Collaborate was first founded in 2015 by four women in their twenties – Ceara Bickerton, Holly Norton, Poppy Norton and Sophie Seymour – who lived in Wellington and worked for community organisations, but were struggling to find volunteers with the right skillsets.
Being millennials themselves, they knew their generation gets an unfairly bad rap for being a self-centred, avocado-loving generation who destroy things (See: 29 things Millennials killed this year) and wanted to help fight this stereotype make the process for getting involved with a charity or social organisation easier.
The co-founders decided that they should create an app akin to dating ones that have become popular amongst the young, except make theirs centred around a social cause.
The idea for Collaborate was born, with the goal in mind to use technology to make volunteer work fast, fun and addictive.
“We say it’s a Tinder for volunteering: you login with Facebook, create a profile, volunteer for opportunities that match your skills and interest and where they can make an impact in community right now, then swipe on what days work for you,” Holly Norton says.
“It lowers barrier to access and connect volunteers to organisations that need them, like charities or social enterprises. It’s a win-win for both parties.”
While there’s other websites that people can search for volunteer work on, Norton says the crucial difference Collaborate makes is it connects someone with a specific set of skills to the right opportunities.
The app has practical opportunities for what has been traditionally seen as charity or volunteer work, like beach cleaning, but it also provides a platform to advertise for more skilled opportunities, like graphic design projects and social media campaigns.
“A lot of people that wanted to help couldn’t find jobs to fit their skills in a meaningful way – they’d be a lawyer, and they could only find an opportunity to plant a tree,” Norton explains.
“Skilled roles are really important alongside practical roles. Everyone has a skill that can make a difference.”
Norton says the women behind Collaborate never initially set out to be involved in a tech venture. She was previously in a communications role at the MBIE, while the other co-founders’ jobs ranged from lawyers by day to working at Creative HQ. But all of them consider Collaborate to be their ‘passion project’ that is helping create meaningful opportunities for young people.
“None of us were devs, we just started building it because we wanted to solve the problem,” she says.
Like the name alludes to, even the creation of Collaborate was a collaborative affair.
Norton says there have been close to 100 charities, 50 organisations and hundreds of volunteers involved in the development process who helped weigh in on the initial idea and test out early interpretations of the tech.
After a long process of pooling everyone’s ideas together, Collaborate wanted to bring 18 months of the community’s efforts to life via technology.
After approaching a few firms, the Collaborate team had a meeting with digital creative agency Springload, which was looking for a social good project for its developers to work on.
Springload invited its developers to come have a ‘working bee’ weekend from Friday to Sunday and build the app. Norton says after some tweaks, a live app was ready to launch a couple of weeks later.
Collaborate also recently spent four months honing its idea in Te Papa’s Mahuki 2017 incubator.
Getting Collaborate to this go-live point has been a challenging journey, Norton says, but the founders have tried to be guided by their values.
“With something like this, it’s far more about a cultural change and a new way of connecting and the future of community than it is about technology, so it takes a lot of effort and facilitating and involvement. It’s a long process because you bring everyone on this journey with you,” Norton says.
She says the highlight has been seen the community come together and forging, deep meaningful connections with one another – in particular, those of the millennial generation.
“The way society and our generation is at the moment, people want to help, it’s just hard. Our fundamental premise is if you make it easy for people, they will do good things,” Norton says.
“You see volunteers saying, ‘I’m not really a charitable kind of person’ and not seeing what skills they’ve got. For example, there was a snorkel scuba dive role as part of marine charity to help people teach people about the environment over summer, so it’s showing seeing people how they can be involved in their community.”
Other organisations that have been quick to get involved include Life Unlimited, which has been advertising for volunteers who can take boys with disabilities along to their gaming nights with them, as well as Regenerate Magazine, an initiative in Wellington that creates employment for the homeless by helping them sell its publication, which was looking for volunteer designers.
As far as the sign-up process goes, the Collaborate team investigates each group that joins.
Norton says organisations using the app don’t have to be a registered charity or community group – if it’s a group of people gathering together to do something meaningful, that can meet the terms of conditions.
The website and app are now live for the Wellington region. On day one, 50 organisations had signed up, while the app hit the 100-volunteer mark. These numbers are continuing to grow, even outside Wellington, Norton says, though the launch was initially just intended for the capital.
“Word spreads really fast in New Zealand – the organisations range from Auckland to Dunedin and even one in Melbourne,” Norton says. “The demand seems to grow itself.”
For now, Collaborate is focused on raising its last bit of funding. Its final showcase at Mahuki was held recently, and Norton says there was quite a bit of interest shown from the angel investment community.
“There was quite a bit of interest which was awesome, but we’re looking to raise investment privately. The app plans to be self-funding, and we’re developing the self-sustaining features.”
Most likely, Norton says Collaborate will make money by looking at a tied subscription model for charities, which means they pay a fee annually or monthly that’s related to the organisation’s revenue, size and usage.
“The idea is absolutely everyone should be able to use it, as it’s a socially motivated project.”
There’s also new pieces of tech ready to be built into the app. Volunteer endorsements that could give credit to people for their time and skills were created as part of the design process, so that could be part of the next roll-out.
Norton says once the next bit of tech is built, the team will look to scale up and out of New Zealand, as there’s already people in Melbourne, Sydney and New York who are ready to use it.
“We want to grow it because we want it to impact globally,” she says. “We think it can be everywhere and create more resilient societies. It also future proofs the charity sector - this tech exists in other sectors but not so much in this space. The more affordable we can make it to run and expand, the bigger it gets.”
Find and download the app at Collaborate’s website.
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