We sat down with Victor Lee to discuss Communiteer, his social enterprise connecting corporate partners with not-for-profits.
Communiteer is an online platform that allows volunteers to find opportunities, collaborate online and record the impact of their work. We sat down with CEO Victor Lee to discuss his unique social crowdsourcing platform that connects, engages, and mobilises volunteers to tackle the world’s greatest challenges through virtual volunteering.
Hi Victor. What was the driving force behind Communiteer?
I immigrated from Hong Kong when I was young. Volunteering has always been part of our family, and we believe that we were very lucky to get to Australia; it provided us with a lot of opportunities. We felt the best way to be part of the community is by giving back. We were doing different types of volunteering to make friends, explore our new country, and understand the local issues we needed to be part of.
I’ve been a dedicated volunteer for 32 years. I did a lot of collaboration work with different student unions and student clubs when I was at uni. There was a turning point where I probably had spent more time doing the club stuff than studying. It was there that we formed a student association dedicated to cultural exchanges between Asian students and local students. I then spent about ten years working in change management and in the corporate sector.
On one side, you have people who want to do good, and on the other, we have organisations who need help. Communiteer sits in the middle.
Over time, I figured out a better way to use corporate volunteers and mobilise them to do some impactful work. That’s really where Communiteer came from. We started about four years ago, finding where corporate volunteers can create the most impact and at the same time, not-for-profits can get the help that they need. We use technology to scale our social impact, and track outcomes against the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
While bringing about the greater good, you still have to pay the bills. So where does your revenue stream come from?
Communiteer is a social enterprise. We always say we’re ‘for-profit and for purpose’ at the same time, and someone has to keep the lights on. We decided quite early that because what we do is aggregate resources of talent and expertise and redistribute them where there’s a need. Our business model is mostly based on corporations, and has constantly evolved to find that perfect product-market fit.
As the corporation gets more involved in giving, they see results. We have a ‘pay-as-you-go’ subscription model. Any additional support depends on the level of assistance that they need and the impact reporting they’re looking for. This model allows us to dedicate resources towards not-for-profits, balancing the supply of their opportunities and the demand of volunteers.
Do you see a difference between corporations wanting to help, and those who may think good deeds equal good publicity?
I think there are many ways for corporations to give. Volunteering requires more effort and commitment than just writing a cheque. If you want to achieve something besides just a good photo op, you need to make some effort. There’s a higher bar of entry for volunteering, and therefore, you automatically filter out the people who are using it for ulterior motives.
Communiteer’s corporate volunteers want to do good and contribute to global goals. They know they’ve got something to give, but they just don’t know where the opportunities are, who needs them, and how to track their progress along the way.
Can we talk about your personal leadership style? What is it?
As one of my mentors taught me, the best leaders make themselves dispensable by not being authoritarian. The leadership I always strive for is one of empowerment. I try to create opportunities for the people around me to shine.
Ultimately, the leadership team wants a good debate, good ideas to be brought forward. We’re trying to bring on people who’ve got their own expertise so that they can get on with what they think is the right decision.
What makes Communiteer unique in the NFP sector?
We’re the only ones using a crowdsourcing model to create these connections. On one side, you have people who want to do good, and on the other, we have organisations who need help.
Communiteer sits in the middle. We can see all the patterns and link them to ensure collaboration more effectively and at scale. So we are definitely unique. Volunteering may have been around for centuries, but with our integrated technology, we’re adapting it to be able to navigate modern challenges. Making a meaningful impact depends on someone who is well-networked to go and join the dots, whereas now we are using technology to do that.
How has COVID-19 impacted the important work that NFPs and Communiteer do?
When my co-founder and I decided to quit our jobs and do this, we read a report that looked at future trends in volunteering. Out of the report’s 10 recommendations, the vast majority related to the sector’s use of tech. That hasn’t changed. If anything, Covid has accelerated the process, and we’ve had more corporate volunteers come to us, all while NFPs were scrambling to keep the lights on and survive.
Covid has been a bittersweet experience, in that it emphasised the need for virtual solutions. But it also highlighted the pain and hardship a lot of NFPs are going through and the impact that has on the vulnerable people they help. It’s been an interesting experience for a social enterprise tech start-up like us to accelerate growth during lockdown while directing our focus to where it can really make a difference.
Victor Lee is the co-founder and CEO of Communiteer.