital volunteering. Regardless of age, origin and language skills, gender and competencies. “We often jokingly refer to the engagement platform as a playground,” says Sulamith smilingly. It should be a place where you can jump around and try out your qualities. On the main page, interested individuals will find six current offers. In the case that someone does not find what he or she is looking for, they can keep browsing.
Under the heading Für Freiwillige, the interested person can find more offers in the areas of: activism on the internet & citizen participation, online advice, administration & fundraising, transfer of skills and also activities related to public relations. Helene, a dual IT student, often commutes between the two cities Gera and Halle. She uses her knowledge in image editing to maintain the Instagram presence of a Halle-based association. Then digital volunteering follows the motto: “When you want, where you want.” And thus, also offers the opportunity to combine volunteering and mobility.
Where does the volunteering take place?
Clara’s volunteering mainly took place at home in front of her computer. Due to the lockdown-events, lectures and seminars were online. As soon as she left her virtual lecture hall, she met up with other young volunteers from Jüdisches Halle in an online workshop. Max Privorozki, chairman of the Jewish community of Halle, answered their questions about Jewish places and current Jewish life in Halle via e‑mail contact. They spoke with rapper Ben Salomo via ZOOM about Jewish and German identity and anti-Semitism in Germany. Through the digital archive database of the city, they were able to research the history of Judaism in Halle from their desks.
The volunteers then designed the various interactive stations of the city tour in digital group work using the Actionbound app. “Although I became tired of my computer due to the online university, the commitment to the group was totally important to me”, says Clara. We made very good progress, which was quite motivating.”
What’s in it for you?
When asked why digital volunteering is particularly suitable for students, the medical student Marten answers: “The biggest advantage is that students can directly apply the content learned during their studies.” Through the website, gutes-geht.digital he found the Initiative Was hab’ ich? where medical students from the 8th semester on help translating medical findings into easy-to-understand language.
“Currently I’m studying medicine at the university of Halle. It is important to me to make medical knowledge about our bodies accessible to the general public. Of course, this is particularly important for individual medical findings, which sometimes can’t be explained adequately by a doctor in the stressful workday in a clinic. That’s why I would like to help.”
In addition to the advantage mentioned above, digital volunteering can help students to find a balance to the everyday university life. Due to online studies, many students lack a direct response to their achievements. This is different with digital volunteering: Even a unique activity, such as a tiny marker on the wheelmap — a map for wheelchair-accessible places in Halle — can help you feel your own impact because you bring about a small but important change. Volunteering also has a positive effect on the curriculum vitae, as many potential employers look not only at the academic achievements, but also at the nonacademic activities of their applicants. “Every form of volunteering can be certified” explains Sulamith “including digital volunteering.” Therefore, the organizations on the website provide proof to volunteers during or after their activities.
Sulamith emphasizes that digital volunteering cannot, obviously not replace the analog but can complement it well”. Digital contact can become personal contact at certain points. A tandem-project can, for example, start with a digital get-to-know meeting and then pass into personal meetings. This was also the case with the initiative Jüdisches Halle: after the lockdown, the group was finally able to meet outside. In the beginning, they came together at one of the three possible starting points of the Actionbound tour, at the synagogue in the Humboldtstraße. Afterwards they met with Max Privorozki at the end of the guided tour, the Jerusalem Square.
The city tour has been completed since November 2021 and is available to interested parties of all generations in the Actionbound app. The project has been completed but Clara is on the search again: this time not for traces of Jewish life in Halle but for another digital challenge during the next lockdown. Until she herself has found a new digital volunteering, she strongly recommends it.
Author (Translation): Lina Donath
Pictures: Brooke Cagle via Unsplash, William Fortunato via Pexels