Giving Compass' Take:

Ria Mazumdar explains how volunteerism, combining volunteering and tourism, can be inherently problematic and lead to unsustainable outcomes. 

• Can the voluntourism industry improve enough to be worthwhile? Can partnerships with development organizations help create more sustainable results? 

• Read more about the importance of sustainability in voluntourism.

The booming industry of “voluntourism,” or volunteer tourism, offers travel opportunities associated with social impact volunteering, such as teaching English or building houses in an earthquake-affected region.

Short-term projects stifle the agency of developing countries to develop sustainably, perpetuating systemic power dynamics that hinder the potential for self-driven projects.  Voluntourism has a few key features: a limited time frame (“vacations” don’t last more than a few weeks, a couple months at most), an extremely high turnover rate (volunteers flow in and out in a continuous stream due to the short time frame, and do not participate in any type of formal handover), and a relatively low barrier of entry (for example, you do not have to be a professional or have any engineering background to participate in house-building projects).

Combined, these characteristics can actually generate more harm than good. There are two broad problems with the voluntourist model: the sustainability problem and the amateur problem. Firstly, the short time frame and resulting high turnover rate is very detrimental to long-term sustainability.

Secondly, the amateur problem: the only criteria potential volunteers really need to meet are having good intentions and being able to afford a plane ticket to the destination. This means that development projects often lack much-needed expertise: constructing homes without an engineering background, or even teaching without any training, can render poor quality services with very little accountability.

However, it is important to note that volunteering is not inherently problematic. There are several criteria a volunteering organization can meet in order to promote good, sustainable practices. By accepting trained professionals to work in a placement for at least a couple months, organizations can combat both the sustainability and amateur problems.

Read the full article about voluntourism by Ria Mazumdar at Cherwell.