Ever since I first started learning about the role of the Internet in international volunteer culture, I’ve been waiting to find an organization that makes the most of online communities. The potential of the Internet for bringing people together is boundless, and yet, many organizations use it simplistically—to advertise their service and nothing else. There is nothing wrong with this—many organizations focus their energies elsewhere, on projects in-country—but I’ve been surprised by the lack of a full embrace. I guess what I’ve been looking for is focus: focus on Internet communications to bridge the gaps between people, to unite us all on a neutral playing field. Of course, the Internet isn’t neutral—it’s only accessible to people with a baseline of privilege—but it’s a start.
United Planet is an organization focused on creating robust networks between volunteers, leaders, and local communities in need of support. It’s an international non-profit that integrates “international, local, and online initiatives to facilitate ongoing engagement.” In addition to their strong presence on the social networks, they have a great website full of volunteer-generated content. Their volunteer stories are deeply inspiring. They also have a vibrant online community where volunteers can share photos, chat with peers, and even create their own blogs to discuss their experiences in depth. This is the kind of online community I’ve been searching for—one that combines social interaction with education. From the website you can plan your trip, read about past expeditions, share your thoughts, learn about a community in need, and find information on upcoming online and in-person service-related events.
I also love United Planet’s holistic approach to community building. Their Cultural Awareness Project (CAP) is focused on person-to-person interaction, promoting “global understanding on a local level.” Their Ambassador Programs teach civic engagement to inspire leadership, international cooperation, and empowerment. The goal is to create catalysts for change. Both individuals and clubs can join the programs. Last, their Community Development Projects focus on grassroots activism. In partnership with local NGOs UP “undertakes sustainable projects that provide support for communities in need.” These projects are similar to the other social volunteer opportunities I’ve written about. They are local, hands-on, physical projects designed to improve people’s lives directly.
I think all of United Planet’s projects are embodied in their United Planet Day. It is “an annual event held around the world that brings together local communities to celebrate and share their cultures and interconnectedness with the world.” I don’t know if they’re doing marketing research to improve their online mojo or if they’re just driven purely by their mission. Either way, this is what I call “the Internet in action!”
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