4 ways to volunteer this holiday season

Looking to spread some holiday cheer? Donate your talents to open source organizations that help communities in need.
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Social impact happens when leaders deploy individuals and resources to make positive change, but many social efforts are lacking technology resources that are up to the task of serving these change-makers. However, there are organizations helping to accelerate tech for good by connecting developers who want to make a change with communities and nonprofits who desperately need better technology. These organizations often serve specific audiences and recruit specific kinds of technologists, but they all share a common thread: open source.

As developers, we all seek to participate in the open source community for a variety of reasons. Some participate for professional development, some participate so that they may collaborate with a vast, impressive network of technologists, and others participate because they know their contributions are necessary for the success of a project. Why not also volunteer your talents as a developer to an effort that needs them, and contribute to open source all at the same time? The organizations below are prime examples of how you can do that.

Code for America

Code for America is an example of how government can still be by the people and for the people in the digital age. Through its Brigade Network, the organization has cultivated a national alliance of volunteer programmers, data scientists, concerned citizens, and designers organized in cities all over the United States. These local affiliates host regular meet-ups which are open to the community to both pitch new projects to the group and collaborate on ongoing efforts. To match volunteers with projects, the brigades’ websites often list the specific skills needed for a project such as data analysis, content creation, and JavaScript. While the brigades focus on local issues, shared experiences like natural disasters can foster collaboration. For example, a multi-brigade effort from the New Orleans, Houston, and Tampa Bay teams developed a hurricane response website that can be quickly adapted to different cities when disaster strikes.

To get involved, visit Code for America’s website for a list of its over 70 brigades, and a path for individuals to start their own if there is not one already in their community.

Code for Change

Code for Change shows that social impact can start even in high school. A group of high school coders in Indianapolis started their own club to give back to local organizations by creating open source software solutions to issues in their community. Code for Change encourages local organizations to reach out with a project idea, and the student group steps in to develop a completely free and open source solution. The group has developed projects such as "Sapphire," which optimized volunteer management systems for a local refugee organization, and a Civil Rights Commission complaint form that makes it easier for citizens to voice their concerns online.

For more information on how to create a Code for Change chapter in your own community, visit their website.

Python for Good/Ruby for Good

Python for Good and Ruby for Good are twin annual events in Portland, Oregon and Fairfax, Virginia, that bring people together to develop and program solutions for those respective communities. Over a weekend, individuals get together to hear pitches from local nonprofits and tackle their issues by building open source solutions. In 2017, Ruby For Good participants created "Justice for Juniors," which mentors and tutors current and formerly incarcerated youths to integrate them back into the community. Participants have also created "Diaperbase," an inventory management system that has been used by diaper banks all over the United States. One of the main objectives of these events is to bring organizations and people from seemingly different industries and mindsets to come together for a common good. Companies can sponsor the events, nonprofits can submit project ideas, and people of all skill levels can register to attend the event and contribute. Through their bicoastal efforts, Ruby for Good and Python for Good are living up to their motto of "making the world gooder."

Ruby for Good is held in the summer and hosted on George Mason’s campus in Fairfax, Virginia.

Social Coder

UK-based Ed Guiness created Social Coder to bring together volunteers and charities to create and use open source projects for nonprofits across six continents. Social Coder actively recruits a network of skilled IT volunteers from all over the world and matches them to charities and nonprofits registered through Social Coder. Projects can range from simple website updates to entire mobile app development.

For example, PHASE Worldwide, a small non-governmental association supporting efforts in Nepal, got access to key support and expertise leveraging open source technology because of Social Coder.

While a bulk of the charities already partnered with Social Coder are based in the UK, organizations in other countries are welcome. Through their website, individuals can register to work on social software projects and connect with organizations and charities seeking their help.

Individuals interested in volunteering with Social Coder can sign up here.

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John Jones is a technologist and open source supporter in Washington DC.

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