Charlie Inggs, a returned volunteer who spent two years in the Cook Islands, is a big fan of e-volunteering.

When his assignment finished late in 2017, Charlie maintained online contact to keep his project moving along and to help a new volunteer settle into the role. “It was all about continuity, otherwise things might have stalled,” Charlie says.

Charlie Inggs ICI Strategic Plan team

Charlie Inggs (third left) and his ICI Strategic Plan team.

He had arrived in the Cooks in September 2015 to work as a strategic planner and policy adviser with Infrastructure Cook Islands (ICI). At the end of the year, ICI won a Cook Islands Public Service Commissioner’s award for the country’s best public sector strategic plan.

Charlie didn’t get too carried away, given there were only three entries. The real achievement was that most Cook Islands public sector agencies had yet to attempt strategic planning. The award also acknowledged that staff and stakeholders widely accepted the plan and that ICI’s reputation had improved to the point where it is now seen as a model department, at least in the strategic space.

When he left the Cooks, Charlie didn’t want the plan’s implementation to slow before a new volunteer arrived. Over the New Zealand summer, he logged on to ICI’s webmail to complete ongoing project work. In particular, he secured support from New Zealand Engineers Without Borders for technical aspects of a proposed review of electrical inspection regulations. He also secured an Asian Development Bank grant, the first in the Pacific region, for capacity building so that ICI and other Cooks’ government agencies can better participate in public-private sector partnerships.

This online project work, Charlie says, is what distinguishes e-volunteering from the usual post-assignment staying in contact and answering any queries. In February this year, he briefed new volunteer Annika Lane before her departure and although Charlie’s contract ended then he’s since been offering her and ICI online support and advice, albeit on a diminishing basis.

Charlie has worked as a council electoral officer in Wellington and in other local government roles in Auckland and Zimbabwe. Today he’s back in Auckland looking for new opportunities but keeping his hand in with some further online volunteering for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

“Online volunteering is like working from home. However, with the UNDP, the web research I do is very different because I don’t know the context, whereas because I’d been in the Cooks for two years I know the culture and the people.” The mix of in-country experience and online support, he says, is what makes e-volunteering a promising initiative for VSA.