“It feels fantastic! It’s unreal to have an idea and then finally see it happening,” programme founder and UK-native Claire Thomas told The Local at the launch.
Back in April, Thomas hatched the idea of an all-English volunteering website after realizing that without knowing Swedish, it can be almost impossible to find opportunities to help out in Sweden.
“We had quite a few people coming through who said ‘I want to volunteer’ after seeing it on The Local,” Thomas explained.
Following a public call for donations, the team attracted the attention of the Swedish Postcode Lottery (Postkodlotteriet) which injected the final sum to make the idea a reality.
The project was officially launched at the residence of the US ambassador in Stockholm on Thursday with deputy ambassador Bill Stewart giving his seal of approval.
“If you don’t have Swedish language skills it doesn’t mean you can’t volunteer anymore. That’s what this is about. It’s now open to visitors and immigrants who want to be helpful but have felt held back due to language,” he told The Local.
“There’s an urban myth that Swede’s don’t volunteer but it’s totally wrong. 48 percent of adult Swedes volunteer at least 16 hours a month – its huge. Now the organizers here have tapped into the resource of people living in Sweden who can’t speak Swedish but want to help.”
The project went live online two weeks ago as a subset of the well-established Voluntär Byrån, a Swedish agency launched 10 years ago and founded by Amelie Silfverstolpe.
“We’ve been longing an English section for a long time, but haven’t had the resources. When Claire came with all her energy and knowledge, I said, ‘go ahead, I totally support you’,” she told The Local.
“The English part of things is really important. Great people are coming here from other countries and in Sweden we’re really bad at taking care of the knowledge and the passions they bring. I think we could do better with the immigrants in this sense.”
Now, as the project slowly gains momentum, Thomas is excited about the future.
“There are eight volunteer opportunities on the site right now, and that’s eight more than were available for English speakers before,” she said.
“We’ll see where we take it from here, there’s a lot of scope to push it into specific areas where volunteering can help. There’s a lot of opportunity and it’s quite exciting.”