There are many benefits to volunteering – both for the individual and the community-based organizations in places where they serve – but the number of Americans who volunteer has sharply declined during the last 20 years.

Volunteerism connects individuals to one another and to the issues facing their communities, which can bring fulfillment to life and help advance careers. So why has the share of Americans who dedicate their time stagnated?

This question prompted Gaurav Dhir, Brenda Pak and Caio Brandao to dig a little deeper.

While living in San Francisco, Gaurav and Brenda started looking for volunteer opportunities. After hours of scouring different blogs, Facebook and Google groups they were no closer to volunteering their time.

“They wondered why finding a volunteer opportunity connected to their personal interests, abilities and passions was so time consuming,” Caio said. “This is when they first determined that something wasn’t working.”

Gaurav, Brenda and Caio, who all met during their time at the Ross School of Business MBA program, started to research the problem.

“We determined this is not a micro problem, it is a macro trend,” Caio said. “Volunteering rates have never been so low in the country, in Michigan, and in Ann Arbor.”

The team started to see generational differences in volunteering trends. They found that millennial volunteer rates are much lower than previous generations.

“We started talking to nonprofits and we realized that this is one of the main problems, no one in our generation has continued to work and engage in our communities,” Caio said. “It is not convenient to find opportunities, there is a disconnect.”

This is when the team decided to launch BackPac, a free mobile app to help individuals discover and schedule volunteer opportunities in Ann Arbor, while also increasing the awareness about volunteering and multiple nonprofits in Washtenaw County.

“BackPac is a way to bring people to the table to volunteer,” Caio said. “By creating this mobile app we are catering specifically to the people who are not currently volunteering.”

It is the BackPac team’s goal to make everything about volunteering easier for both individuals and the community partners they want to connect with.

The app allows nonprofits to label themselves based on cause, and potential volunteers can then search based on interest, select a day and time, and sign up. The team also plans on labeling the opportunities based on the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

“Everyone has specific causes that they care about,” Caio said. “We are working with our nonprofits to fit them into each of these focus areas. We believe this will be especially important once we expand outside of the Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County area.”

So far BackPac has worked closely with nonprofits in the area like Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley and the Humane Society of Huron Valley, but the goal is to expand outside of the area branching into Detroit and beyond – including Caio’s native Brazil.  

The app will launch on the AppStore and Google Play this fall and Caio, Business, MBA 2019, said that the team’s time as part of this summer’s TechArb Student Venture Accelerator cohort has helped to propel the progress of BackPac.

“As someone who just graduated, I can still be a part of the University of Michigan through TechArb,” he said. “I have the support of the university through TechArb, the Center for Entrepreneurship and the Zell Lurie Institute.

“Our association with these organizations has really opened a lot of doors.”