International Volunteering – Online!

Did you know that you can volunteer internationally online?  You can.  Consequently, it is the perfect way to begin your international volunteering career.  Also,  when you are in a position where travel is out of the question it is also a great way to contribute internationally.

The United Nations Volunteer (UNV) programme has an Online Volunteering service. It connects volunteers with organizations working for sustainable human development.  UN Online Volunteers come from all over the world and all walks of life.  Among the volunteers are retirees, homemakers, professionals, people with disabilities and others who wish to contribute.


Rui de Oliveria, an IT expert from Portugal with forty years’ experience was retired and felt “completely useless and lost!”.  In a conversation a friend told him about the UNV.  Rui visited the Online Volunteering service website and found organizations that were seeking his expertise.  As Rui told an interviewer for the UNV newsletter, “All of a sudden my free time was filled and my life changed completely.  I felt useful just working on my computer via the internet, building websites, advising people, providing ICT training, etc.”  Last year Rui traveled to Ghana and worked for two months.


Anne-Marie Bekaert retired two years ago.  She had been working as Chief of Volunteer Recruitment for the United Nations Volunteer programme.  Born and raised in France, Anne-Marie emigrated to Canada after her university studies.  Her first assignment as an online volunteer was to translate an Online Volunteering service booklet into French.  She later became editor of the French newsletter.  Anne-Marie, when interviewed for the Online Volunteering service newsletter, said she is a strong proponent of the over 50 segment in international volunteering, “particularly in social and humanitarian work where the demand is unlimited and the resources are always too little.  Retirees have left behind their workplace but not their professional and human talents.”

Organizations that participate in the UNV Online Volunteering service must meet specific eligibility criteria.  They must prove that they are an officially registered non-profit active in the field of sustainable human development.  They must also have programs and/or projects that contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and have programs and projects that benefit developing countries.  In addition they must have a mission statement that reflects the principles of the target Charter of the United Nations.

Just as in on-the-ground international volunteering, the prospective volunteer needs to take preparatory steps before sending in their application.  As this volunteering is done on the internet you need to look at the information technology (IT) tools available to you.  Of course you need an email address to communicate.  A well-functioning computer is vital and availability of internet service is necessary.   As telephone and video conferences are used occasionally along with the internet it may be an asset to feel comfortable with these methods of communication.

A very important step is to take some time to reflect on why you want to do this. What type of skills or experience do you have that you would like to share?  Do you like to work independently and organize your own schedule?  Are you interested in learning about and working with different cultures than your own?  What do you expect to achieve by volunteering online?  These are some of the basic questions you should consider.  Once you have done some self-examination and determined what you would like to offer and what you expect, you can confidently begin to search for opportunities.

To find a volunteer opportunity visit the UNV Online Volunteering service website and conduct a search.   Look for available assignments that match your skills, abilities and interests.  An excellent place to visit is to find help on how to choose the right volunteer opportunity is on the dedicated website. When you have found something you like then submit your application to the subject organization.  If your application is successful you will be contacted and can then begin your task.  Also, the UNV has some guidelines to make the most of your online volunteer experience or to use the UNV term “online collaboration”.  The tips can be found here.


To be able to use one’s skills and interests to help fellow humans enhance their lives is, certainly,  to me, a great privilege.  I have been fortunate to have been an on-site United Nations Volunteer in post-conflict and developing countries.  I have seen the positive impact of the work on individual lives.    If you are interested in sustainable human development and have a desire to contribute, being a UN Online Volunteer is an excellent way to begin.  And you can do it from your own home or office!

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