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Designing for Volunteer Wellbeing Within the Aid Sector

Helping organisations better support their volunteers by ensuring and protecting their mental health and wellbeing.

MA 2020/2022
Keywords
Volunteering, Wellbeing, Humanitarian Aid Sector, Social Impact
Overview

Designing for Volunteer Wellbeing within the Aid Sector is a framework which helps organisations better support their volunteers by ensuring and protecting their mental health and wellbeing while acknowledging systemic barriers within the aid sector. This case study is based upon our close work with a non-profit organisation called Techfugees, who we collaborated with in designing a series of interventions aimed at helping to create a more positive experience for their volunteers throughout their journey. Furthermore, based upon our research, we also created a tool that helps volunteers beyond just Techfugees ensure that their expectations and motivations for volunteering align with the activities and mission of an organisation they want to work with.

Collaboration

Designing for Volunteer Wellbeing was created in partnership with Techfugees, a non-profit organisation that focuses on empowering displaced people through tech solutions. The organisation has a central core team that supports the activities run by a network of volunteers operating out of 8 different chapters globally. Over a 5 month period, we worked closely with their volunteers and the core team to uncover insights that ultimately helped the organisation support the wellbeing of their volunteers and implement these interventions within the organisation.

Context


Volunteering Within the Aid Sector

There is a strong component to human nature that compels us to help others, and with growing displacement around the world, people are increasingly turning to the aid sector to volunteer their time. Non-profit organisations rely heavily on funding and volunteers to operate, but while there isn’t a shortage of people wanting to volunteer, funding is a major problem across the sector. In order to bring in both funding and volunteers, organisations often rely on positive messaging around their impact. However, a lot of the time this messaging does not match reality, and while most organisations have good intentions, organisations often find themselves having to prioritise securing partners and investors to receive funding, which can results in them having to deprioritise the needs of their volunteers.


Techfugees first came to us with a brief around understanding ways to better address, ensure and protect the mental health and wellbeing of their volunteers, as well as how to alleviate some of the pressures felt from working within a decentralised organisation.


Personal Considerations and Objectives

As a team we approached the brief by first acknowledging our role as designers working within the humanitarian aid sector, reflecting upon the scope that a project around the refugee crisis could have. We wished to position ourselves as facilitators to drive change, rather than just creating another solution which would add to the already busy space of the aid sector. With that in mind, our primary objective was to ensure that we could create tangible interventions within Techfugees in order to help them address and improve the wellbeing of their volunteers.

Research and Learnings


Research Process

We began our desk research by unpacking the experience of volunteering. We mapped out the factors before, during, and after the experience that can influence wellbeing among volunteers.

We then carried out interviews and workshops with members of the Core Team and volunteers within Techfugees.

The aim of our interviews was to understand to what extent the processes mapped out in our desk research apply to people within the organisation, to map out the different stages of our participants’ journeys as volunteers, and to understand how Techfugees’ volunteers define ‘volunteer wellbeing’ from their own experience. We also spoke to volunteers and volunteer coordinators from other NGOs in order to understand what others are doing to support wellbeing across the sector.

We conducted two sets of workshops with members of Techfugees:

  • Validation Workshops with volunteers aimed at validating and prioritising findings from our interviews.
  • Prototyping Workshops with volunteers and members of the core team aimed at testing our ideas and developing a strategy for implementation as we were moving into our development stage.


Key Learnings

Following our research and analysis we uncovered the following key learnings which shaped our design:

  1. For volunteers within Techfugees ‘feeling as though you’re doing meaningful work’ was most important in influencing wellbeing.
  2. Reflecting back on our research process, we realised that a lot of what participants from within Techfugees shared with us was contradictory to how the organisation represented themselves online: the organisation was not doing everything they say they were doing, but more importantly, they were not saying everything that they were actually doing.
  3. To overcome barriers to implementation linked to Techfugees’ limited resources as a small charity, our design interventions should sit within the existing systems of the organisation.

Problem & Opportunity


The Problem

We identified the underlying problem is that the core team of Techfugees is having to balance commitments to their various stakeholders with the barrier of a constant need for funding. Because the need for funding is constant, they often feel pressured to leverage positive messaging to gain partners and investors, which is harder being a smaller charity. This causes the organisation's work and impacts to at times be misrepresented and makes the purpose of their volunteers’ work unclear, which ultimately negatively affects their wellbeing. Further, this makes the overall impact of the organisation unclear not only to volunteers but also to the general public, which risks limiting the organisation’s potential for real impact.


Strategy

With the different layers of the problem in mind, we wanted to make sure to intervene at the most effective points in order to help Techfugees improve both the wellbeing of their volunteers and their potential for impact.

  • We acknowledged that it was beyond our scope as designers to create solutions to change the systemic barriers that we had identified around funding, and that the most important step in improving how the organisation represents itself was helping them understand how this was affecting their volunteers’ wellbeing. We made sure this happened early on in our design process.
  • Our opportunity was then to determine how we might help Techfugees improve this messaging and better support the wellbeing of their volunteers in order to create a better volunteer experience and ultimately help them achieve their full potential for impact.

Solution

We have designed three interventions that will help Techfugees support the wellbeing of their volunteers and create a more positive volunteer experience throughout their journey. We see all three interventions working together and to ensure that the organisation can implement them. They function not solely as tools but also as drivers for change.


The Wellbeing Hub

The Wellbeing Hub is a collaborative space on Techfugees’ internal resource database where all resources related to wellbeing live for volunteers and staff to access and contribute to. The hub consists of 2 key parts: a wellbeing policy document and a collection of mental health resources.

  • The Wellbeing Policy Document outlines the goals and commitments of Techfugees in ensuring wellbeing within the organisation.
  • The collection of Mental Health Resources is where volunteers or staff members can add existing resources they have come across and that have helped them personally. These resources are for anyone that may be looking for support with regard to any difficult or traumatic experiences they encounter.


The Wellbeing Buddy

The Wellbeing Buddy is a role that is responsible for connecting, supporting, and following up with volunteers within each chapter during their work with Techfugees. It is a role to be incorporated into the existing responsibilities of a chapter lead. The wellbeing buddy is responsible for having regular check-ins with the volunteers, monitoring and updating the wellbeing hub, and for directing volunteers to resources that might further help them throughout their journey.


Sharing of Stories

Sharing of Stories helps amplify the voices of volunteers in order to make the impact of their work more visible. It is for volunteers to share stories of their own experiences working for Techfugees, and of the people that their work has impacted within their local communities. The stories will be added to an existing page on Techfugees’ website and shared through a social media page across all of their existing channels.

Conclusion


Scaling

Having worked closely with Techfugees on this project, we were able to understand how systemic issues within the aid sector can affect volunteers working with non-profits. Having acknowledged that these issues are always going to be present, we wanted to also think about how some of our ideas could be applied beyond this organisation.

While our interventions can be replicated elsewhere and would be quite effective in helping other non-profits, we felt that it was important to engage with this problem space from the perspective of volunteers. Looking back to our research, we recognised that in order to ensure positive volunteer wellbeing, it is important that personal motivations and expectations align with an organisation’s activity, mission & impact. Therefore, we wanted to create a tool to help aspiring volunteers better understand this.


Informed Volunteering: A Tool for Asking the Right Questions

Informed Volunteering is a tool that helps volunteers that are considering working for an organisation within the aid sector, determine how clearly the organisation is communicating their mission, impact, and activities and to what extent these align with their own personal motivations and expectations for volunteering. The tool takes the form of an online survey consisting of a series of questions that…

  • Reflect on what is important to them
  • Determine if this information is clear on the organisations' websites
  • Tells them what they need clarity on

To help us test our prototype for the tool please visit: Informed Volunteering: A Tool for Asking the Right Questions.



Theory of Change

We believe that the interventions we have created for Techfugees and for volunteers generally lead to better volunteer wellbeing at both the micro and the macro level.

  • At the micro level, through the interventions, Techfugees are able to support their volunteers’ wellbeing and improve their messaging, which creates a better overall experience for Techfugees’ volunteers and will ultimately lead to a better chance of the organisation achieving its full potential for impact.
  • At the macro level, the tool we have created helps volunteers recognise how important it is that their expectations and motivations for volunteering align with the activities, mission & impact of an organisation they volunteer with. We believe that for a volunteer to be able to confirm whether these align is necessary to ensure their wellbeing throughout the volunteer experience with any organisation within the aid sector, and that this can help volunteers negotiate the systemic barriers that are present within this context.
SPECIAL
THANKS

We would like to thank all of the volunteers we worked with, both within and outside of Techfugees, for sharing their stories with us, as well as the Core Team for welcoming us into the Techfugees community, and helping us to better understand the complex space that is the aid sector. We would also like to thank our tutor John Makepeace for all of his support and advice.

Team