Pandemic pivot may build high-impact volunteering

Special to Western News

Ivey Business School students Amanda Wu and Dawson Li are co-executive directors of Pledges for Change, a student-run organization developed to encourage youth to create impact within their communities through volunteering.

Amanda Wu and Dawson Li planned to spend their summers working with London non-profit organizations to create meaningful volunteer experiences for high school students.

The HBA students are co-executive directors of Pledges for Change, a student-run organization that encourages youth to create impact within their communities by volunteering. In the buildup, they met with school boards, community organizations and students. Momentum was growing.

Then came COVID-19 and a pause on their plans.

Wu and Li had to pivot. The team is now building a document of best practices for digital volunteer experiences that engage high school students and meet the needs of non-profit organizations.

They are enlisting the expertise of organizations to understand the challenges they encounter when developing a virtual volunteer program: How do organizations keep youth excited about volunteering? How do they communicate effectively with them?

Students are also providing input on causes they are most passionate about, what skills they can contribute to organizations (such as graphic design, social media, translation and interpretation) and their preferred method of staying involved.

Early findings are confirming the need for change. After researching virtual volunteering positions across four Ontario volunteering platforms, they found only 17 per cent were available to students age 17 and younger; most volunteer positions are geared to adults.

The report, planned for release later this summer on Pledge for Change Facebook, Twitter and Instagram platforms, will enable non-profit organizations to guide improved development of youth-oriented volunteering experiences.

“We hope the report serves as a starting point for organizations to include more young people in their volunteering opportunities and encourages more organizations to develop virtual volunteering positions for youth,” Wu explained.

It’s not the first shift Pledges for Change has made.

The organization was founded by Brennan Wong, HBA’19. In 2018, Wong and the Pledges for Change team, in collaboration with Deloitte, created a blueprint for a new pilot project exploring how novel forms of volunteer experiences might help strengthen youth volunteerism in Canada.

Now, Wu and Li are using their HBA skills to create this next iteration of Pledges for Change.

While the pandemic pre-empted his exchange trip to China, Li, who joins more than 300,000 Western alumni living around the world as a member of the Western Class of 2020, will begin his career as a consulting associate with MasterCard Advisors in August. He looks back on his Ivey years as an extraordinary experience.

“Going into consulting gives me an opportunity to learn about different companies and be able to solve problems for them,” Li said “This will give me a good introduction to a number of industries and companies and enable me to grow my expertise so that I’ll really be able to find what I’m interested in.”

As a combined HBA-Health Sciences student entering her final year in September, Wu is looking toward a career in health-care consulting after graduation.

Wu hopes society keeps some of the empathy it has learned during the pandemic and subsequent shutdown.

“We need to be able to build those small acts of kindness into our busy lives once we come back from COVID-19. They are important. They shouldn’t be bumped from our schedule because we have no time. You always have time to be nice.”