By Aadil F. Manager – Communications, Branding & Volunteer Development, AFS Intercultural Programs India

A recent AFS alumni approached me and said “People don’t want to volunteer”. He added, “Seems like everyone wants something in return”. 


The concept of volunteering in India isn’t something new. It has been in existence since more than 1000 years where the sole purpose was to humanize the citizens. Since the beginning, religions played an important role to advance the concept of volunteerism, in the form of charity or a kind of selfless act. Whether it’s the concept of Zakat among Muslims, Dan among Hindus, Seva among Sikhs etc., all religions have established the significance of charity. Each religion outlines the importance of doing selfless act and how those selfless acts build a strong tradition of volunteerism in India for myriads of years. 

Today, when we look around the society we live in, we see a paradigm shift. We see a transformation that has changed perspectives on how we see volunteerism in the 21st century. Volunteerism’s definition isn’t the same as it was before. It has become harder to justify why volunteering is important and how one’s selfless act can create a better tomorrow. I realized that the people nowadays are very absorbed in their own world. Their commitment to the certain cause has changed over time. They are very indifferent towards what’s happening in their community or at the global level. The work that they are involved in don’t foster the values of volunteering and its significance. Their thoughts on instant gratification has changed their outlook towards volunteering. And the advent of technology has it’s both pros and cons. 

We face the problem where we have a dearth of volunteers to support causes and mission that can help India grow and prosper — to move up in the Sustainable Development Goal ladder.  My engagement with volunteers in the past decade led to the many discoveries in volunteer engagement. These new developments and changes require a lot of work for an organization such as AFS that appeals to people around the world to volunteer. One has to keep up with the changing trends and the new waves of volunteerism to ascertain that people still continue to volunteers and their time, energy and contribution are valued. The new class of volunteers are different: they look for flexibility; the youth population want their ideas to be respected by older age groups; they want to work for a cause or a mission they believe in, not volunteer their time to any random organization; they are into the use of technology; they believe in change and they are go-getters; they represent the change they want to see which makes them different from the old generation of volunteers. 

AFS India currently has more than 1200+ registered volunteers whose commitment and motivation underscores the growth the organization has in the last decade. They believe in AFS’s mission has empowered them to create actual change. A change that is an inspiration to a plethora of people either by being a host family or becoming an intercultural trainer or becoming an advocate of AFS’s mission. The changing dynamics of volunteerism can be seen in India in the last decade. We’ve grown both in quality and quantity. To keep up with the changing trends, we’ve adapted and re-enforced our volunteer engagement approach. A volunteer strategy that outlines the significance of training and defines the structured journey of a volunteer. With the development of Network Strategy 2018-22, AFS endeavors to implement volunteer experience management tool designed to remove hindrances for individuals who want to engage with AFS as a volunteer while focusing on developing new strategies, tools, and resources that would make a volunteer empowered, recognized and appreciated. Volunteering with AFS comes with support, training, recognition and a future. AFS India builds strategies on the constant feedback given by stakeholders to ascertain that a seamless experience is provided to the volunteers. New modes of learning and sharing are designed such as WhatsApp for connectivity with the larger audience, learning & development modules on leadership are being added to provide a unique volunteering experience. One can evolve to become an active global citizen if they are committed towards the cause. 

On this International Volunteers Day (5th of December), think of the world that exists beyond your work, school, universities etc. – think of the community, your city, your country, and the world. Think about your role as a volunteer in the 21st century and how your involvement can create a promising tomorrow. If you haven’t volunteered before or want to explore what it means to be a volunteer, reach out to us or any other organization you would like to align yourself with. If you have volunteered before and stopped for some reason, start again. Pledge to contribute at least 1 hour in a week or a few hours in a month as a volunteer. Your contribution as a volunteer can bring change – a change that is much needed today.