For Good Or For Ill? Community Impact in Global Service-Learning

While there is a growing body of research relating to community outcomes of global service-learning projects, one of the challenges the field faces is becoming increasingly specific and nuanced about both understanding and – to the extent possible – working to manage community impact ethically. The following list of possible positive and negative outcomes of GSL programs was generated at the 2012 Conference of the International Association of Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement. Please feel free to add additional positive and negative community effects in the comments section, as all of this will continue to feed into our collective conversations about how to ensure high-quality, responsible global service-learning practice.  

POSSIBLE COMMUNITY OUTCOMES (spectrum from positive- unintended – negative)

Positive, Including Unintended:

  • Community receives income from tourism
  • Contribution to and clarification of democracy analysis
  • Sense of agency and efficacy
  • Capacity to achieve community goals is increased through students’ contributed skills or labor or finances
  • Sustainable programming developed
  • Bring capacities of individuals and community groups to identify and articulate goals
  • Catalyze building relationships and practices of collective action
  • Increased academic achievement
  • Creation of new local/regional networks
  • Increased communication through multiple layers of community
  • Connecting the community to valuable relations and resources that exist outside the community
  • Initiate funding for program
  • Learn about social system and knowledge concerning protection from tsunami disaster
  • Community learns about the “other” too
  • Construction of new housing
  • Immediate impact of filling a need related to food, shelter, etc
  • Interest for Japanese culture
  • Improved program
  • Creating advocates and lies or this (their) community
  • Awareness raised of particular human rights issue
  • Incorporate grassroots activism around a particular community issue
  • Funding
  • Access to new resources
  • Presence of foreigners bring local/regional/national attention to community’s needs
  • Student volunteers to help provide childcare while parents attend workshops
  • Community has a more positive and receptive attitude toward students, faculty, institutions after GSL experience than before
  • Medical students who participate in free clinics for SL learn to really listen to patients who don’t have health insurance or are underserved and have a better understanding of the social determinants and social context of health care. They have a better sense of their role in providing care for underserved populations and a responsibility for the larger community
  • Refugee families make American friends
  • Economic impact on partnering community
  • Validation of connection between home and diasporic community
  • Positive perception of student group
  • A Burmese women’s weaving cooperative is initiated
  • Creation of a new role- local instructor/ mediator
  • Affirming to value of people in the community and the assets they possess for change
  • Community shares knowledge and experiences or perspectives; sees no immediate positive impact but trusts that short experience transformational learning for later positive outcomes
  • New programs
  • Exposure to US college students
  • Some community need is met in full or part by GSL experience, at least while it was happening (but no one returns consistently)
  • Publicity
  • Organizational change
  • Creation of a charity paradigm
  • Community change
  • Social media
  • Community will identify or evaluate/ generalize certain characteristics/ traits of college students (i.e. level of preparedness, professionalism, attitudes, etc.)
  • Community members wish to leave/ migrate to the US

Negative:

  • Burn out/ distrust of Americans
  • Consume scarce resources of time and professional energy to take care of students for little benefit
  • Reinforcing stereotypes in host community
  • Dependency (do we have a responsibility to do this every year until the problem goes away?)
  • Community feels alienated or disenfranchised by their GSL experience with students and/or faculty
  • Negative perception of student group
  • Jealousy of resources brought to some community members and not others
  • Reinforcing privilege and power inequities
  • Disappointment due to promises not followed through
  • Exposed to unattainable wealth (i.e. digital cameras, ipods, etc.)
  • Refugee families are turned out to interact with Americans due to a disappointing experience
  • Resource depletion of partnering community
  • Desire to persuade participants toward one perspective or another
  • Community is interviewed about needs and program is unable to met them or uses interviews for study, not action (community as lab)
  • Involvement in money economic system
  • Student for whom SL was first experience leaving the US had negative experience in outlying provinces was too overwhelming and very uncomfortable
  • Drain on resource/ time
  • Reinforced stereotypes of US / “privileged”
  • Activation of tensions/ disagreements in the community
  • Reinforcing the power structure in the community by validating and providing resources skills and legitimacy to local elites- often English speaking, educated at expense of marginalized
  • Only a few community members (privileged members) have access to GSL activities
  • No significant impact on community (i.e. students leave feeling great, life goes on)
  • Damage relationships between local organizations and communities
  • Break up marriages in communities

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