Who we are
Indigo Volunteers is a charity that recruits volunteers and connects them with humanitarian projects working in the European refugee crisis. We provide a straightforward, matchmaking service, placing people where they are needed most. On our travels, we have found that small grassroots organisations often do not have the time or resources to find volunteers that keep their projects running. Conversely, people who want to volunteer often don’t know where to start and find it difficult to identify a legitimate project where their talents are really needed. Our aim is to remove these hurdles and create the connections that enable charities to keep going and focus on their objectives.
Indigo was founded to challenge the exploitative practices of for-profit volunteering agencies that charge extortionate fees and seem primarily concerned with selling exotic experiences, rather than considering their actual impact. We want to ensure that volunteering remains true to its core humanitarian purpose: we believe in people helping people, and partner with grassroots charities that are positively dedicated to supporting communities coping with poverty, displacement, and inequality.
We further support projects by advising on volunteer management, facilitating training opportunities and sharing knowledge and resources. As an umbrella organisation, closely collaborating with many different humanitarian actors, Indigo always endeavours to create connections and strengthen ties throughout the independent aid sector.
We partner with organisations that are currently supporting displaced people across Europe, where urgent help is most needed.
Indigo Volunteers was founded in 2012 by Holly Penalver in response to the steep fees, dubious marketing practices, and questionable projects she had encountered whilst volunteering abroad. Holly had been keen to get involved and find a more ethical way to organise volunteering since first coming across these malpractices back in 2009. Now working as a paediatric nurse, she identified a small health clinic in Malawi and organised a volunteering placement for her and her colleagues. The trip confirmed two things: local grassroots projects had great interest in the assistance of independently placed volunteers, while Holly’s colleagues and friends were inspired to come out and help. Back home, she started her own non-profit volunteer matchmaking organisation; Indigo was born.
With the support of Holly’s dedicated friends and family, Indigo identified several projects across East Africa and started organising placements for a handful of brave applicants. Gradually, more countries and projects were added to the website, and more aspiring volunteers signed up. The 2015 refugee crisis proved a catalyst for a sudden growth spurt, yielding an unprecedented demand for immediate independent emergency aid on European soil.
The team moved out to Greece in 2016, joining ranks with Help Refugees to provide on-the-ground volunteer coordination and project support at several crisis hotspots in Greece, Serbia and Bosnia. Indigo has been present in the field ever since, placing over 1800 volunteers to well-over 80 partner projects along the refugee route.
Today, Indigo is still a small charity, run by an excitable group of volunteers from several different countries and a handful of full-time field staff. The world is our office: we coordinate our day-to-day operations from behind our laptops, enabling us to work alongside our partners in the field and onboard an ever-growing number of projects.
Founder and CEO (Maternity Leave)
My initial volunteering experiences - after completing my degrees in Psychology and Nursing - showed me the importance of responsible volunteering. I founded Indigo in 2014 to make volunteering abroad more accessible, ensuring that each project we support benefits the local community within which it operates. I am on maternity leave, but look forward to returning to Indigo soon!
Stijn van der Leest
For the past six years I have been working with grassroots NGOs along the European refugee route, and am delighted to be taking on the role of Interim CEO until Holly returns at the end of 2021. I try - and usually fail - not to be a complete workaholic, but when I find myself outside of work I love playing sports, guitar and undertaking random road trips.
Head of Programmes & Partnerships
I manage and coordinate Indigo’s volunteering, PSS and capacity building programmes. I also like to make sure that our team is well taken care of in a HR capacity. As the newest member of Indigo, I am excited to embark on this journey with my wonderful colleagues! After a long day, a walk in the city or playing the piano will always recharge me.
I manage Indigo's digital workspace, work with our board on compliance questions and generally support our team to make sure we work as effectively as we can. I first stumbled upon Indigo when working as a Volunteer Coordinator in Serbia. Fast forward two years and I decided to join this wonderful bunch of people myself!
Content Marketing Manager
I look after Indigo’s marketing and social media. I’m also the founder of @girlvsglobe, an online community of 200,000+ followers. One of my biggest passions is writing - I’m a published author and currently working on my next book. I joined Indigo because I believe our responsible volunteering model creates lasting impact.
I take care of matching volunteers with organisations and ensuring that the process is as smooth as possible for everyone involved. I have been working in Greece since February 2020 and have seen first-hand the impact which grassroots organisations are able to have and the importance of responsible and well-equipped volunteers.
I have been working in the international volunteer sector for more than four years. I hold an MA degree in Human Rights and Multi-level Governance and keep on studying how responsible volunteering contributes to achieving goals of inclusion, empowerment and equality for everyone, leaving no one behind.