In conversation with Shloka Mehta, Co-Founder of ConnectFor, a volunteering platform that matches NGOs with volunteers. She talks about their growth as a technology-driven community, their most interesting campaigns and ways in which sponsors and volunteers can get involved to make meaningful social impact. Aside from onboarding more volunteers, they’re looking to collaborate with brands who want to sponsor their CFCommunity events, and corporates or groups who want custom and tailored events to suit their needs. Message Shloka on Dysco to know more or to discuss collaboration opportunities.
“We are ConnectFor — your friendliest, kindest and most-trusted online volunteering platform. We work hard to bridge the gap between volunteers and NGOs by making matches based on NGO requirements and volunteer preferences/skillsets.” The modern day digital equivalent of cupid, ConnectFor brings together enthusiastic volunteers with those who need them most! Taking into account your interests and causes that you’re passionate about, their efficient platform does the math and presents you with a lovely list of NGOs that need people like you. Community development, animal welfare, environmental protection and education are all areas that they support. Over the last 3 years they’ve been matching people and opportunities far and wide, and the impact they’ve made is tangible and overwhelmingly impressive. Collectively, through their NGO partners, ConnectFor and their volunteers are touching the lives of over a million beneficiaries! In the last 20 odd months, they have already had over 11,000 hours of volunteering, which has saved their NGO partners a total of over INR 28,00,000. One volunteering hour then, is worth an average INR 250 to an NGO, and this number will only increase in value as scale increases.
Co-Founders Shloka Mehta and Maniti Modi split the organisation’s responsibilities quite neatly; Shloka primarily focuses on operations and HR management, while Maniti oversees data analysis and business development. As a forward thinking, tech-enabled philanthropic venture, they’ve gathered some really compelling stories to tell – from engaging and impactful campaigns; regular on ground events and drives; to a thriving and compelling online blog, ConnectFor has built a supportive ecosystem both digital and physical. We couldn’t wait to know more.
What’s your background Shloka? How did you develop an interest in the social sector?
I was born and brought up in Mumbai, and did my schooling here, following which I went to Princeton University for my undergrad. All through school and college, I had an active interest in volunteering and community service, and worked with multiple NGOs during my summers; although I’ve always been particularly interested in education. After Princeton, I did my Masters in Law & Anthropology at LSE, where as part of my dissertation I focussed on why the Right to Education Act was a futile attempt at solving the education challenges facing India. This convinced me to come back to India, and work in the developmental sector here. After a year of working in the space, I realized there was a major gap because although there are 3.3 million NGOs in India, less than 10% of these receive up to 70% of the funding going to this space. That means a significant number of organisations are underfunded and under-resourced. This gave birth to the idea of ConnectFor.
How would you describe ConnectFor? Can you take us back to its inception?
ConnectFor is a non-profit technology platform, which matches NGOs with volunteers based on the needs of NGOs and the skills and preferences of volunteers. I co-founded this platform with Maniti Modi in December 2015, and as of today, we have a community of over 5000 volunteers and a network of 120+ NGOs whom we support. We’re currently exploring new cities in India, and hope to grow into at least two more cities by March 2018. ConnectFor came to life largely because of the conviction we had, and the simplicity of the idea. We’re a CSR project for the Rosy Blue Foundation, which was great, because it allowed us to get a lot of support early on. Additionally, Maniti has a background in consulting, which coupled with my experience in the social space meant that our approach to growing our project was well-rounded. At it’s heart, ConnectFor is all about matching, and we have a very human interface for everything we do – whether it’s matching volunteers to the right opportunities, or curating and customizing events for corporate and group engagement. We also realize that volunteers come from all different walks of life, so we try and cater to as many demographics as we can. Our platform works with 9 cause verticals, because different volunteers care about different causes, and we have a variety of opportunities from one-time to long-term, skill-based to unskilled, and remote to on-site. Additionally, we host CFCommunity events at least once a quarter, which are one-time events that give all our volunteers who may be unable to engage because of busy schedules, or prior commitments, the option to stay engaged with volunteering. We try to cater to a different audience with each event, and make sure that these are spread our geographically, as well as distributed across causes.
You recently did a really interesting campaign, ‘The Story of a Sari,’ can you tell us some more about that?
One of our colleagues – she’s a full time volunteer actually – Amisha, received a whatsapp called “The Story of A Sari.” It was about a guy, Saurav Chatterjee, in Kolkata whose mom had passed away, and left behind a cupboard full of saris. He wanted to donate these, and approached a friend for the same. The friend, Mudar Patherya, took the saris to an NGO working with women’s mental health in Kolkata, along with a make up artist and a photographer, and documented the transformation and gratification of these women upon receiving the saris and this attention. It’s a really powerful video, and it brought us to question whether we could do the same here in Mumbai.
We had been meaning to do a community event that would include women from the age demographic of 35-60 so this seemed to be a perfect fit. Additionally, Daan Utsav (Joy of Giving Week, 02-08 October) was imminent, and so was Diwali. We decided we would encourage women to donate their saris during Daan Utsav, and make sure we got them to beneficiaries in time for Diwali, so that every woman whose lives we touched would have something to celebrate this Diwali. It was a really simple idea, but the key was in making in convenient for women to donate. We had a number on which they could whatsapp or call anytime to get information about how and where to donate, and we partnered with Orra Diamond Jewelery and The Blow Dry Bar India so that we could set up 8 locations across the city where women could go and drop off their saris. The response was incredible! We had expected, over 8 days to collect around 500 saris; in reality we collected 1643, of which 1538 were in great condition. In fact, many women donated brand new saris to show their support for the initiative! We had donors from out of India who sent in saris through relatives, and honestly we were overwhelmed. Women championed the cause themselves, set up donation drives in their offices or buildings, sent their children door to door to their neighbours, and then dropped off everything together at one of our collection points. Our whole team and our partners were completely overwhelmed; we had never anticipated this kind of response.
Once we had a rough idea of how many saris we were receiving, we tied up with 6 different NGOs to work with to distribute the same to the communities they served. We worked with Apne Aap Women’s Collective, who distributed the saris to women working in the right light districts. We worked with Animedh Charitable Trust, who works at skilling women, and who gifted these saris to their beneficiaries on the occasion of their graduation, which they agreed to hold pre Diwali, post collection. We worked with The Family Welfare Association, which works with senior citizens, to give new clothes to old and abandoned women, and with Bap Nu Ghar, an NGO working with the survivors of domestic and/or marital abuse. We also worked with Urja, an NGO supporting run away women, and Trishul, an NGO that looks specifically at women empowerment.
All our NGO partners were completely thrilled by the initiative, and the feedback we received was fantastic. Here’s a blog I’ve written on all the impact we created.
Are there any upcoming campaigns or events that people can get involved in?
We always have opportunities for people to get involved in! People either go through the website and find something suited for themselves, or can approach us to design something based on what they’d like to do.
Our next community events will take place in December. On 9 December, 2017 we’re going to be painting a children’s shelter home, so we’re currently looking for volunteers and sponsors for that, and in the week of Christmas we’re going to do a movie screening for underprivileged kids, and give volunteers the opportunity of be Santa and fund the experience for them, and even accompany them for the movie!
Also, towards the end of November, we will be launching winter internships for students, to give them experience and helping build their skills by working on deliverable oriented projects for our partner NGOs.
What kind of people are you looking to hire, work with, collaborate with?
We’re looking for people who want to volunteer skills and complete specific projects pro-bono for our NGO partners. It’s a really great way to win-win, because it becomes something to build a volunteer’s portfolio or resume as well.
Additionally, we’d love to work with groups who want to do specific events, whether it’s a corporate group or any other, and help them create and customise an experience based on their preferences while making sure it’s adding value to the space.
Finally, we’re looking for sponsors who can help support our CFCommunity events, and we’re happy to collaborate with brands that would like to advertise through or sponsor our events. Previously, brands like Decathlon and Ocean Water have worked with us, and they were really great mutually beneficially partnerships.