A national initiative to encourage IT professionals to get involved in community projects was launched on Friday. The scheme -- IT 4 Communities -- has two objectives: to achieve a significant and sustainable increase in the number of companies and IT professionals volunteering their skills in their local communities, and to maximise the effectiveness of this volunteering input in building the capacity of local charities and community groups. The first stage of the initiative is focused on developing an online community of companies and individual IT professionals interested in volunteering their skills. The Web site provides guidance and resources for would-be volunteers, and a regular e-newsletter will be made available to provide information on volunteering opportunities. Over the next 12 months there will also be a roll-out of regional groups where IT staff interested in volunteering can exchange ideas and good practice. The longer term goal is for these activities to come together at an annual conference with awards for the most innovative and effective projects. David Jordan, president of Intellect -- one of the scheme's backers -- said: "We want it to become the norm for IT companies and individuals to volunteer their skills because it is enjoyable, it is good for the community and it can also benefit your business." Speaking at the launch, Stephen Timms, minister of state for e-commerce and competitiveness, said: "The key message here is that serving business needs and supporting socially responsible activities are not mutually exclusive. We must bring an end to the view that social, environmental and economic goals are essentially in conflict. The reality is far from it." He added: "We believe that business, the voluntary sector and public bodies can all work effectively together because, by doing so, they can advance both their own particular interests and the interests of others. So for companies, corporate social responsibility is not just a case of altruism but is based on a sound business case with IT 4 Communities -- the impact can be particularly powerful." IT 4 Communities is being promoted by a range of organisations including Business in the Community, the British Computer Society, Citizens Online, Computer Weekly, Intellect and the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists.