Soulcialtravel, NGO and Website
Stanislas Dembinski and Virat Garg Nov-Dec 2015
Social Vibes ,
Volunteering for Social Responsibility
A unique Delhi-based NGO connects the right volunteers with the right social initiatives.
Soulcialtravel is a unique NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) in the Indian landscape. It connects people, in particular foreigners and expats, with selected Indian NGOs and social projects in India and abroad, hence the name. People who travel for instance, around India for a few months or years can make it a soulful and useful experience. They can devote their precise skills and know-how to a unique project and help others in a focused and structured way.
“We are a bit like a dating website”, says Michael Barrett, founder of Soulcialtravel with a pinch of humour. “Except that we do not connect couples but individuals with interesting projects and organisations. This is to benefit India or other countries in the area of NGOs and social projects.”
Michael works as a marketing consultant for the duty free and retail travel industry across Asia Pacific region. Having travelled the planet, he did not want good initiatives to be lost. He is an adoptive Delhiite since 2010 and is married to a French woman, who works for a well-known international NGO. Michael knows how difficult it is to find the right structure to focus on in India and Asia’s social sector.
He swears by his motto: anybody can help but it has to be in a practical and useful way. Therefore, he emphasises on first finding a good project. The selection process is through Soulcialtravel’s own contacts and by recommendation. It goes through the existing network of the expat community in Delhi. For instance, French organisation Main Tendue (Outstretched, helping hand) that helps 1,000 underprivileged children and women in Delhi. Soulcialtravel asks these contacts about the managerial structure of the organisations and their respective transparency. On the basis of which, it can represent them on the website and find suitable volunteers.
“The volunteers we look for are not just people who read stories, a lot of people can do that”, explains Michael, who has also cocreated a social enterprise coffee shop Chill & Chai in Khirkhi, South Delhi, where people can meet, exhibit art and organise events. He further adds, “Many NGOs lack people from a good organisational background having effective communication and administration skills who can help them in being more structured. Hence we ask our partners to find the area of expertise they need and then we put an ad and a campaign on the website, looking for these very specific needs.”
The reservoir of talents, if rightly researched is surprisingly vast. A lot of people have abandoned their careers to follow their spouses. They are eager to spend their time exercising their former profession for a good cause and that could be an NGO. “Whether it is helping fund a campaign or send people in a particular organisation for a one or two months sabbatical for instance, there is always something that can be done”, insists Michael.
‘Where there is a wheel, there is a way’
If one person can prove this true, it is Guddu Panwar, a young Indian operations officer at Soulcialtravel who also works at a guest house, ‘Bed and Chai’, run by a French lady. Furthermore, he helps handicapped people at Empowering Spinal Cord Injured Persons (ESCIP) NGO. He runs a home and day care centre for them in Delhi. All this and much more he manages riding on a skate board pretty joyfully. It allows him to move smoothly, despite the fact that he lost his legs at the age of 10 because of a spinal cord disease.
Guddu is an example of a volunteer who has empowered himself. He has designed and made clothes. He has also been a tour guide for Indians and foreigners in Delhi. He insists on making people as independent as possible.
“When people come to ESCIP, we try to help them to be autonomous. For example, we talk to them and try to enhance their mobility in their daily life”, explains Guddu, who is doing some fundraising with Soulcialtravel to buy equipments for handicapped people through the initiative ‘Where there is a wheel, there is a way.’
Fundraising through crowdfunding is the next big development at Soulcialtravel – a good way to develop the network and new types of initiatives. The NGO already has projects in India and also in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Moldova. Like a snowball it gets bigger and bigger just by rolling and connecting more people together.
Some dating websites swear in their advertising that through them you will automatically find your match. That sometimes can be disappointing. At Soulcialtravel, there is no such risk – it is true and free.