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GoVoluntouring unites passion with projects

September 26, 2011
Amy Dove

Aaron Smith knew there had to be a better way.

The idea cemented in his mind after days of sweating, digging and watching calluses form on his hands during a volunteering trip to Costa Rica with his father. The men helped build a home for a single mother and her three children over the course of three weeks.

"You have these experiences that no one can take away from you. You have accomplished something; you have shared of yourself and helped people who need it the most," he said. "We got so much more out of it than we ever put into it... and we put a lot of work into it."

Eager to share his experience, Smith returned home envisioning how the process of selecting and embarking on such an experience could be improved. It wasn't until he came to Royal Roads University for the Bachelor of Commerce program that he developed an answer for the vision., launched Sept. 5, allows volunteers to search for trips based on seven criteria that tailor their experience based on preferences in destination, budget, project, age, timeframe, fitness level and religion. Organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Power to the People, MedForce, WWF and A Broader View Volunteers have already partnered with Smith.

"I thought there has got to be a way where we can create a better interplay between the volunteer and the project," he said. "That's what GoVoluntouring is. People will know inherently what will make them feel better or where they want to put their efforts," Smith said. "What (the site) embeds fundamentally is choice."

While at Royal Roads, Smith and some classmates developed a business for the Venture Challenge. Originally pitched as a company to provide comfortable volunteering experiences for baby boomers, the idea evolved into GoVoluntouring.

"I spent 10 months building that (early) model and I got to a point down the road when I realized it was a great race I was trying to run ... but I personally was running the wrong race. I didn't have enough depth of working capital to speak to baby boomers and deliver on my promises," he said. "It also seemed to me I wasn't quite doing enough - I could do more with my efforts and I could help more people."

The idea was inspired in equal parts by his wife Erin and Royal Roads, he said. Around the time of their first daughter Stella's birth, the Vancouver-based couple was questioning what they wanted to do with their lives, and whether being part of the "rat race" in the city was the only choice.

 "We believe in social justice and empowerment for women and different cultural groups. We live a very healthy green life. On top of that we wanted to be good role models for our children and we wanted to provide them with deeper experiences," he said Smith. "(So we said) let's find a way to create a life around giving back and living sustainability, as well as exposing our daughters to different cultures."

Check out Aaron Smith on CityTV.