Community volunteering paradigms in disaster relief

Volunteers helping move rubble after the Nepal earthquake

Continuing from our last blog on volunteer behaviour, in this piece we dive into the different paradigms of community volunteerism (detailed in our report Volunteering in disaster relief. These paradigms are a consequence of the largely positive local volunteer behaviour that we have observed. Irrespective of the circumstances and challenges, we found incredible stories of people helping each other. We hypothesise two paradigms of assistance:

  1. People helping people
  2. Communities helping communities

People helping people

People helping people is the form of help where instinctive assistance is provided to anyone in need from within the community. In this kind of response, affected communities often do not wait for local government to start taking action. We found this more prominent amongst communities where there tends to be lesser faith in the speed and efficacy of governmental response. This types of assistance in often unplanned and follows styles of “I see, I do” or “I see, I follow”.

I see, I do
I see, I follow

This manifests in the form of driving injured people to medical centres, moving debris and rubble from landslides, or becoming the collection and dispersion points for important information for their communities. During the recovery phase, this assistance becomes a little more organised, but is still not a sustained response. Some other examples of assistance in this form include — providing access to secure spaces to the vulnerable, providing food storage space, catering for a larger group of disadvantaged people, and transporting affected communities to safer locations.

Communities helping communities

As the name suggests, involves a larger response from the community to provide external or internal assistance. In this paradigm, the local leader responds to call for assistance from another community or from an aid organisation by mobilising his/her own community as a semi-organised set of local volunteers. This kind of response is observed in places where communities are close-knit and well-structured around local leadership. This response is more organised than ‘people helping people’ as fewer decision makers mobilise their communities with specific intents (to either get assistance or provide assistance). This results in a “We see and help” paradigm.

We see and help

In the event of communities assisting aid organisations of any sorts, communities helping communities can help build faith in external relief efforts as members of those communities work with aid providers in rebuilding efforts. In the cases where communities respond to call for assistance from other communities, this paradigm legitimised their existence as a semi-official entity because of the organised nature of their response.

These paradigms require a lot more study to be validated, and we plan to delve deeper in this subject in the coming months. If you are a community leader or have worked with community leaders, we would love to hear from you about how you organise your communities or have helped other aid efforts and communities by organising your response. If you are interested in sharing your story, please write to us at



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Relief Today

Relief Today

Relief Today is a startup building solutions for disaster relief. Our mission is to build technologies that help societies better endure disaster events.