Volunteers awarded for making IT work

Four volunteer organizations in Ontario that have successfully integrated IT into their programs received recognition for their hard work at the Showcase Ontario awards last month.

The Information Technology Association of Canada for Ontario (ITAC Ontario) and the Ministry of Citizenship of the Government of Ontario partnered to present the first ever Voluntary Sector IT Awards. The awards were sponsored by Microsoft Canada, and developed to recognize and acknowledge the excellent work many community-based organizations are doing with information technology (IT). The awards represent the first major initiative of the Making IT Work for Volunteers program, also a joint venture between ITAC Ontario, and the Government of Ontario.

CIOC, or the Community Information Online Consortium, won the Diamond Award and reBOOT Canada, St. Christopher House Bang the Drum Network, and In Kind Canada were honoured with Certificates of Merit.

Cam Jackson, Ontario’s Minister of Citizenship, said he was pleased that one of one of the certificate of merit winners In Kind Canada and the Diamond award winner CIOC, received funding through the Ministry of Citizenship’s Volunteer@ction.online program.

“We are proud to recognize volunteer projects that use technology to enhance the effectiveness and impact of volunteerism in their communities,” Jackson said.

CIOC is a consortium representing more than 40 community service organizations converged around a shared need to provide service to citizens. CIOC has developed an information architecture that allows member organizations to contribute information to a centralized database on community services, and volunteer matching opportunities.

Robert Horwood, president of ITAC Ontario, and a Showcase Ontario judge, said that CIOC represents a model example of IT’s ability to foster and promote inter-organizational communication and cooperation helping to improve access to community resources across the province.

Improved access to community resources across the province translates into 60 per cent of the province’s population having access to information on 40,000 programs offered by 15,000 organizations, Horwood pointed out. When the consortium started 15 years ago there were 55 community information centres maintaining independent, paper based databases of information. The introduction of computers, funded in part by the provincial government, allowed the centres to begin to provide this information electronically. However, it was not until the advent of the Internet that the true potential of inter-organizational collaboration could be achieved.

Walter Lewis of the Halton Hills library realized this potential, and established partnerships with local community organizations to share information online. This served to expand the reach and impact of the organizations involved, while avoiding costly and counter-productive duplication of services. Impressed by the Consortium’s success, neighbouring communities began to approach Lewis to see how they could become involved. Funding from the provincial government’s Volunteer@ction.online program served to further build CIOC members’ capacity, and the Consortium continues to expand its reach.

Lewis said the notion of membership is key to CIOC’s success.

“Organizations become members of CIOC, not just users,” he said. ” It states a requirement and commitment to contribute to the enhancement of the technology itself, the training of new members, and the promotion of the Consortium.”

CIOC organizations jointly decide which of them are responsible for gathering certain types of information, and all of the Consortium’s activities are carried out in accordance with their pre-established quality standards. This process has allowed organizations to overcome any competitive tendencies, and function in a truly collaborative manner. Each member is able to maintain its individual identity, and direct relationship with its clientele, while ensuring that everyone benefits from access to the highest possible quality and scope of information.

Of all the nominees, reBOOT Canada was the only organization exclusively addressing the hardware side of IT. reBOOT is a non-profit organization with 220 volunteers who refurbish and distribute used computer hardware to non-profit and charitable organizations across the country. Since 1996, reBOOT has handed out more than 30,000 pieces of equipment, and was recently recognized for those efforts as the Outstanding Non-profit Organization of 2000 by the Recycling Council of Ontario.

reBOOT not only distributes much needed computer equipment, but in doing so provides a valuable economic service to the private sector, enabling a cost-effective means of outsourcing old computer equipment. reBOOT also provides essential technical training to its volunteers, providing them with critical core competencies which increase their ability to find meaningful employment.

St. Christopher House’s Bang the Drum Network began as a Community Access Program providing free Internet access to clients from the lower income area of Dundas-Ossington in southwest Toronto. Driven by user demand, the program expanded to provide training programs in English, Portuguese, Chinese, and Vietnamese, on material as varied as Internet and computer basics, job searching on the Internet, e-mail, and more advanced topics such as C++ and JavaScript, with tutorials on Dreamweaver and Windows 2000 Server under development. The Bang the Drum Network also allows foreign-trained IT professionals to volunteer within the program as IT mentors in order to gain valuable Canadian experience.

The Bang the Drum Network is a good example of using IT to do more with less. St. Christopher House provides a tangible service to its community – addressing immediate training needs, benefiting the volunteer trainers, and the 75 trainees per week. The program promotes IT usage by giving access to computers and training at a fundamental level.

In-Kind Canada’s automated donation system is aimed at improving the capacity and operating efficiency of the voluntary sector. The online mechanism, funded in part through the Volunteer@ction.online program, has enhanced In-Kind Canada’s ability to fulfil its mandate. The system smoothes the way for corporate giving by allowing donors to direct material to programs of their choice. In turn, charities and those in remote communities get access to the resources of major urban and commercial centres.

The system allows members to place specific requests and browse through categories of available items. While there are a number of e-philanthropy portals in operation, In Kind Canada’s online donations system allows a single, large donation of in-kind material to be channelled to multiple organizations. In Kind Canada currently has a participation rate of over 85 per cent of its 1200 registered members.

Showcase Ontario can be reached at http://www.showcaseontario.com/. ITAC can be found at http://www.itac.ca/. Microsoft Canada, in Mississauga, Ont., can be contacted at http://www.microsoft.ca. CIOC is at http://www.fourinfo.com/cioc/. reBOOT Canada is at http://www.reboot.on.ca. St. Christopher House is at http://www.stchrishouse.org. In Kind Canada is at http://www.inkindcanada.ca.

Ontario’s Ministry of Citizenship Volunteer@ction.online is at http://www.gov.on.ca/mczcr/english/citdiv/voluntar/vao-brochure.htm.