Sunday July 14, 2024

Milkar: A Clarion Call for Community Service

By Muhammad Hadi Saif
April 17, 2021
Milkar is a collective effort by organizations and volunteers to bring positive change to the society. — File photo

“Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” I must confess that when I first read this famous quote by Margaret Mead, I dismissed it as an idealistic, almost bookish notion to sell fairy-tale hope to helpless masses.

Growing up in Pakistan, even little issues like broken a sewage system or lack of potable water in my neighborhood, seemed like unsurmountable challenges. Governments have come and gone, politicians have made hollowed promises, social activists have raised their voice, but even the tiniest of these perennial challenges remained unaddressed.

As I entered my teens, I have found my frustration slowly turning into disenfranchisement. Instead of wanting to fix the problem, I simply avoid the route where my bicycle could run into potholes filled with puddles of sewage water. Instead of wanting to take ownership of the water filtration plant in the neighborhood, I am comfortable with our monthly supply of bottled water. Perhaps, I have stopped caring. If the government cannot fix it, how can I? If no one else cares, what can I do?

This changed a few months ago, when I was introduced to an NGO that was setting up water filtration plants. They had the funding and resources to setup the plants, but lamented the fact that they find it difficult to mobilise the local community to maintain the plant. On the flip side, I knew many people in my neighborhood who were willing to come together to maintain a new filtration plant, if it afforded access to clean drinking water.

How hard could it be to introduce them to each other? There are countless organisations with the resources to solve community problems. There are numerous people in each community who could work with these organizations to solve their problems. But how do they connect with each other?

What if there was a platform to connect them? A Facebook or LinkedIn for NGOs to engage with people interested in solving their local problems? It’s a simple idea, but an incredibly powerful one. In Victor Hugo’s words, “nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”

Our platform was inspired by this idea. It is designed as an automated online platform where organisations can list their projects and community members can volunteer for these projects. Our mantra: connect people, skills and good causes.

Launched just a few months ago, we have been amazed by the response. Over 100 NGOs and civil society organisations and several thousand volunteers have joined the platform.

In the past couple of months, volunteers have participated in a wide variety of activities, ranging from tree plantation with WWF, to COVID ration distribution with Al-Khidmat foundation, and winter clothing drives with Akhuwat Foundation etc.

We are now focusing on partnering with academic institutions, devising a mechanism to enable universities to award academic credit units for social work done by their students via our platform. I have personally focused on establishing partnerships with schools.

On, each student gets a public profile which is automatically updated when the student participates in community service projects. Organisations can write a short review of the volunteer’s contribution to a project and build a network of volunteers for future activities. This not only formalises the process of community work, but also incentivises students to view community service beyond a mere CV-building exercise.

We plan to spend the next few months developing this model with schools in Pakistan. We hope that through Milkar, people would take upon themselves to solves the problems faced by their community. As they say, “never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Muhammad Hadi Saif is a student at Aitchison College Lahore and leads the Milkar Champions Program for school students.