Micro-volunteering makes it easy to give back

Craig and Marc Kielberger.

By Craig and Marc Kielburger

All the world's problems might be solved -- if only there were more hours in a day.

We may be exaggerating. But many Canadians don't volunteer because they don't have time, the top reason given in a national survey. Recent studies have revealed some barriers to volunteering, from hectic schedules to physical limitations to commitment phobia, or fear of joining the wrong organization.

Luckily, one trend is luring hesitant humanitarians with impact-driven actions that are low risk.

Welcome to micro-volunteering, 10-minute increments of doing good that can (mostly) be done from home. Code-slingers and charities are inventing ways to make use of these small pockets of downtime to give a growing movement of people the chance to step up for a cause.

Bite-sized volunteer projects could be the antidote for the busy excuse, and offer those with physical or health limitations the chance to give back from home. Think of it as gateway volunteering.

Micro-volunteer activities range from simple, one-time tasks -- like signing an e-petition -- to more immersive interactions.

iPet Companion lets users remote-control robotic toys online to play with cats in shelters across America. Play sessions don't just help the kitties stay active. Participating shelters boosted adoptions by 18 per cent, with donations increasing as much as 295 per cent, according to the iPet website.

This technology is ideal for volunteers who may be housebound due to illness or disability. In 2012, patients in the cancer ward at Seattle Children's Hospital used iPet for quality playtime with residents at the Idaho Humane Society.

But you don't have to stay home to be a micro-volunteer. If you're too busy to get down to the soup kitchen or local park cleanup, use geotagging websites to help feed your community or protect local animal species -- while you walk your dog or run errands.

With Falling Fruit, users mark the sites of fruit-bearing trees in public spaces on an interactive map that anyone can access. Foragers can use the data to harvest produce that might go to waste, distributing it to neighbours or the needy.

Another website called The Great Eggcase Hunt uses the same model to track the U.K.'s dwindling shark populations with civilian reports of egg sacs that wash up onshore.

These technologies are proof that small actions really do add up to big change. Every point of data reported by a "citizen scientist" could be part of a larger breakthrough made possible by thousands of participants. You're not just helping a cause; you're advancing collective knowledge.

Take WomSAT, a new website where do-gooders Down Under report sightings of wombats. This helps researchers learn about the population distribution of these environmentally crucial marsupials, one variety of which is on the brink of extinction.

One foundation has rallied users to digitize 32,560 books, creating a public archive of literary classics, as well as some rare and historic titles, for readers around the world.

Stanford University has rallied 98,000 volunteers to run protein-folding simulations on their home computers, creating a globally distributed supercomputer. Millions of calculations from micro-volunteers could help find a cure for Parkinson's, influenza, AIDS, Alzheimer's or even cancer.

If you're still not convinced, visit HelpFromHome.org, a database of 800 micro-actions you can sort by cause, difficulty and time requirement.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of the WE movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.