Timothy Dodd discusses how and why he came to set up Unisphere Volunteers
My name is Timothy Dodd. I am a 3rd year biologist who came up with a random idea in about 5 minutes and decided to make it happen. With the support of the Global Opportunities department, I recently started up Unisphere Volunteers, a student-led volunteering platform, both in person and online, which gives the opportunity for a breadth of student volunteers to share their experiences with those interested, all in one sitting! This is particularly useful for prospective first-time volunteers wanting to know what is out there, or those wanting to volunteer in a new area.
At the talks they can hear testimonies from fellow students who have trialled and tested the opportunities, and can talk to them afterwards about them rather than relying on anonymous reviews online. The experiences shared are as varied as possible and different every session – be that conservation, community or teaching work. The format is a 1 hour talk, 6 students talking for 10 mins each, with all speakers available at the end to refer to further information.
Too many students get ripped off, put off by price, or put off by the sheer gravity of opportunities out there
Starting small, the 80 spaces for the first event sold out over one weekend of being marketed, and within a week or so I had enough people volunteer to speak at future events to facilitate at least another 2 in the new year. It’s a great opportunity for students not only to tell others about volunteer organisations that they’re passionate about, but also to practice their public speaking to a small seminar audience, invaluable for careers in science or corporations.
I then contacted members of the Russell Group concerning the potential for upscaling my project to inter-university level. I received a response from the Executive PA to Dr Tim Bradshaw (the Chief Executive of the Russell group) describing the project as ‘extremely interesting and very worthwhile’, and advising me on how best to proceed with the idea.
So why did I bother? I felt the following rationale exposed a real gap in the market for the idea.
Many people questioned me about my own experience. “What you did in Brazil looked awesome… how did you find it?!” This reflected a few issues to me. Too many students get ripped off, put off by price, or put off by the sheer gravity of opportunities out there. More reasonably priced opportunities with smaller NGOs/charities are harder to find online as they drown in the ocean of rip-off volunteer packages, and are also given little air-time by the university.
Hence having students who had undertaken more worthwhile, affordable opportunities and who were willing to share them with others seemed a helpful step in preventing international volunteering from being something for only the most affluent of students.
Furthermore, a lot of friends who had volunteered reported to me “I did ___ but it wasn’t quite what I thought it would be”, “Absolute chaos … organisational mess”, or “I mean it was good… but I probably didn’t need to spend £3000 on it”. This reinforced to me the fact that things are not always quite what they portray themselves as online. Having a human link, someone to talk to you who had done the programme themselves, would give confidence to those planning to embark on such adventures.
Finally, perhaps what is little known is the value of international experience whilst at university, be that within one’s degree programme or extracurricular voluntary work. A recent report by Universities UK International found that just one week or longer of outward student mobility (which could be study, work or volunteering) in the graduate cohort of 2014-15 improved academic and employment outcomes, and that those figures were even more favourable for disadvantaged, black and minority ethnic groups who go abroad during their studies.
if you have an idea and you approach the right people with it, they will support you
3.7% of graduates who were mobile during their degree were unemployed, compared to 4.9% of their non-mobile peers. 80.1% of graduates who were mobile during their degree earned a first class or upper second class degree, compared to 73.6% of their non-mobile peers. Among graduates who were mobile during their degree, those in work were more likely to be in a graduate level job (76.4% compared to 69.9%) and earn 5% more than their non-mobile peers.
My experience with the university has shown me that if you have an idea and you approach the right people with it, they will support you. If interested in the Unisphere Volunteer talks please like us on Facebook (facebook.com/UnisphereVolunteers/), where all future updates and events will be posted!
Featured image: Epigram / Timothy Dodd