In the back-and-forth argument on voluntourism, ethical global service, poverty porn, and volunteering for development, have you ever wondered if there’s a real evidence base? There is. Please watch and share this brief summary of accumulated insights. Links to the relevant research appear in the video transcript below. The transcript is followed by recent, diverse resources that support mutually beneficial and empowering global service and learning.
Even as universities and schools expand global learning and community engagement, there is a raging debate about international volunteer service.
Some people say that volunteering and service-learning does more harm than good. Others believe we are all global citizens, and we must participate in international service to make a difference in the world.
Evidence against international service includes research showing that growing up in an orphanage can negatively affect a child’s development and put the child at risk of abuse. International volunteering in orphanages increases these risks as high numbers of volunteers may cycle in and out of a child’s life. Also, the demand for such volunteering placements is increasing the number of orphanages in many countries, despite the fact that most of the children have at least one living parent.
Thus, some organizations have joined a global initiative to campaign against international service in orphanages, and to encourage people to support families and communities instead. All vulnerable children are best cared for in a family-based setting in their own communities, and looked after by consistent caregivers – not short-term international volunteers.
Additionally, there is clear evidence that real harm can be caused by un-credentialed volunteers providing direct health care. This should be avoided.
These two areas –
- pre-professional health care and
- orphanage tourism and volunteering
are high risk types of international service.
Yet, research also indicates that international service can be very helpful. Communities value service partnerships that
- Ensure community voice and self-direction through an asset-based, capacity-building lens, leveraging strengths already present in the community.. Top-down development interventions based on outsiders’ perceptions of community needs do not result in a meaningful impact.
- Engage communities beyond the time horizon of specific, physical development projects. Those projects – like water systems, schools, or new parks – are important – But physical projects are neither the only, nor the most important, outcomes.
- Nurture trusting relationships between volunteer organizations and the communities they serve. Research even indicates that these long-standing, trusting relationships lead to communities sometimes developing deeper trust in volunteer-sending organizations than in conventional development organizations.
- Empower community members to maintain their side of cooperative development partnerships. Often these commitments become sources of great pride for community members.
These relationships frequently grow into global advocacy networks, which work to support global governance norms like transparency, inclusive participation, and human rights.
Around the world, there is strong community support for good, community-driven, cooperative global service partnerships.
Encouraging students and young people to take part in community-driven international volunteering is one way to ethically engage our global interdependence, but it must be done well. For accumulated research, ongoing learning, and resources demonstrating what works well, what is wrong, and what is best practice in global service and learning partnerships, visit globalsl.org and learn how to meaningfully volunteer without doing harm.
Along with an increasingly diverse accompaniment of sponsors and friends, we are advancing knowledge that supports ethical global engagement.
This initiative is made possible in part through the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation, which is dedicated to encouraging the highest standards of service and leadership. The Henry Luce Foundation seeks to bring important ideas to the center of American life, strengthen international understanding, and foster innovation and leadership in academic, policy, religious and art communities.
* While there are hundreds of peer-reviewed articles, blog entries, and teaching tools available at globalsl.org, the brief list below shares several strong, recent examples from institutions and organizations involved with the globalsl network. These initiatives advance best practices among faculty, staff, community members, and students. They are frequently available for free or for a nominal charge.
- The Fair Trade Learning standards and rubric embody a global, cross-community, multi-organizational, multi-institutional effort to ensure standards of fairness in learning and service partnerships. The standards emerged through a community-driven approach to partnership, and are important throughout all moments in program planning. They have now been published in academic articles as well as books, and developed in ways intended to facilitate stakeholder conversation around issues of equity in partnership.
- Faculty members with Stanford University’s Overseas Program in Cape Town have shared syllabi on Service, Citizenship, and Social Change, as well as Targeted Research in Community Health and Development.
- The University of Minnesota School of Public Health has developed a free online workshop for students preparing for volunteering related to global health.
- Northwestern University’s Global Engagement Studies Institute shares syllabi for Doing the Theory and Practice of Community Engagement and Development in the Global Context.
- In an effort to prepare diverse potential international volunteers located anywhere in the world, Kansas State University has partnered with the nonprofit organization Omprakash to offer an entirely online, closely mentored Introduction to Global Development, Partnerships, and Social Change.
- The University of Kentucky has developed resources on Fair Trade Learning in their Education Abroad Faculty Toolkit, to support meaningful education abroad experiences across disciplines.