Fair Trade Learning*

View updated FTL resources and an FTL video here! 

Editors Note: While feedback is still requested as indicated in the text that follows, a version of the standards below has been published as: Hartman, E., Morris Paris, C., & Blache-Cohen, B. (2014). Fair trade learning: Ethical standards for community-engaged international volunteer tourism. Tourism & Hospitality Research (14) 1 – 2: 108 – 116. 

Dear Colleagues:

Your feedback is requested. During the past two years, numerous concerned global citizens, international education practitioners and researchers, nongovernmental organization representatives, and community members around the world have been collaborating to consider and produce a set of global community engagement standards that meet the demands of the term Fair Trade Learning.

We would like your input below to build upon feedback already received at the conferences of the International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement (IARSLCE), The Forum on Education Abroad, and the Cornell University / New York Campus Compact Global Service-Learning Institute. Please view the standards and provide comments below this post.

The document below is an articulation of standards at the nexus of global university-community engagement, a term intended to encompass the astonishing growth in institutions in the Global North supporting international experiences with community-based participatory research, service-learning, international volunteerism, ethnographic interviewing, field schools, and other varieties of community-engaged international education, much of which occurs in the Global South.

After gathering feedback here until September 30, these standards will be further discussed and vetted at the International Service-Learning Summit at Northwestern University in October. Following the Northwestern Meeting, we intend to move into the development of:

  • Fair Trade Learning Critical Questions for Program Providers
  • Fair Trade Learning Self-Assessment Rubric
  • Fair Trade Learning Critical Questions for Students, Parents, and Volunteers

Additionally, there will be brief discussion of these standards as part of the pre-conference on community impact assessment at the November International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement conference. While we understand that conferences and website access are not available to everyone, it is important to remember that these standards began with concerns articulated by a community organization in Jamaica (whose representative is part of the Plenary at the upcoming International Service-Learning Summit at Northwestern). They have been vetted by several community organizations throughout their development and, in addition to this online forum, we are taking steps to assemble additional feedback through direct dialogue and interpersonal relationships with community-based organizations around the world.

Thank you for your contributions to this dialogue.

Fair Trade Learning:

Ethical Standards for Community-Engaged International Education

Introduction

Community-based participatory research, service-learning, international volunteerism, ethnographic interviewing, field schools, and other varieties of community-engaged international education are on the rise. Many of the organizations behind these practices suggest, in their marketing materials and elsewhere, that their approaches support community development. As a broad and inclusive group of community development professionals and citizens, researchers, and international education practitioners, the individuals behind this document have seen careful and conscientious community development occur through such practices and partnerships. Yet it is also clear that such initiatives may subvert their stated purposes and reinforce inequality, dependency, and/or ethnocentric thinking. Recognizing the profound challenges embedded within even defining “community” or “development” as part of intercultural partnership practice, this document nonetheless advances a set of Fair Trade Learning standards that are intended to call attention to the most important issues, imply the most compelling questions, and drive continuous improvement for individuals and organizations who approach this practice with conscientiousness and care.

We do not have all of the answers, nor do we intend to suggest that all programs must always meet these standards in precisely the same ways. Indeed, context matters and institutional relationships change slowly over time. We hope to provoke conversations and movement toward more equitable engagement in ways that serve community development and student learning.

In that spirit, Fair Trade Learning is global educational partnership exchange that prioritizes reciprocity in relationships through cooperative, cross-cultural participation in learning, service, and civil society efforts. It foregrounds the goals of economic equity, equal partnership, mutual learning, cooperative and positive social change, transparency, and sustainability. Fair Trade Learning explicitly engages the global civil society role of educational exchange in fostering a more just, equitable, and sustainable world.

The standards below are separated into core principles, community-centered, and student-centered components, because it is often the case that different administrators, offices, leaders, or faculty members attend to these different foci. Yet the position expressed in this document is that student learning and community goals must reinforce and inform one another. Either is undermined by the absence of the other.

Readers and contributors have noted that the structure of the document often assumes that the university office or administrator holds more power in the relationship than the community partner. While this is not always the case, the assumption throughout the document and in writing these standards has been that universities must take aggressive steps to create conditions of co-planning, co-management, co-direction, and co-design, because they often do unreflectively hold the larger share of power in global partnerships, particularly when partnering in marginalized communities.

These standards are intended as aspirational guidelines, not as limiting proscriptions. While our strongest aspiration is that all programs would achieve the standards indicated here, we also recognize that program building and institutional change are most frequently characterized as journeys rather than revolutions. These guidelines are intended to help draw attention to key issues and thereby suggest a robust way forward.

1.     Core Principles:

1.1. Dual Purposes. Programs are organized with community and student outcomes in mind. The ethics of integrating community development with student learning necessitates that as much attention is paid to community outcomes as to student learning. One purpose is therefore never primary. Rather, community-driven outcomes and student learning about ethical global engagement must be held in balance with one another.

1.2. Community Voice and Direction. Drawing on best practices in community development, service-learning, and public health, community-based efforts must be community driven. Community engagement, learning, program design, and budgeting should all include significant community direction, feedback, and opportunities for iterative improvements. Attention to the best practices referenced above suggests practitioners should triangulate community voice, actively seek the voices of the marginalized, and otherwise be systematic about inclusion of broad community perspective and multiple stakeholders regarding direction and goals. While student outcomes are certainly important and we point to dual purposes above, the typical bias of universities to serving students and organizations to serving customers requires a special focus on and attention to community voice and direction.

1.3. Institutional Commitment and Partnership Sustainability. International education programming should only be undertaken within a robust understanding of how the programming relates to the continuous learning of the student and community-defined goals of the host community. For students, this translates as a relationship between the program, preparatory courses, and re-entry programming. Such programming should support the development of the individual student and/or continuous connection to the community partnership or ethical question addressed after returning to campus. Ideally, on campus faculty, activities, and programs support students’ efforts to engage in ongoing global civic engagement and social change programming related to their immersion experiences. For community partners, this means clarity regarding the nature of the commitment with the university or international education provider, as well as a clear vision of likely developments in the partnership and community-driven goals for the next year, three years forward, and even as many as five years in the future.

1.4. Transparency. Students and community partners should be aware of how program funds are spent and why. Decision making regarding program fund expenditures should be transparent. Lines of authority should be clear. Transparency should extend throughout GSL relationships, from the university to and through any providers and to the community.

1.5. Environmental Sustainability and Footprint Reduction. Program administrators should dialogue with community partners about environmental impacts of the program and the balance of those impacts with program benefits. Together, partnership leaders must consider strategies for impact mediation, including supporting local environmental initiatives and/or opportunities for participants to travel to and from their program site “carbon neutral” (e.g. by purchasing “passes” or “green tags”).

1.6. Economic Sustainability. Program costs and contributions should be shared in a manner that minimizes disruption in the local community.  Donations or project support should reflect a sustainability perspective, thereby taking into account and/or developing the capacity of the community partner to manage funding effectively and ethically.  University-based practitioners may also need to cooperate with their development and finance offices to create the capacity to responsibly manage funds targeted toward these specific initiatives.

1.7. Deliberate Diversity, Intercultural Contact, and Reflection. The processes that enhance intercultural learning and acceptance involve deliberate intercultural contact and structured reflective processes by trusted mentors. This is true whether groups are multi-ethnic and situated domestically, comprised of international participants, only students, or community members and students. Program administrators and community partners should work to enhance diversity of participants at all points of entry, and should nurture structured reflective intercultural learning and acceptance within all programs.

1.8. Global Community Building. The program should point toward better future possibilities for students and community members. With community members, the program should encourage multi-directional exchange to support learning opportunities for individuals from the receiving communities, as well as continuous contact and commitment regarding local development and/or advocacy goals. With students, the program should facilitate a return process whereby learners have reflective opportunities and resources to explore growth in their understandings of themselves as individuals capable of responsible and ethical behavior in global context.

2.     Community-Centered Standards

2.1  Purpose. Program administrators should engage in continuous dialogue with community partners regarding the partnership’s potential to contribute to community-driven efforts that advance human flourishing in the context of environmental, economic, and social sustainability. Continuous dialogue should include minimally annual evaluation and assessment of the partnership and its purposes.

2.2  Community Preparation. Community organizations and partners should receive clear pre-program clarity regarding expectations, partnership parameters through formal or informal memoranda of understanding, and sensitization that includes visitors’ customs and patterns, and fullest possible awareness of possible ramifications (both positive and negative) of hosting.

2.3  Timing, Duration, and Repetition. Program administrators should cooperate with community members to arrive at acceptable program timing, lengths, and repetition of student groups in communities. Different communities have demonstrated varying degrees of interest in timing of programs, their duration, and their regularity of repetition. This, like all such conversations, must be highly contextualized within particular communities and partnerships.

2.4  Group Size. Program administrators must discuss ideal group size with community members and arrange program accordingly. Large groups of visiting students can have positive and negative effects on local communities, including undermining traditional cultural knowledge and distorting the local economy.

2.5  Local Sourcing. The program should maximize the economic benefits to local residents by cooperating with community members to ensure program participant needs are addressed through indigenous sources. Community-engaged programs should categorically not parallel the economic structures of enclave tourism. Maximum local ownership and economic benefit is central to the ethos of community partnership. For example:

2.5.1      Transparently reimbursed host families offer stronger local economic development than hotels or hostels that are frequently owned by distant corporate organizations.

2.5.2      Local eateries, host families, and/or local cooks should be contracted to support local economic development and offer opportunities to learn about locally available foods.

2.5.3      Local guides and educators should be contracted to the fullest extent possible, including contracting with professionalized/credentialed as well as non-professionalized and non-credentialed educators who hold and understand local knowledge, history, traditions, and worldview.

2.6  Direct Service, Advocacy, Education, Project Management, and Organization Building. To the extent desired by the community, the program involves students as service-learners, interns, and researchers in locally accountable organizations. Students learn from, contribute skills or knowledge to, and otherwise support local capacity through community improvement actions over a continuous period of time. Ideally, community members or organizations should have a direct role in preparing or training students to maximize their contributions to community work. Students should be trained in the appropriate role of the outsider in community development programs. They should also be trained on participatory methods, cultural appropriateness, and program design, with a focus on local sustainability and capacity development.

2.7  Reciprocity. Consistent with stated best practices in service-learning, public health, and development, efforts are made to move toward reciprocal relationships with community partners. These efforts should include opportunities for locals to participate in accredited courses and research experiences, chances to engage in multi-directional exchange, and clear leadership positions, authority, and autonomy consistent with the ideals articulated in “Community Voice and Direction” above. Outcomes for communities should be as important as student outcomes; if this balance is not clear, program design adjustments should be made.

3.     Student-Centered Standards

3.1. Purpose. The program leaders instill an ethical vision of human flourishing by systematically encouraging student reflection and growth regarding responsible and ethical behavior in global context.

3.2. Student Preparation. Robust learning in international education is clearly predicated upon careful preparation for participating students. Student preparation should include pre- or-in-field training that equips learners with the basic conceptual and experiential “tools” to optimize field learning, with greater or less attention given to the concepts mentioned here based on program design, community desires, and student learning goals. Programs may expect students to acquire a working knowledge of the host country’s political history and its relationship to global trends and pressures, current events, group customs and household patterns, ethnographic skills, service ethics, and research methods, as well as culturally appropriate project design, participatory methods, and other community-based approaches and tools. This may require transdisciplinary courses and multidisciplinary cooperation among faculty members.

3.3. Connect Context to Coursework and Learning. The program leaders engage documented best practices in international education, service-learning, and experiential education broadly by systematically using reflection to connect experiential program components with course goals, global civic engagement goals, and intercultural learning goals.

3.4. Challenge and Support. Program leaders embrace lessons learned regarding reflection in experiential education and intercultural learning by ensuring the living and learning environment is characterized by “challenge and support” for students.

3.4.1. Student housing opportunities encourage sustained intercultural contact, opportunities for reflection, and connection to intercultural learning.

3.4.2. Students are systematically encouraged to engage in contact with the local population that deliberately moves students out of “group cocoons” and into interpersonal relationships with a variety of local individuals.

3.4.3. Service projects or community programs are conducted collaboratively, with students working alongside community members to maximize cultural understanding and local context knowledge.

3.5. Program Length. Program design decisions recognize the strengths and limitations of different lengths of programming, and learning outcomes and educative processes are specifically calibrated to achieve outcomes consistent with program length.

3.6. Instruction and Mentoring. The program provides the necessary external facilitation and supervision to keep students focused, active, and reflective in their learning. The field support system includes “mentor-advisors” drawn from the host community (e.g. host family members, service supervisors, language coaches, and research guides).

3.7. Communicative Skills and Language Learning. Based on the length of the program and consultation with community partners, the program leaders choose the best possible strategy to improve current language and communication skills and spark interest in future language learning. The growth in short-term study abroad should in this light be seen as an opportunity to entice students toward language learning, rather than an excuse to avoid significant language development. More and deeper language learning is always optimal for improved communication and community partnership.

3.8. Preparation for healthy return to home communities. Before and after return, program leadership offers guidance, information, reflective opportunities, and exposure to networks intended to support students’ growth as globally engaged, interested, and active individuals. This is part of both course planning and institutional support, as it should extend from the course into student programming and organizations as well as career services and academic career opportunities.  

 

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*Special thanks to Amizade Global Service-Learning, which provided a first iteration of the Fair Trade Learning ideal through the vision generated by its partner the Association of Clubs in Petersfield, Jamaica, as well as to Dr. Richard Slimbach of Azusa Pacific University, whose “Program Design for the Common Good” was the first iteration of this document. Additionally, we are appreciative of considerable written and spoken feedback from Slimbach himself along with GSL administrators, community- and university-based practitioners, and scholars including Jeffrey Bouman, Matthias Brown, Lauren Caldarera, Brandon Blache-Cohen, Mireille Cronin-Mather, Jessica Evert, Ethan Knight, Richard Kiely, Julia Lang, Robin Pendoley, Nora Reynolds, Rebecca Stoltzfus, Cynthia Toms-Smedley, Madeline Yates, and numerous individuals who provided feedback at the 2011 and 2012 International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement Conferences, 2013 Forum on Education Abroad Conference, and 2013 Cornell Global Service-Learning Institute.