Corporate Social Responsibility Impact Volunteering Volunteering Volunteering in India

“I got lost in volunteering for 3 days!”

Volunteer Hero Selva Ganapathy is back!

Selva received an opportunity to participate in Points of Light’s conference on ‘Volunteering and Service’ at Atlanta USA, one of the world’s largest gatherings on volunteering when he won the Volunteer Hero Award earlier this year. This award was sponsored by Deutsche Bank.

Here he shares his experiences and highlights of the conference with us…

What does the title of  Volunteer Hero mean to you?

Selva G. receives Volunteer Hero Award at iVolunteer Awards Ceremony
Selva G. receives Volunteer Hero Award at the iVolunteer Awards Ceremony

“I need not mention that ‘it means a lot’ to me. That’s understood. I realized that the award has given a new meaning to how people see me. I am the same person that I was before winning the Volunteer Hero Award, but I think people see me differently after receiving the title of Volunteer Hero.

While it’s good to be introduced in a group of people as Volunteer Hero, it also adds tons of responsibility. In a way it’s a heavy title 😛 I hope to try to live up to its value and expectation.”

What was the highlight of your trip?

“I got lost in volunteering for 3 days!

The highlight of my trip was to meet so many people and get inspired by them. It was a trip packed with meetings and sessions so at times I forgot to have my breakfast and lunch…
Selva with delegates at the Points of Light Conference

I was completely immersed in the atmosphere and it was great to celebrate volunteerism on a global platform and that too as a Volunteer Hero from India.”

What were your expectations from this trip and conference? Were those fulfilled?

“After reading Kartheeban’s blog post and interacting with him, I was eagerly awaiting the conference.

I had thought of making several new contacts there, and I did.

I was able to talk to every single person that I wanted to. There was no hierarchy and that made it easy to just walk up to people, shake hands and get going!

Selva with Neil Bush
Selva with Neil Bush, Chairman Points of Light, an international Non Profit that promotes volunteering

I was able to meet many people who had contributed significantly as volunteers apart from having successful careers; interact with them, learn and share.

I was overwhelmed when they came up to me, to appreciate the award I received. I was delighted that by the second day many of them recognized me and called out to me by my name.
Selva with Maho

One such volunteer I’m glad I met was Maho Harada, a Hands-On network volunteer from Japan. She was taking a lot of photos and I was closely interacting with her learning about her work back in Japan. Listening to how she organizes events with the help of volunteers was very inspiring and I was also was amazed by her photography skills. It was also great to learn that she has also worked as production assistant on many TV documentaries.”

Describe any key instances from the trip that you will always remember?

Selva shares his journey at the Corportae Service Council Dinner
Selva shares his journey at the Corportae Service Council Dinner

“I received an opportunity to share my volunteering journey at the Corporate Service Council dinner, which was a networking event. In attendance were heads from many Fortune 100 companies.

After my talk a few of them from companies based across the world came up to me to congratulate and complement me. I think I’ll always cherish that…

Another such incident occurred at one of the sessions organized to introduce the international participants. We were requested to go up to a person we didn’t know, talk to them about ourselves and our work.
Selva with Caroline, Hands on Network

I interacted with Caroline, a Hands-On network volunteer from Hong Kong. Caroline was born in the UK but moved later to Hong Kong. She is a passionate volunteer mainly in the animal welfare sector. She complemented me saying that she was very inspired by my work and went on to share my routine with all the participants there!

What surprised a lot of the people I met and those who heard of my routine, was that I have been volunteering for over 10 years with an organization, apart from having a full time job and making time to practice archery, as a result of which I end up sleeping for barely 4 hours a day!

Being able to inspire others is something I find very valuable.”

How was it meeting other AID volunteers?

AID Buffalo volunteers taking me around Niagra
AID Buffalo volunteers take Selva to visit the Niagra Falls

“Well, I have been interacting with AID volunteers in the US over emails for more than 8 years now. I have hardly met any of them. This time when they invited me to visit chapters, I was thrilled to meet them all. I met volunteers of AID Atlanta, Austin, Washington DC, Baltimore, Chicago, Troy, Buffalo and Seattle chapters.

Meeting with the AID Chicago volunteers
Meeting with the AID Chicago volunteers

Everywhere I had so many volunteers with so much to discuss and it was complete fun. It was so amazing that I hardly got a chance for sightseeing.

Thankfully, Buffalo volunteers gave me free time and also took me to visit the Niagara Falls!

Meeting people who I’ve interacted with over several years without knowing what they look like was

Meeting with AID Atlanta volunteers
Meeting with AID Atlanta volunteers

amazing. I also had time to meet some of my old friends from AID Delhi who were now in the US and to share my work with them.

One volunteer I was really glad to meet was Dr. Raj Rajaram of Pratham Chicago, a fellow AID volunteer who greatly inspired and thrilled me!

Dr. Rajaram is a geo-technical and environmental engineer with 34 years of experience in sustainable environmental management.

Dinner with AID Austin Volunteers
Dinner with AID Austin Volunteers

He had learned from AID Chicago’s mailing list that I was visiting them and he wanted to meet me despite his busy schedule. I met him over a quick lunch. He was very enterprising, full of enthusiasm and ideas and quick to offer his help.”

After this trip has your understanding of being ‘Volunteer Hero’ changed? If yes, how.

“Oh yes, to me awards hardly mattered or made a difference. I always believed in do your duty and do more to your duty! I began to realize that the title Volunteer Hero made people look at me differently. At the conference, people introduced me saying ‘he won the Volunteer Hero Award in India’ and then others would treat me with much more respect and come up to me and share their appreciation. It also puts an image of volunteering in India on a global platform.

Since childhood, I have always been a film fanatic and have cherished every movie ‘Hero’ who made a difference on screen. I would be thrilled whenever a hero rose up to save people and do good; and today I have the title for myself which is something awesome!”

Is there something/s that you wanted to do but could not?

“Yes. I wanted to be there at the Service Unites trip organized to a local baseball match which could have been fun. Unfortunately, my talk at the Corporate Service Council dinner was at the same evening and I had to miss the baseball match because of that! The talk indeed went really well though.”

Key learning from the conference as:

  1. “A volunteer: There is no limit to what one can do as a volunteer and once you start volunteering you’ll always try to do more which keeps you going. Volunteering is endless! You can shape up so many things by volunteering.
  2. A volunteer leader/ manager: It’s important to learn from your volunteers, get inspired by them and time and manage them effectively. This is no lesser than a task that the Human Resource Manager performs in a company. Managing people with different skill sets is great work in itself and needs a very precise professional approach to it.”

What were the similarities and differences between volunteering in India and abroad?

Selva with participants from various countries
Selva with participants from various countries

“There are a large number of volunteers who want to volunteer both here in India and in the USA.
There are huge differences in the way volunteering is perceived though.

Volunteering is treated much more professionally in USA. There is ample scope for networking, working together and there are many more avenues to encourage volunteers who want to contribute their time.

These are some things I find lacking in India. Here a volunteer has to overcome and sacrifice so many other things including resistance from his/ her own family to come and volunteer whereas in USA it’s very easy and simple.

The way schemes are built to engage volunteers are also professional. Here I find that a volunteer spends a lot of time trying to identify the right organization for him/ her to volunteer with.

However, I found a lot of similarities are shaping up in terms of companies in India planning to engage their employees as skill based volunteers with non-profits.”

A message/ advice for volunteers:

“A very simple one –

“Everyone wants to do something for society. Many fail to start. If you are a volunteer, then it means that you have started. Now that you have started you’ll go out and explore yourself more when you volunteer and at stages you’ll unveil yourselves to the world and to yourself as well!

Keep doing what you think would make a better world. Be kind and be the change”.


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