The COVID-19 Student Response Network (CSRN), founded by Ameya Vikram, Jack Elliot, Immy Ireland, Lee D’Arcy and Tom Steggall, began in Bristol with the aim of helping up to 30 local charities in Bristol.

The scheme has now rolled out internationally, with nearly 1,000 students from universities across the country volunteering for 75 charities in eight different countries, including England, Germany, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, and Malawi.

Working with local government and charitable organisations such as Student Minds, CoppaFeel!, Black South West Network, Quartet Community Foundation, children’s charity Variety and Age UK Bristol, student volunteers are assisting charities on a range of areas including management and fundraising strategies, digitization, social media and marketing, data analytics and machine learning.

CSRN is running throughout the summer, with volunteers receiving training and access to professional mentors from the scheme’s official training partners Accenture, Tata Consulting Services and Data Cubed. The scheme was founded and is led by students from the Bristol branch of 180 Degrees, a worldwide collective of student groups partnered with major consultancies which empower students with training to assist charities with pro-bono support.

The scheme is partnered with branches of 180 degrees across the country including Nottingham, St Andrews (Playfair Consultancy Group), Edinburgh (The Wednesday Group), Oxford (Six Degrees), Warwick, and Westminster. It has also teamed up with CoronaUnity to recruit students to the scheme in universities without an official student consultancy, such as Exeter.

Immy Ireland, one of the founders of CSRN, said: “The charity industry has been heavily affected by the pandemic, with 75 per cent of the sector furloughed and most major fundraising events cancelled.

“When the pandemic hit the UK, many of our friends had their internships cancelled and we realised that their insight and skills could add real value to a sector which has been devastated by the pandemic. We’ve been overwhelmed with the level of interest from students across the country, which I feel is a real testament to the student community and their passion to help others.”

One project is currently underway is with Student Minds, the UK’s leading student mental health charity which trains and supports students to run peer support programmes for mental health. The pandemic has forced all universities to cancel campus gatherings and mass participation events and as a result, the charity is looking to innovate its service offering throughout the next academic year and beyond. A team of four students from across the country is currently using machine learning, sentiment analysis and market research to support the charity with their aims.

Dominic Smithies, Student Voice and Equality Lead for Student Minds said: “We've been working with a really passionate group of students to help us with our listening work to ensure we're understanding what students are experiencing. These insights will help us in having the most effective response to COVID-19 so that we can do all we can to ensure students and staff are empowered to look after their own mental health, support others and create change."

Immy added: “So many people, now more than ever, rely on the support of charities and I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve managed to achieve so far. The impact of the pandemic will be felt for a long time, and our hope is that we can continue building on the network, and support charities across the world as they navigate the long-term challenges brought about by COVID-19.”

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