“Making volunteering meaningful for NGOs.” This is the thought that led Chennai Volunteers to host a unique programme for NGOs across Chennai as well as potential volunteers to connect and engage with each other.

It was a day that celebrated NGOs and the causes they represented through volunteers from all walks of life, which included individuals, corporates, active seniors, social clubs and professionals. It was a marketplace that gave NGOs the opportunity to present their cause, exchange expertise, network, raise awareness and engage volunteers.

This NGO Fair, hosted as part of the sixth anniversary of Chennai Volunteers, saw active participation of over 60 NGOs and 15 schools for underprivileged students. Most of the NGOs were partners of Chennai Volunteers and had experienced volunteer engagement for the last few years. The event kick-started with walk-throughs of all the NGO stalls, where NGOs explained how volunteers could help and commit their time towards supporting worthy causes.

The causes represented at the event were education and literacy, women, differently-abled, visually-challenged, environment, community service and development, children and youth, senior citizens, art and culture, health and medicine and animal welfare. Positivity, camaraderie and compassion reigned supreme as NGOs told volunteers how they could help and commit their time for worthy causes.

Mr. Rajeev Mecheri, trustee- Mecheri Foundation, and Mentor – Chennai Volunteers, emphasised the need to integrate volunteering into one’s busy life and how India needed volunteers for various missions at all levels.

Mrs. Shyamala Ashok, Executive Director of United Way Chennai and a friend of most of the NGOs present spoke on how the NGOs needed volunteers more than sponsorship these days. She reiterated the importance of nurturing and sustaining volunteers as an NGO and said “CV is one platform where structured volunteering can take place. This fair showed the valued acceptance of CV as a volunteer base for Chennai.”

The event also had an interactive and informative panel discussion on “How volunteering can be made more meaningful for NGOs”, which was moderated by Harish Vittal, a corporate volunteer. The panelists included Arun Krishnamurthy of Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI), Aruna Subramanium, trustee of Bhoomika Trust and Mahesh Memorial Trust; and Sankara Mahalingam, founder of Dreams Alive and a corporate volunteer himself.

The panelists reiterated that NGOs had to identify volunteering opportunities and work on how volunteers should be developed over time. It was a lively conversation that threw up many ideas and points of view that will determine the way forward for such events. It is also mitigated the myth about volunteering being just recreational and fluff!

In the words of Ms. Aruna Subramanium, “The NGO fair laid a solid and firm foundation for structured interaction between the volunteers and NGO’s and this is going to be mutually beneficial and productive.”

According to Mr. Iyyappan Subramanium, founder Sri Arunodayam Trust, “ This is the first of its kind event to have direct interaction with so many like-minded individuals on a single platform. We had worthy dialogue with the volunteers and are stunned to see how people from all walks of life want to give back to society.”

As Mr. Harish Vittal was on target when he said, ” Know the do’s and don’ts – Volunteering is not a favour but a duty. A person who is volunteering for the first time should be clear about the impact he or she wants to make. He/ she has to understand and prepare adequately for the volunteering that he/she is taking up. Also, there are certain dos and don’ts they have to be aware of. As a volunteer you have to know what is inappropriate. If you are brash in your attitude, it is sure to irritate many people. In such a case, the person is not helping the cause but working against it”

Ms. Jayasree, Director, Spastics Society of Tamil Nadu added, “ CV through this NGO fair has managed to hit the “sweet spot” both for the people who give and for the people who need the support. The NGO fair curated and gathered individuals, corporates and NGO’s to give appropriately to those NGO’s who need the support. This was a step in the right direction and events such as this needs to be regularised. It was a melting pot of inspiring people, genuine causes and committed volunteers with various skill sets.”

And Mr. Arun Krishnamurthy summed it up very well when he said,“social groups need to streamline their efforts and a collaborative approach will serve the common cause better. The NGO fair was the much needed catalyst in bringing all of us together.”

(Chennai Volunteers is a social initiative that fosters volunteerism in our city. For more details, log onto http://www.chennaivolunteers.org or message CV at 9840182299)

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