Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sanjha Choolha: How YOU can better channel your volunteer energies

Sanjha Choolha : sān-jhā choo-lhā

n. A communal kitchen popular in the villages of Punjab

Dear readers,
If you know me, you know of my interest in non-profit/volunteer work. And one thing that I have always wanted/wished to bring in is some method to this madness. After all, here are all these people who are willing to contribute time and energies, with no fear of "losing their jobs" if they don't perform well! I mean, how can one guarantee that something will get done if one knows that the team members have other, more pressing, real-world priorities?

Of course, one can resign to fate and say "there is no such thing as selfless service. People only _say_ they want to do stuff, they don't really mean it!".

Or, if you are like me, you can hope.

Hope that the problem is not the lack of enthusiasm, but the lack of _time_. And indeed if one could provide a proper question to the answer "I am a surgeon by profession, and I have only 20 minutes to spend for this non-profit venture of yours. Can you utilize this offer of my time?", things would be much better.

And from this question, the idea for Sanjha Choolha was born (thanks to A for the brainstorming about the idea and the brand name). It is a project that is being worked on as the first part of our work for Never Forget, which of course is nothing without volunteer work. However, we feel that this system can serve as a good plug-in into ANY volunteer/non-profit website.

Please feel free to read on, and let me know what you think by posting comments. This idea is at its initial stage, and your feedback and questions will help us improve.

[Note: Yes, I _have_ looked at issue-tracking systems such as Bugzilla and Trac, but found them ill-suited for this more general form of collaborative work. Specifically, they do not allow easy searches based on "expected time" and "skills", which is very important IMO in non-profits. Also, we are looking for something that runs on the google appEngine, so that it is free and scalable.]

For more, I am re-posting this post from the NeverForget Blog.

Dear web-oriented members of the NeverForget Team.

As a results of discussions I have had with some of you over the past weeks, I now firmly believe that the website, which is the face of this initiative, is not very useful without data being there for the readers to see.

That said, the data won't be available until we are able to properly utilize the energies, times, and skills of our visitors and team-members.

Therefore, from from an "enabling" perspective, my first priority is to get a system running which will enable rapid collaboration to work on bite-sized tasks. The three responses we got to the help-us-translate-in-marathi request posted yesterday are a testament to the fact that such a system will be very useful.

To that end, I give to you, this new term:

Acton: act-on
n. Fundamental unit of action :)

The idea is to post actons on a system, and allow people to _easily_ search and volunteer for them. One constraint will be that each acton has an _upper limit_ on how much time it is expected to take. (e.g., 5 minutes for googling the status of Tamil as a classical language is great, while 1 month for collecting all the data on the UPAs promises is too large a grain, and needs to be broken down into a set of related actons).

The interesting part is, this problem is not unique to NeverForget, but is indeed faced by all voluntary organizations, where people want to contribute, but are not sure what the best use of their (limited) time is. Therefore, I have created a project on google code at http://code.google.com/p/sanjhachoolha , where we also have contributors not directly involved with Never Forget. I have also uploaded proposed screenshots of the application, which we have chosen to christen "sanjha choolha". Krishnakanth (LA) and Kunal (Bangalore) have already joined in to start this effort.

From the project website:



Sanjha Choolha : sān-jhā choo-lhā

n. A communal kitchen popular in the villages of Punjab

If you have worked in non-profits, you would have also felt that there are times when we cannot properly utilize the manpower available in enthusiastic volunteers. Sanjha Choolha aims to be a system to solve this fundamental problem.


So dear web-application developers on this list, please visit the project site to know more about what the next steps are, and what skills are needed. If all goes well, we should be able to complete this piece of the puzzle in the next few weeks.

of course, comments and feedback are most welcome.

best wishes,
Team Never Forget


  1. There are other efforts to harness volunteers. Sukh from bethecause in LA has been thinking about it a bit also.

    Enjoy India!

  2. nice idea. you see ideas are the heart of the matter. there are no problems when we focus on the creative side of us humans. but we focus on everything else.
    i am glad you have stuck to your scientific spirit.

    too many of us have drifted to the humanities and filled the world with narcisistic viewpoints. go on use your phd and create stuff we can always be proud of.