UGA graduate student Nipuna Ambanpola has engaged in public service since he was a child in Sri Lanka. In 2017, he created an online nonprofit organization to link volunteers around the world to projects in their local communities.
Here in Athens during the pandemic, Ambanpola used the same technology to create GroceryAid, which connects senior adults throughout Georgia with volunteers who can grocery shop for them.
“Volunteerism has always been a major part of my life,” said Ambanpola, a graduate student in the UGA school of Public and International Affairs and a graduate assistant with the J.W. Fanning Center for Leadership Development, a UGA public service unit. “When I came to Georgia, I found that most volunteer opportunities were led by organizations on campus or in the community. I started thinking about a way to help people identify volunteer opportunities no matter where they are, making it easier for them to get involved in their communities.”
The Georgia Chapter of Blue Key recognized Ambanpola by naming him the winner of the 2020 Tucker Dorsey Award during a virtual ceremony on Oct. 23. The annual award goes to students whose leadership, dedication and ideals reflect those of Tucker Dorsey, founder of the Blue Key Awards Banquet. Tucker was an outstanding student leader dedicated to UGA, its heritage, its tradition, its ideals and its goals. He exemplified the quality of mind and spirit that the university seeks to cultivate through a well-rounded education. Ambanpola is the 2020-21 vice president of Georgia Blue Key.
“Nipuna has a servant’s heart,” sad, Jennifer Frum, UGA vice president for Public Service and Outreach, who nominated him for indiction into Blue Key earlier this year. “He is absolutely the most effective leader I have ever known and perhaps the most deserving recipient of the Tucker Dorsey Award.”
Ambanpola launched his international online nonprofit organization, IVolunteer, in 2017.
Since then, more than 6,000 volunteers have connected with over 200 projects through IVolunteer International.
“Individuals can use our online program to find volunteer opportunities based on their location or they can create their own volunteer opportunities and post them online, allowing other people to connect with them,” Ambanpola said. “This enables people to lead their own volunteer efforts.”
He got the idea for GroceryAid from Shopping Angels, an organization created during the COVID-19 pandemic to shop for residents of Nevada and other states who were deemed expecially at-risk of the virus.
“Once I saw what they were doing, I felt like we could use our technical expertise to build a platform for Georgia,” Ambanpola said. Shopping Angels “agreed and supported our efforts.”
“Putting this together has definitely been a community effort.”
GroceryAid went live in late April and since then more than 158 volunteers have signed up.
IVolunteer International is growing in other areas as well. The organization is developing a social impact mobile app for release later to complement its online efforts and make it easier for people to sign up. Earlier this year, the UGA Kickstarter Fund awarded the organization $5,000 to support the app’s development.
“When people come together and help each other, it builds stronger, more resilient communities,” Ambanpola said. “I feel very fortunate to play a part in helping to bring people together in this way.”
Writer: Charlie Bauder, firstname.lastname@example.org, 706.244.6534
Contact: Nipuna Ambanpola, email@example.com, 912-484-1295