Worlds Away, but Our Goals Are the Same

Feb 18, 2014

This post is by André Cervi, one of the founders of Atados, which connects volunteers and nonprofits in Brazil. He is responsible for corporate volunteering projects.

André Cervi

The strike against political corruption in Brazil last June illuminated a desire among Brazilians for change, including ways to improve the lives of ordinary citizens. Volunteering is a novel approach to create better public services through citizen involvement, and Atados – one of the newest HandsOn Network international members – is an answer to the growing demand for volunteer opportunities in Brazil.

In April 2012, four friends and I had the idea of creating a marketplace to connect people who are willing to help with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in need. In São Paulo, we created a platform called Atados (bond), and launched it within seven months. We fielded more than 100 volunteering opportunities from more than 70 NGOs in that short time. From providing English classes to serving as entrepreneurial coaches to developing cultural activities, many citizens contributed to social change with the skills and the time they devoted as volunteers.

The launch was an epic success. The media feasted on our newly bonded project, and as a result many interested citizens started volunteering with NGOs. However, the greatest challenge was yet to come.  Right after the website was launched, we discovered that the NGOs wanted to work with volunteers but were really ill-prepared to receive and manage them. To better serve our purpose, we started to train our NGO partners in increasing their efficiency through volunteer management. But the system was still lacking.

Fortunately, when we were approached by Jonathas Barreto of the HandsOn Network/Points of Light Global Team in early 2013, we understood better that we could also learn more by getting to know HandsOn Network affiliates and accessing a pool of resources globally.  A few months later, we decided to become a HandsOn Network international member and with that, Atados made more bonds than ever before. 

One of the perks of being in the HandsOn Network family is learning best practices from other members. I was able to do that when I visited New York Cares and The Volunteer Center of United Way in November. I found out how these U.S. affiliates deal with fund-raising, implementing corporate projects and managing NGO relationships, which are clearly the same challenges we experience in Brazil.

The meeting, more than face-to-face networking, was a learning experience indeed. The stories they told me gave me better foresight in solving current volunteering issues and planning programs for the future.

This year, our main thrust at Atados is partnering with major Brazilian companies to add to our volunteer opportunity offerings. We believe we have made a good head start in this regard and many other organizations are getting interested in cooperating. It feels good to see that NGOs and the private sector are now appreciating our work.

We are still at the beginning of our quest to make volunteering commonplace in Brazil, but we know that we are making progress toward social equality.