U.N. volunteer day gets technical in Ontario

Flanked by officials from government, high-tech companies and charities, the head of Ontario’s largest IT industry group challenged technology professionals to get more involved with volunteering.

Bob Harwood, president of the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) for Ontario, which represents 300 of the province’s technology firms, made the comments at Queen’s Park in Toronto Wednesday – a day also designated by the United Nations as the International Day of Volunteers.

Harwood was on hand to help launch the Making IT Work for Volunteers initiative, a partnership between ITAC Ontario and Ontario’s Ministry of Citizenship designed to help organizations that rely on volunteers help find the people they need in the high-tech community.

“Being in IT we saw that we could make even more of a difference,” he said. And he called on his peers to “pick up the challenge and assist in making IT work for volunteers.”

The ITAC Ontario chief is confident they’ll answer the call. “Amongst IT people there’s a bit of evangelism … we are most anxious to see our technology employed.”

As part of the project, Ontario invested $600,000 to help create a network of volunteers and firms that need them at VolunteersOnline.ca. In time, the site will also include a resource library, free software and open source downloads, IT project advice and monthly awards and citations.

“The very dull and dreary issue of technology becomes very vibrant and alive as it becomes an active tool to connect people,” said Minister of Citizenship Cam Jackson. “As our need continues to grow for volunteers, Making IT Work for Volunteers is a platform to (help us) do a much better job.”

The initiative will also see the introduction of regional community IT/volunteer networks, a volunteer-technology summit scheduled for 2002 and an awards program. The goal is to help charitable and non-profit organizations use technology to help better serve their clients and, at the same time, ensure their business infrastructure is able to take advantage of the latest software and hardware, according to ITAC Ontario.

There are an estimated 75,000 registered charities and 2.3 million active volunteers in Ontario, said Jackson.

Andria Spindel, CEO of the Ontario March of Dimes, an organization dedicated to helping people with physical disabilities, said her organization is in grave need of IT resources. “When our MIS (manager of information systems) has a plan, we say: ‘that’s good, call us in 2003’,” she said. “We don’t have the resources.”

Currently, Spindel said volunteers are most needed to help the March of Dimes revamp its Web site, assist in its variety of computer training programs and to help its staff design “one-off” products or applications to help people with very specific disabilities.

For those in search of a bigger challenge, the March of Dimes also needs work done in its back office, said Steve Driz, manager of information systems. “It starts with simple software implementations to more complex … client/server applications and business applications.”

Driz said he’s also looking for help with PC and LAN support as well as people experienced in Citrix products.