Ask not what the community can do for you

If you offer your IT expertise to the IT4Communities initiative, everyone will benefit.

If you offer your IT expertise to the IT4Communities initiative, everyone will benefit.

Despite the current recession most of us, if we look back honestly, have done pretty well for ourselves out of IT.

The dizzy, double-figure growth rates in jobs, budgets and bonuses have given most of us material comforts which are the envy of many of our contemporaries who followed other careers.

But now it is time to give something of ourselves and our expertise back to our local communities or charities.

Whatever we do, though, it is important that we leverage our contribution to the utmost effect and maximise its benefit to the community. Too often voluntary activity ends up being fragmented, disjointed and amateurishly inefficient.

That is why it is exciting that several key IT professional organisations have recently banded together to launch a national initiative - IT4Communities - to provide a sustainable focus to encourage IT volunteering and to develop effective models of good practice.

These organisations are solid. They include the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists (the City livery company), Intellect, the British Computer Society, Business in the Community, and Citizens Online - all supported by Computer Weekly.

The initiative is not only aimed at us as individuals, but also as IT employers to encourage our employees to volunteer. It calls upon people in the voluntary sector to better define their needs.

So IT4Communities, with its Web site ( www.it4communities.org.uk/) acting as a portal, is a good start for all of us - would-be volunteers, companies, and charities - to help us to get better leverage from the huge pool of IT expertise in the UK today. The first phase is to create an online community of IT volunteers, with plenty of advice on what to do and how to start, legal advice, sharing best practice, and project templates.

A newsletter will further forge this community, as will regional meetings over the next 12 months.

There is more to corporate social responsibility than altruism - it makes good business sense too.

First, there is a hard-headed business case for companies to encourage employees to do voluntary work.

It is widely acknowledged that such employees are likely to be more content, and, through their commitment to their voluntary work, less likely to move on. The resulting positive effect on morale and staff retention helps to make staff more productive.

It is ironic that organisations are happy to pay large amounts of money to send their staff on courses to promote team-work, innovation and creativity, while with a bit of organisation, which IT4Communities aims to facilitate, all this is at the door step, and it is free.

Charities and local communities stand to benefit enormously from carefully constructed IT volunteering schemes. These organisations have become increasingly aware of the importance of IT both to help them become more efficient and to offer innovative new services. However, they have been held back by a real shortage of IT expertise and lack of organisation to spread good practice.

One of the best ways of creating leverage is to build a template of best-practice and then replicate that nationwide. An example of where this approach has worked brilliantly in the care arena is the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists lifelites scheme (www.lifelites.org), which was established to help terminally ill children to communicate with one another, their parents and families.

A well-thought-out system was introduced at one hospice in Kent and was then used as a template for all the other childrens' hospices in the UK.

The livery company is facilitating the development of IT-based templates to help other groups of disadvantaged communities, including carers, elderly and disabled people.

I am particularly encouraged that the people behind those initiatives are at the heart of the IT4Communities initiative.

Finally, the benefit to us as individuals is inner fulfillment - and fun. This initiative, unique in my experience of 20 years in the IT industry, depends on each of us for its success.

So now is the time to step forward and do something - however small. The first step is to just do it.
This was last published in November 2002

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