Irish volunteer centre is a technological feast

22 Jan 2008

Multimedia to inform, educate and empower would-be volunteers for the developing world will be the centrepiece of a new €2.2m Irish Aid Volunteering & Information Centre, which will open on Dublin’s O’Connell Street today.

The centre, which will be opened by the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern TD, will feature a range of state-of-the-art technology innovations ranging from web-based kiosks and touchscreens to window projectors and an interactive map projector.

As well as this, the information deployed throughout the centre will be largely web-based and will be controlled by a custom-built content management system.

The aim of the new centre is to raise public awareness of development issues and the role of Irish Aid, the Irish Government’s programme for offering assistance to developing countries, which totals an annual spend of €900m.

Irish Aid provides direct funding to nine priority countries: Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Timor Leste, Uganda, Vietnam and Zambia.

While the new centre is intended as a resource for educators, students and the public at large, it will have the important task of providing information on volunteering organisations at home and abroad for individuals who wish to become personally involved.

“A large part of this is about making the centre a first port of call on volunteering,” a spokesperson explained. “It fits neatly into the Government’s idea of active citizenship. It also lets taxpayers know where their money is going.”

The centre will feature an awareness room that will, through the use of projectors, bombard the visitor on all sides with important facts and statistics on four key topics: poverty, education, gender issues and HIV/AIDS.

One outstanding statistic emblazoned on the wall reads: “40pc of all people in the world are trying to live on less than €1.50 per day.” In other words, each day, over a third of the world is living on the price of a cup of coffee.

Rob Reid, director of new media at Martello Media, the firm behind much of the multimedia deployed around the centre said that in addition to three web-based kiosks, there will be 15 touchscreens located throughout, as well as projectors flashing information onto the windows of the centre.

“Much of the information on the various kiosks and touchscreens is managed using a content management system called Screenforge 3i that was custom-built for the centre,” Reid explained. “The screens will feature footage and clips from the Faraway Upclose documentaries produced by Animo.”

Reid explained that Irish Aid’s website will feature an information shopping basket service that allows citizens to send details to their email address. The website was developed by Dublin firm Arekibo.

A spokesperson for the centre said that as well as the awareness room, offices and meeting rooms, the Volunteering and Information Centre has a 30-seat workshop for non-Government organisations (NGOs) and visits by school groups. So far over 50 transition year student groups are due to visit the centre, as well as events booked in by 30 NGOs.

“We have plans to install similar centres in Cork and Galway,” the spokesperson explained. “All of the centres will feature touchscreen technology and opinion monitors for interactive quizzes.

Final construction costs, including the renovation and fit-out of the centre with multimedia facilties, is understood to have come to €2.2m.

“The opening of this Centre is the fulfilment of a commitment made by the Government in the White Paper on Irish Aid to raise awareness of development issues and make more and better information on development-related volunteering available,” the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern TD explained.

By John Kennedy