Helping refugees and volunteers connect
Waterloo startup also wants to help corporate volunteer programs become more engaging for the modern workforce
Waterloo startup also wants to help corporate volunteer programs become more engaging for the modern workforceBy Kira Vermond University Communications
That’s all the time Waterloo’s EPOCH team had to pitch their idea at the recent $1-million Hult Prize Challenge. EPOCH was one of only six team finalists at the prestigious international competition for social enterprise, dubbed, “the Nobel Prize for students.” President Clinton was there. So were the presidents of Earth Day and Kiva, the large online micro-financing organization.
Jade Choy, a Faculty of Arts alumnus and one of the team co-founders, admits the team’s presentation at the UN Headquarters in New York went by in a blur that day. Choy co-founded EPOCH with her brother Keith Choy, who graduated from Waterloo with a master’s degree in accounting.
“It was so bright and there were a lot of people in the room from all over the world,” she says now. “It was really exhilarating.”
EPOCH, an online platform, helps refugees trade skills for community services they need like resume assistance and English skills. Choy says she was inspired to create the social platform after visiting Europe on an exchange trip and witnessed the harsh reality experienced by migrants there.
She and her brother were also volunteering at three local organizations in Kitchener-Waterloo focused on helping newcomers and refugees integrate into their communities. She knew how important that support was for each family in need – but also how incredibly busy and understaffed charitable organizations are. Waiting lists for some programs can be long.
EPOCH, however, helps volunteers and mentors connect more directly with newcomers, making the system streamlined. As one of the top six Hult Prize teams, EPOCH was able to test its concept in Munich, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.
Now the team – which works full-time out of the University of Waterloo’s Velocity Garage – is finding a way to broaden its scope by making corporate volunteer programs more engaging for the modern workforce too.
Although many companies have volunteer programs, they’re often underutilized. They’re either difficult to navigate or there aren’t the tools to connect employees with non-profits that need their help. Choy wants to make the process more seamless by using technology to send people specific volunteer jobs based on their interests and passions. These opportunities could pop up in their inbox every one or two weeks, depending on their opt-in settings.
It’s a win-win-win for employees, employers who want to be more connected to their communities, and the volunteer organizations themselves.
“A lot of companies and community organizations are working in silos,” says Choy. “We want to built stronger local communities by bringing them together.”
Feature image photo credit: Ridofranz/iStock/ThinkStock