Voluntarily will help people develop their skills while we're stuck inside for the next four weeks. Photo: Supplied.

Help is here: A new Kiwi skill-sharing app to connect people during isolation

A team of volunteers have built and launched an app over the weekend in the hope of uniting New Zealanders to help each other through Covid-19. Its creator explains how Voluntarily.nz works.

New Zealanders are rapidly entering isolation as we try to contain the spread of Covid-19. My company Vend sent our global workforce home last week and that was as simple as 300-400 people picking up their laptops and then setting up new home workstations. Simple, well except for the kids at your ankles and flatmates all competing for wifi and a quiet space to do a Zoom call. It was mostly painless for us, but wont be for many. 

Working from home is just one challenge. What about when kids are sent home from school – how do we keep their lessons going? If you live alone or are elderly and isolated how do you get your shopping? The shutdown is coming, it’s unprecedented and it’s going to test everything. Supply chains, internet connections, relationships and nerves. 

It’s going to be tough, but if I know one thing about us as a nation we don’t let such things stop us doing things with kindness and generosity and generally looking out for each other – even if stuck at home in sweatpants. 

A bunch of people have been working on a novel solution to the problem of connecting folk in this coming isolated world. It’s a new online platform called Voluntarily.nz. Its sole purpose is to get skilled volunteers to connect with schools, businesses and communities to share their knowledge and generally help out. It’s like Trade Me for volunteering.

Voluntarily.nz was originally planned for helping teachers get volunteers into the classroom to inspire kids and learn cool new things, but last weekend we made an urgent pivot to expand to other community groups too.

We put the call out to the startup community on Friday basically asking “HELP!”. Over the weekend we held a Voluntarily Isolation Build Party and anyone was welcome to dial in from home to help get the platform ready to launch – in three days. Over the weekend more than 100 kind folk rolled up their sleeves to help finish launching Voluntarily, erm voluntarily. And that’s the coolest part – it’s been built by volunteers for volunteers to volunteer.

Some of the volunteer team working remotely on building Voluntarily. Photos: Supplied.

Today is the launch of a project that started a year ago as an idea from Zoe Timbrell, the co-founder of our charitable foundation. Since then her idea grew with support from Spark, Datacom, the Ministry of Education, the government’s Innovation Fund and ATEED plus volunteers from Vend, Xero, Rocketlab and many of New Zealand’s tech innovators.

The platform won’t be perfect but it’s a start. We welcome more tech volunteers to help make it perfect – it’s an open source project and everyone is welcome to contribute. Otherwise you can use your volunteer superpowers to help others in the community.

Right now volunteers – individuals and corporates – can register their skills and how they want to help. As a volunteer you could offer to advise some people on how to work from home. You could talk to a classroom about your specialist subject, or participate in a lesson. You could help a community get food deliveries out. You could give financial advice to folk doing it hard. It could be a video knitting class, or how to sew face masks from old t-shirts. Whatever you can do virtually or in person, it will be appreciated. 

Tomorrow the community will be able to start making requests on Voluntarily and get matched to volunteers based on their skills and location. Here’s how the rest of the week will work:

The Voluntarily.nz timeline

Due to the move to Level 4 we are rapidly rolling out Voluntarily in stages this week.

Phase 1: Support Organisations

Right now we want organisations to join the platform to supply resources for “topics” of support. e.g. Xero’s business advice guides. Spark could offer tips on working from home. The Ministry of Education – distance learning tools. Organisations wanting to help with resources can contact the Voluntarily team via their online community.

Phase 2: Volunteers 

Volunteers can now join and pick the topics they can “offer” support on, e.g. financial advice, technical skills, science education, local deliveries.

Phase 3: Community

Tomorrow we will open to the community to ask for specific help on a topic: “I need help applying for a support grant” or “I need help with my staff working from home” or “My kids want to do science experiments”. Whatever you need help with, just ask. As well as individual requests, we are working with other NGOs to come on board so we can all share the same pool of volunteers in a safe and secure way.

We want Voluntarily to be part of the fabric of Aotearoa. Something that unites us all more than ever. It will evolve and adapt, just like the nation is doing right now. We don’t pretend to know all the help people will need, we just want to make sure we are there to provide any help we can. That’s us being Kiwis. We’ve always supported each other – now we’re just doing it at a distance.



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