The Problem: digging out the roots

How to raise the rate of volunteerism in Turkey? More specifically, why are people not volunteering now?

We wanted to look specifically at young people, college students and young professionals; maybe married but no kids yet. We realize that housewives are also a big “market” for volunteers, i.e. kids are out of the house and they have a lot of free time on their hands to contribute, but let’s focus on the first segment for now. Perhaps we’ll need to pivot to the 2nd soon enough.

Problem Assumptions

Our target market, they have some discretionary time but it’s limited by work, studies, hanging out with friends. They would generally be considered middle-class, as in they are not scrambling around for a 2nd job to make ends meet, but have a lot of responsibilities. Our assumptions for why they don’t volunteer (in no particular order):

  • Ignorance or Lack of Information: they don’t know where are they are opportunities to volunteer or how to volunteer or even what they can contribute.
  • Not Enough Time / Busy Schedules: they have too much going on as it is, often working overtime or craming for exams that they don’t have time to commit to another activity.
  • Lack of Trust in the 3rd Sector and NGOs: there is a general sense of distrust in the system, fueled by recent scandals regarding the inappropriate use of funds by an NGO as well as political or religious affiliations of NGOs

Understanding the roots of the problem will help us design a product that can effectively draw these people out, either by eliminating these barriers or providing significant incentive to overcome them. But before we move forward with a solution, we need to make sure these assumptions are actually true statements of our target market and not just in our own minds.

So… sure they sound reasonable, but are they true? Heeding the wise words of Steve Blank, it’s time to Get Out of the Building! Stay tuned as I describe our attempts to understand the problem through individual problem interviews, i.e. customer discovery.

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The Problem: beginnings

So what’s the problem?

Every entrepreneurship adventure starts with a problem or a need, and this is all the more true for social ventures. In fact, usually the problem smacks you in the face, it’s just that no one has stepped up to the plate to tackle it. Large institutions, government, influential people in politics, business, media – I don’t think so; instead it falls into the hands of people like you and me, wondering why someone hasn’t done something about this before then rising up to meet the challenge.

The problem… we learn about it one day, then it starts gnawing at us, popping into our minds when we least expect it. What are people doing about this? It’s like a nasty crick in your neck, a bug bite you keep scratching at throughout the night. It keeps popping up all around you, waking you up at 4 AM, until you decide you are not going to ignore it anymore. Now that’s a good problem to solve.

What problem are we struggling with?

There’s plenty of problems to go around in Turkey, and we could fill a blog talking about them and complaining about them, but my dreams are in social entrepreneurship and I believe that any discussion of social entrepreneurship must first begin with volunteerism and giving.

Social entrepreneurs are generally dependent on the goodwill of their communities to translate their business models into widespread systematic change, through a large group of people volunteering their spare time, resources, money to bring those dreams to reality. These social enterprise business models require an innovative approach to cost structures, given revenue stream restrictions, of which volunteers and donations serve as the backbone. Without motivated volunteers, without consistent charitable giving (even small amounts) embedded into the culture, the road to sustainability becomes that much more difficult.

According to the 2011 World Giving Index by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF):

  • Turkey ranks 136 out of 153 countries in terms of charitable giving (money, time, helping others)
  • Only 14% of the population provides monetary donations to charities
  • Only 7% of the population volunteer their time

What are the roots of this problem?

Well… that’s what we need to figure out. Stay tuned.