Digital is meaningful—How Volunteer Vision uses Twilio to change lives and create real impact for underserved populations
Time to read: 4 minutes
There’s a stigma associated with online learning and online mentorship as an extension. Even as eLearning has exploded in popularity in recent years, many consider it to still be “only digital” and are unconvinced of the power of digital platforms to build strong relationships.
Try telling that to Volunteer Vision CEO Suska Dreesbach. Through her team’s efforts, thousands of underserved individuals have experienced life-changing digital mentorship and education—and they’ve used Twilio to power that impact.
The Munich-based software start-up has global reach, providing corporate digital mentoring solutions to more than 100 organizations , to maximize learning, employee engagement, and social impact by empowering users to bring their whole selves to work.
Two sectors, one leading goal
Volunteer Vision operates in both the diversity and inclusion and corporate responsibility sectors with the same goal: support underserved and underrepresented populations to succeed in their careers.
The goal of diversity and inclusion is to ensure that all employees, regardless of factors like race, gender, ability, religion or sexual orientation, feel that they belong and can bring their authentic selves into the workplace.
“We offer in-house mentoring solutions to our corporate partners to support young women professionals with regards to their leadership skills. We are currently working on programs for employees returning from parental leave, as well as for LGBT+ community members, with the ultimate goal of being one equal workforce where everyone works at eye level and everyone understands each other’s value,” Suska explained.
Within the corporate responsibility sector, the organization connects corporate partners with NGOs on a global scale to enable a skills-based, digital form of corporate volunteering. Volunteer Vision supports NGOs working with various groups such as refugees, people with disabilities, or youth with no parental care , and designs curriculum which fosters employability skills. As corporate volunteers, employees from Volunteer Vision’s corporate partners share their experiences, skills and wisdom as mentors for beneficiaries of NGOs.
“The goal of our corporate volunteering programs is always to support the beneficiaries to gain employment, so it could be language training, it could be a job-readiness program, it could be a prep mentoring for job interviews, application training, etc.,” Suska said. “So everything that really helps you to find employment and to feel empowered, motivated and self-confident to apply for a job, and to have a buddy that helps you in doing that.”
From the beginning, Volunteer Vision needed a partner that could provide a custom video solution to create these meaningful connections between mentors and mentees, and they chose Twilio to make it happen.
To video—and beyond!
With a large, global customer base, Volunteer Vision needed a reliable video solution which could be easily customized and could accommodate users of varying technical ability and language background.
They turned to Twilio because of its global reach, unparalleled uptime, reliability, and affordability.
“We tested other solutions. Pricing was a major topic. It was always our goal to reach as many people as possible, but with the lowest cost, so we chose Twilio because we tested and compared the prices and figured out that Twilio was a comparably cheap solution while still providing global infrastructure and a stable and reliable source for our video,” explained CTO Simon Fakir.
With Twilio, the organization built a virtual classroom, where mentors and mentees meet online to conduct their mentoring sessions, whether they’re down the street from one another or across an entire ocean. Volunteer Vision was able to create a pared down interface that enabled non-English speaking users to navigate using a color-coded system, giving them the global reach they sought.
After great success creating their custom solution, it became obvious that there were even more applications for Twilio within the Volunteer Vision platform. The organization implemented a reminder system consisting of emails as well as short messages built on Twilio Programmable SMS.
This latest addition lets mentors not only send out messages about upcoming sessions, but it also allows mentees to respond on their own device.
”For example, say you’re a young adult from SOS Children’s Village in Nigeria in one of our employability programs. You get a short message on your phone that says, ‘Your mentor asks if you have time on Wednesday, 3 o’clock’. With Twilio, they can simply reply with ‘‘Yes.’ We then process that response and send a message to the mentor, automatically updating both users that the appointment was confirmed,” Simon said. “The two-way interaction was a huge benefit for us. It saves us so much time in servicing and supporting those users.”
“We’ve had so many mentees that have found jobs, who called us and said, ‘This changed my life.' And I think it’s really nice that together with Twilio, we were able to create these digital mentorships, and to really prove that although the solution is digital, the impact is so real.”
Trusted partnership = more individuals served worldwide
Creating a completely custom video experience, and automating things like appointment reminders and scheduling via Twilio, has been a gamechanger for the company and its users, Suska said.
Like any trusted partnership, the experience has only improved with time, she added. Over time, she said, the service from Twilio has only improved, and they’ve experienced a reassuring level of stability throughout the years.
Knowing Twilio could keep up with changes in compliance and privacy rules only strengthened the bond, she said.
“Twilio went through all our reviews and all our checks,” Fakir added. “And there is no European competitor, so we had to have somebody from the US, so working with Twilio in terms of GDPR was beneficial for us.”
Creating impact digitally to change lives for the better
Since its inception, the organization has sought to become more automated. Suska said she sees that trend continuing in the future, so that Volunteer Vision can lower its pricing and support more meaningful mentoring relationships around the world.
“We want to really offer a solution where you do not think twice about engaging your entire workforce,” she explained. “For us as a social business, impact always comes first.”
Creating that impact means addressing the assumption that online mentoring is “only digital.” As the organization looks to create even more content, establish deeper and more meaningful partnerships, and serve even more populations, that stereotype is fading further and further into the background, Suska said. In fact, she encourages companies looking to create an impact to lean into the digital possibilities that exist through partners like Twilio.
“We’ve had so many mentees that have found jobs, who called us and said, ‘This changed my life,’” she said. ”And I think it’s really nice that together with Twilio, we were able to create these digital mentorships, and to really prove that although the solution is digital, the impact is so real.”