If nonprofits were brutally honest with funders

How will the community be transformed as a result of this grant? 

Hahahaha, that’s a good one! This grant is for $5,000! And people say funders don’t have a sense of humor! 5K will allow us to pay for six weeks of rent, which means we can stay open, and who knows what awesome stuff we’ll accomplish during those six weeks, am I right? Please add three zeroes if you really want to see transformation.

This is from a hilarious article from Nonprofit: Adorable Festive by Vu Le, Executive Director of Rainier Valley Corps, and is something every nonprofit, NGO and government program will have a hearty laugh about – it’s something every foundation and corporate philanthropy program manager should read as well.

Read it, have a laugh – and, seriously, think about how you could say some of these things diplomatically in a funding application. Because it needs to be said.

Also see:

International aid workers having sex with people in countries in crisis

I’ve written about the danger of sexual assault for women that work in aid and development, including PeaceCorps members (see the end of this blog for links). But, as I’ve researched, written and published these pieces, I’ve thought about women living in those developing countries, and how those local women are at even greater risk of sexual assault by the foreigners coming to their communities, either military, private enterprise or humanitarian workers. They are at MUCH greater risk, in fact. The Oxfam scandal reminds me that I’m overdue to focus on this.

If case you aren’t aware: earlier in February, The London Times reported that the U.K.-based agency Oxfam covered up an internal inquiry finding that the country director for the African country of Chad, Roland van Hauwermeiren, and members of his staff, had paid prostitutes in Chad for sex. Similar accusations emerged after van Hauwermeiren and his team were reassigned to Haiti following the devastating 2010 earthquake there. In an open letter responding to the allegations, van Hauwemeiren, a 68-year-old Dutch citizen, denied the allegations of sexual exploitation, saying he had “intimate relations” with a woman in Haiti during his tenure there, but that she was “not a prostitute. I never gave her money.”

Can local women in a developing country that has been devastated by war, corruption, natural disaster and/or poverty have consensual sex with foreign military members, business people or aid workers? Can a refugee? I say no. It’s impossible for someone in such a vulnerable position economically or socially to freely consent to sex with someone with that much power. 

About 20 years ago, there was an online community called the Aid Workers Network. I was one of the facilitators of that network, and we had some really incredible discussions about working in aid and development. It was through that network that I read an article about a humanitarian worker seeing his boss leaving a brothel, and it was the first time I had ever considered issues around aid workers and sex with local people – or even six with each other.

I’ve worked with international aid agencies since 2001, including in some developing countries, and in my briefings for working in those countries and with local people, people who are in highly-vulnerable positions because of their dire economic situation and because of the insecurity of their situation, I never once heard a caution about sexual relationships with local people, about power dynamics that many would say render it impossible to call a sexual relationship with a local woman and a foreign man “consensual.”

Sara Callaway, co-founder of Women of Colour Global Women’s Strike, noted in this article in The Guardian: “When women are starving and living in rubble, it is not prostitution. It is rape – what choice do women have?”

Other than on the now-defunct Aid Workers Network, I never once witnessed this as a topic of discussion among aid workers, including at the United Nations. I never felt that I was in a position of stability in terms of my job to dare to ask questions of human resources managers or anyone else, for that matter, regarding being on guard regarding sexual exploitation of local people by aid staff. I now so regret not asking the questions I wanted to, even if it would have jeopardized my career at the UN.

Here’s what I think needs to happen to keep local women safe and to change the culture at oh-so-many field offices regarding the safety of local women in their interactions with international staff:

  • Aid agencies MUST have written policies regarding international staff engaging in romantic or sexual relationships with local people or international staff that are subordinate to them, and these policies should be communicated when a person is hired and re-iterated regularly to ensure that no one can say, “Oh, I didn’t know!”
  • Visiting a prostitute in a developing country for sex, rather than as a part of official work with sex workers to ensure their basic rights, protect their health, etc., should be grounds for dismissal of international staff, as a violation of that agency’s written code of conduct. It should not matter if money was exchanged or not. Aid agencies cannot say they worry about the rights of women and then ignore that staff are visiting prostitutes for sex in developing countries. They must also consider what their policy will be regarding local male staff and their interactions with sex workers – this isn’t just about appropriateness; it’s also about abuse of power.
  • Aid agencies should publicly report how many accounts of sexual misconduct they investigate each year, the number of people dismissed each year for sexual harassment or abuse, and the processes they have for investigating and dealing with reports of sexual harassment or abuse. No need for names of people nor even of the countries where incidents happen – naming the countries where such happens could, in fact, endanger humanitarian workers in those countries.
  • Aid agencies should also say, in writing, publicly, if they are willing to rehire or reassign a staff member or contractor they suspect to have violated their policies regarding sexual misconduct or abuse, and what their policy is for providing a reference to such staff people regarding jobs at other agencies.

Oh, but what if an international aid worker truly falls in love with a local person? Then the aid worker can quit their job, get out of that power position, and get on a more level playing field with the love of their life.

There has never been a greater need for aid agencies. There has never been a greater need for foreign money to support those aid agencies. Aid agencies have prevented wars – no, not all of them, obviously. Aid agencies prevent genocides – no, not all of them, obviously. But without aid agencies, the amount of chaos happening in the world would be untenable. Aid agency scandals provide perfect scenarios for isolationists in government to cut foreign aid even further. Humanity, nor the environment, can survive without aid agencies – and they cannot survive if they do not address this very real, serious issue.

Related blogs:

Trump wants to eliminate national service

On February 12, 2018, the President of the USA, Donald Trump, sent his official Fiscal Year 2019 Budget request to Congress. This budget proposes the elimination of the Corporation for National and Community Service in FY 2019, and provides funding for an “orderly shutdown.” Here is an official statement about this budget proposal from CNCS.

This budget cut will mean the elimination of AmeriCorps, VISTA, Conservation Corps (the modern-day CCC) and Senior Corps.

I have seen, first hand, the impact that these national service members have had on nonprofit and public institutions, and those they serve, across this nation. These programs are a part of what make my country great – great right now. Members of these services provide CRITICAL services that benefit millions of people in our country. Members go on to an intense awareness about community issues that make them better citizens, more educated votes, and more productive members of society. The first President George Bush, President Bill Clinton, the second President George Bush, and President Barack Obama all supported these national service programs. If these national service programs are eliminated, millions will suffer, and yet another great thing about these United States will go away.

I am being entirely politically slanted with this blog and begging every person in the USA to write their US Senators and US Congressional representatives to stand firm in support of national service programs and to pressure their colleagues to do the same. We cannot let these programs be cut.

I warned you of this a year ago: AmeriCorps, VISTA, other CNCS programs could soon be gone

In the meantime, I guess it’s time to scramble volunteers to preserve the research and resources CNCS has compiled on its web site before the government deletes it.

Also see:

Diagnosing the causes of volunteer recruitment problems

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersI see it and hear it over and over: comments from nonprofits or churches or schools saying they are having trouble recruiting volunteers.

Before you hire a consultant, even me, to see what the problem is regarding why you don’t have enough volunteers, you might be able to diagnosis the problem yourself. The only catch is that you MUST be honest as you answer these questions. Also, answering these questions is rarely a one-person exercise; you may think you know the answer, but you need to ask other staff members, including volunteers themselves, what their answers are to these assessment questions. Don’t be surprised if your receptionist or a volunteer gives you a very different answer to any of these questions than you yourself would give.

Questions to diagnose your volunteer recruitment problems:

  • Is it easy to know just from looking at your web site what volunteers do, the different roles, the time commitment, the training requirements, and how to sign up?
  • Is there an OBVIOUS link from your home page to information for potential volunteers, a link as obvious as your donation link?
  • When someone calls or emails about volunteering, or submits an application, does that person get an immediate reply regarding next steps? In fact, do they get info at all, or does someone take their name and say someone will get back to them and then, most of the time, no one ever does? Often, when I’ve been asked to assess a volunteer recruitment at a school, THIS is where the problem lies: plenty of people are calling to volunteer, but they never get the response they need to get started, or the response comes months later, when they are no longer interested or available.
  • Are your next steps for volunteering with your organization something that the volunteer can get started on in a few days? In several weeks? In a few months? The further away the next step, the more likely the volunteer candidate won’t follow through.
  • Are your volunteering opportunities listed at the most popular third party volunteering sites for your area? For instance, where I live, the most popular volunteer recruitment sites are VolunteerMatch and HandsOn Portland. Go to Google or Bing and type in volunteer and the name of your city and see what comes up. Also see these tips for Using Third Party Web Sites Like VolunteerMatch to Recruit Volunteers.
  • Do you need to alter the volunteer role so that a volunteer would get more out of it, in terms of training, career-development, university class credit, or personal fulfillment? Is there anything you can do to make the role more fun?
  • Can the people you are trying to recruit as volunteers afford to volunteer – to work for free? Do they have childcare responsibilities that are preventing them from helping? Could you offer childcare? Could you pay for parking or mass transit, provide lunch for volunteers, or do anything at all to ease their financial burden?
  • Could you make the service time commitment less for volunteers? Could you try to recruit more volunteers for shorter shifts, for instance, instead of fewer volunteers for longer shifts?
  • Do you have a myriad of opportunities available for volunteers, like Short-term Assignments for Tech VolunteersOne-Time, Short-Term Group Volunteering Activities, and virtual volunteering?
  • Does the task you are asking volunteers to do seem especially intimidating or daunting? Could you make it less so, by reducing the time commitment the volunteer would have to make, or by guaranteeing that there is a seasoned volunteer or employee always with the new volunteer? Or by taking away the tasks in the role that are the most intimidating and giving them to paid staff? Or by better-assuring candidates that they will be fully trained before they are put into potentially challenging situations?
  • Are you asking too much from volunteers in terms of a time commitment, training and the responsibilities they will undertake as unpaid staff? Do you need to convert such roles into paid positions, in order to better attract the people that can make the time and emotional commitment to the role?

A terrific, easy exercise that can be really helpful in diagnosing your volunteer recruitment problems is to create a flow chart mapping your volunteer engagement, or a series of maps for different parts of the volunteer management process — the volunteer in-take process, the volunteer assignment development and matching process, the volunteer support assignment, etc. You could do charts for each of these processes, and then show how they all intersect. You can do a map on what you do, and don’t do, now, and then alter it to show how it SHOULD be. A dry erase white board with markers is best, better than any computer app:

Here’s one example of what a volunteer in-take flow chart could look like as a result of your mapping exercise (every organization is different):

Let’s be clear: people WANT to volunteer, including the much-derided millennials. Just go to Quora or Reddit and see how many people, mostly from that generation, are posting questions about how to find volunteering. And people are hungry to connect: in this age of always-online, there are so many, many people looking to connect in a meaningful way offline. Your obstacle to recruiting volunteers isn’t that people don’t want to volunteer; it’s that people that want to volunteer can’t easily find your information, or your volunteer roles don’t fit their interests or schedules. What worked to recruit volunteers 30 years ago doesn’t work now; if you are having trouble recruiting volunteers, it’s overdue for you to take a hard, in-depth look at both how you recruit, what your in-take process is like, and the volunteer opportunities you have available.

Also see:

An incredible volunteer recruitment success story in Texas

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersI have been training regarding volunteer management topics since the late 1990s. A frequently asked question I have gotten in my trainings is, “How do I get more black American men to sign up as volunteers with our program?” This question has come from a variety of nonprofits and schools. When I started training in the 1990s, I had zero ideas – I could not answer this question. I have had a lot of black American women in my audiences, but not men, especially when I was based in Texas, so I decided to ask some of them what their thoughts were in answer to the question. Two said the same thing to me on two different occasions: “I have no idea. When you find out, let me know.” I gathered ideas over the years, but never had the opportunity to put my own ideas into practice.

I did not, and I do not, for a second, believe any particular ethnic group is less inclined to volunteer. I do believe that different groups help their communities in different ways, and a lot of unpaid help to communities isn’t called volunteering – black men in the USA are giving back, but the ways they volunteer often go unrecognized. I also believe different groups face various obstacles to traditional, time-intensive volunteering: conflicting work schedules, family care needs, lack of transportation, lack of information about volunteering and language barriers. When I say lack of information, what I mean is that the volunteer recruitment message via one particular channel often does not reach everyone you want to reach. For instance, if I put volunteer recruitment messages only in the local newspaper, the majority of the community, which does NOT read the local paper, will never see it. If I put the messages only on Facebook, it’s unlikely teenagers will ever see it. When I say language barriers, I don’t always mean people for whom English is not their first language; I mean that certain words don’t mean the same to absolutely everyone. Volunteer doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. Community service doesn’t mean the same to everyone. Mentor doesn’t always mean the same thing to everyone. So in constructing a message, you have to think about who you are talking to and what words might appeal to them.

With all of that in mind, the recent success of a middle school in Dallas, Texas in recruiting black American men to be mentors in their school has been inspiring and enlightening to me:

According to this web site, 68.4% of the student population at Billy Earl Dade Middle in Dallas identify as African-American – drastically different from that of a “typical: school in Texas which is made up of 12.6% African-American students on average. To qualify for free lunch, children’s family income must be under $15,171 in 2015 (below 130% of the poverty line), and 85.5% of students at Dade Middle School receive free lunch. To qualify for reduced lunch, children’s family income must be below $21,590 annual income in 2015 (185% of the poverty line). 3% of students at Billy Earl Dade Middle receive reduced lunch. As of 2016, the percent of students at this school who pass the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) across all subjects was significantly lower than average for Texas. In short, the student body at Billy Earl Dade Middle School was largely “at risk.”

Parent involvement in a child’s early education is consistently found to be positively associated with a child’s academic performance (Hara & Burke, 1998Hill & Craft, 2003Marcon, 1999Stevenson & Baker, 1987). A 2002 report from the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, A New Wave of Evidence, found that students with parents involved in their schools and their school work, no matter their income or background, are more likely to:

  • Earn higher grades and test scores, and enroll in higher-level programs
  • Be promoted, pass their classes and earn credits
  • Attend school regularly
  • Have better social skills, show improved behavior and adapt well to school
  • Graduate and go on to post-secondary education

In December 2017, Billy Earl Dade Middle School ran into some difficulty when planning its annual “Breakfast with Dads” event. The school’s community liaison, Ellyn Favors, told the school’s Site Based Decision Making Team that student participation had been low in the past due to young men not having a father/father-figure available to attend the event. Kristina Dove, a community member on the team, decided to post a call for volunteers on Facebook in the hope of finding 50 male mentors to accompany the middle schoolers at the event:

This post was shared by several of her friends, including Stephanie Drenka, a popular blogger and photographer. The post was shared and reshared over and over, more than 125 times by the day of the event. They needed 150 men to sign up. More than 600 men showed up for the event. The event had to be moved from the cafeteria into the gymnasium because of the response. The event was so successful, so powerful, that it was covered by national media and online stories were shared over and over on social media. 

Why was this volunteer recruitment so successful? Based on all that I’ve read:

  • It was a simple way to get involved: just one hour of commitment at the school, with no requirement for anything else.
  • Why their attendance was so important was boiled down to simple, inspiring wording – easy to understand and oh-so-inviting to be a part of.
  • It was so simple to sign up.
  • It was oh-so-simple to share this message, and apparently, everyone on the team did so, to start.
  • The team had strong, trusting connections with key members of the community, so when they shared that message on social media, it reached those key members – who amplified it even more.

Had any one of those bullet points been missing from this equation, I’m not sure the recruitment would have been as successful.

What will happen now?

  • I hope the names and contact info of everyone who signed up is in an excel spreadsheet or database program, for easy reference.
  • I hope a variety of volunteering opportunities are created to entice these men to continue to be involved and accommodate their schedules, opportunities that range from more just-show-up episodic volunteering to more one-on-one, higher responsibility opportunities (and these will, of course, require more training and screening).
  • I hope the school is revisiting its safety policies and ensuring those are being followed.
  • I hope things are being put into place right now so that, in six months and a year from now, all of these activities can be evaluated, and successes can be bragged about and attract much-needed funding for the school so those successes can be amplified.

Congrats to Dade Middle School for getting it right. I’ll aspire to do the same.

Also see:

How schools & small governments should be using social media

The days of everyone getting their information from one newspaper is over. Newspapers continue to disappear and most of those that are left don’t readily print school-related information anymore, like weekly lunch menus, sports scores, the dates and times of the Spring musical, etc. A growing number of people get their community information ONLY from social media. If your government agency, school or nonprofit isn’t posting to social media, you are leaving out that growing number of people.

Here’s the good news: you aren’t creating any new text to use social media. Rather, you are using information you already have prepared for other communications. If it’s public information, it needs to be on your mail social media accounts. Often, that means just cutting and pasting information from another platform.

I’ve added two new resources on my web site, one to help local governments to use social media, like Facebook, Twitter, etc., one to help schools to use social media:


Tips for small cities, towns and counties on using social media

To not be using social media to deliver information and to engage means you are denying critical information to much of your community and promoting an image of secrecy and lack of transparency. In fact, the lack of use of social media can be seen as your city council or county government trying to hide something, and even lead to rumors that are much harder to dispel than they would have been to prevent. This advice talks not only about exactly what your school should be posting to social media, but also how to handle tough questions and criticism.

 


Tips for schools on using social media

No excuses: your school needs to be using social media. Whether you are just K – 6 or all the way K – 12 or anything in between, your school MUST be using social media. To not be using it means you are denying critical information away from parents and the community.

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Have you enabled a Larry Nassar?

Dr. Larry Nassar sexually molested more than 160 young girls. He didn’t drive around in a van and kidnap girls he didn’t know on their way to or from school. He didn’t jump out from behind a tree and grab a girl and run. He wasn’t a stranger to the girls he harmed, nor to their families. Coaches brought girls to Larry Nassar. Parents drove their girls to appointments with him. University officials and Olympic team officials created and supported the environment where Nassar was allowed to do this.

Does that scare you? Good. It should.

Rachael Denhollander, one of the first women to come forward with public accusations against Dr. Nassar, was the last to speak at his sentencing hearing. Her comments are worth noting: “Larry is the most dangerous type of abuser. One who is capable of manipulating his victims through coldly calculated grooming methodologies, presenting the most wholesome and caring external persona as a deliberate means to ensure a steady stream of young children to assault.”

Back in 2011, I wrote a blog called Why don’t they tell? Would they at your org?. It is about how, over the years, more than one person observed Jerry Sandusky, head of the nonprofit organization The Second Mile and former Penn State defensive coordinator, molesting boys, or heard someone say that they had witnessed such. Yet none of those people called the police and none of the people in authority that they told about what had been seen called police. The blog was about how we create environments where, not because of policies but because of culture, we discourage people from asking tough questions or reporting something that has the potential to be profoundly disruptive to everything an organization, a program, or a campaign is trying to do. It’s how, in so many cultures, we are discouraged from even asking questions. The #meetoo movement has confirmed so much of what I said in this blog back in 2011.

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersIn that blog, I challenged nonprofits, non-governmental agencies, universities, government departments and other mission-based programs – and particularly aid agencies with staff members in the field! – to take a hard look at not just their policies, but their culture. and I asked: Are you never hearing about inappropriate behavior by employees or volunteers at your organization not because nothing is happening, but because people don’t feel comfortable saying anything?

Per this latest case of harm to children, here’s some additional, more practical advice for parents and anyone working with kids in any capacity (coach, church group leader, etc.):

Any adult demanding or frequently asking for one-on-one, unsupervised time with a young person is something to look closely at and ask questions about, no matter that adult’s degree, job, religion or familial relationship. Whether it’s a doctor, a priest, a rabbi, an Iman, a teacher, a coach, a choir teacher, an uncle, an aunt, whatever: think about that one-on-one time, why it’s necessary, if it’s really necessary, if it’s appropriate, and how it makes you or your young person feel. Never let fears of how your questions might be perceived or that you might make someone uncomfortable keep you from asking questions. It’s perfectly reasonable and appropriate to say, before your kid goes on a school trip or sporting event, “Will any of these kids ever be alone, one-on-one, with an adult and, if so, what would the circumstances be?” As a parent, remember that you have EVERY right to say to any person in charge, to any adult in a program, even to a doctor, that you would prefer that one-on-one time not happen. This isn’t about parenting or managing from a place of fear and suspicion; it’s about parenting or managing from a place of “I’m watching and I care.”

One-on-one time between an adult and a child or teen is usually a wonderful, positive thing, something to be encouraged and cultivated in many circumstances. It would be a sadder world without one-on-one time between adults and children. But one-on-one time between an adult and a teen or child shouldn’t happen just because of someone’s title, and shouldn’t happen without questions. Ask questions. Decide your comfort level. Listen to kids – and watch them, because often, their behavior will tell you very quickly that there is a problem.

Also see:

Lessons from UN Cares re LGBTI inclusion in the workforce

UN Cares is the United Nations system-wide workplace program created to provide support for UN staff and their families impacted by HIV. In recent years, UN Cares has expanded its focus to also address the rights of LGBTI people working within the UN system.

Laurie Newell, global coordinator for UN Cares at the U.N. Population Fund, says in this Development Ex article that people have come to her over the years describing the UN as a “really homophobic place to work” and asking if there was something that UN Cares could do about it. She says that one of the methods that has worked well in changing UN workplace cultures to be more welcoming for LGBTI people at the UN has been engaging the most senior leaders, because these are the people that can delivery the message with authority and emphasize what the organization expects “in terms of building an inclusive workplace of dignity, fairness and respect, including LBGTI colleagues.” She also says that, if your organization works in the area of human rights or the Sustainable Development Goals, you should “align the purpose of your initiative to the larger goal of the organization,” borrowing language from the SDGs. “We can ‘leave no one behind.” That means starting in-house with making the goals of the SDGs a reality.

The entire Development Ex article is worth your time to read.

Being gay and working in a humanitarian agency is wrought with difficulties and risks, and the biggest challenges can come from co-workers, as this Guardian piece illustrates. Sexual harassment and violence against female aid workers while on mission is widespread, but what’s under-reported is that many gay male aid workers are also targets of such, specifically because of their sexual orientation, and the majority of perpetrators of sexual violence and harassment against aid workers, including blackmail, are their own male colleagues.

International aid agencies and NGOs have mandates that include deliberately, publicly supporting human rights, equality, inclusion, protection and social justice, yet these same agencies will often ignore conditions in their own work place that make it hostile to gay staff members, justifying their lack of action as respecting religious or cultural views of anti-gay staff – something they would not tolerate were those views about a different tribe or ethnicity.

LGBT Aid Workers is a very new online platform for LGBT aid and development workers to come together, share stories and advice, and get support from each other. It’s worth checking out.

I made a personal commitment years ago to be supportive of gay co-workers in my humanitarian and development work: I will staunchly, absolutely protect their privacy, I will never, ever do anything that could “out” them (to be “out” is their choice to do or not, it is not mine), I will listen to their concerns and ask how they would like me to be an ally, particularly regarding their safety, and I will speak out with co-workers if I hear anti-gay rhetoric, reminding staff – even a supervisor – that human rights includes all humans.

Also see:

Accessibility: a human rights & a digital divide issue too many ignore

If your initiative has a mission regarding human rights or the digital divide, shouldn’t that include a web site that is accessible for people with disabilities or using assistive tech?

I’ve made a less-than five-minute video talking about why. I captioned it using the YouTube closed captioning tool, which is AMAZING:

Voluntourism is fighting back

I have voluntourism in my Google Alerts, so that I can get links to press releases, news articles that mention the term. I’m not fond of voluntourism, where volunteers pay large amounts of money to go abroad for a few weeks, or even several weeks, to engage in a short-term activity that will give them a sense of helping people, animals or the environment. I look at this growing industry with great skepticism in terms of actually helping anyone, because it’s focused on the wants of the volunteer – that feel-good, often highly photogenic experience – not the critical local needs of local people or the environment, and there’s little screening of volunteers – most everyone is taken, so long as they can pay. What these foreigners bring through these voluntourism programs is often not skills, experience or capabilities that cannot be found locally – it’s money, and I see no evidence that this money benefits local people – maybe the people that run the program are “helped”, but not those meant to be helped by the volunteers. I don’t think all pay-to-volunteer schemes are horrid, and I don’t think creating a vacation that has a social or environmental “good” goal (transire benefaciendo) is a bad thing, but I think there are a tremendous number of voluntourism programs out there that aren’t really benefitting communities in the developing world – and some are actually causing harm. I push back to questions about and posts prompting voluntourism on Quora and Reddit, and I’ve been pleased to see more and more people doing the same. That push-back must be working, because now I’m also seeing a lot of voluntourism companies aggressively fighting back on the blogosphere, asserting that their programs are worthwhile (but never offering hard data to prove it).

I’ve been happy to see the tide turning against many forms of voluntourism as people realize that work abroad should make local people the number one priority, not the feel-good experience for a foreign volunteer. For instance, Australian NGOs are refusing to place volunteers in orphanages abroad, because of the exploitation of children, potential harm to children, and lack of any data showing such voluntourism helps children at all.

The UK’s International Citizen Service (ICS), which has placed thousands of young people in volunteer roles around the world, is now under scrutiny: Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) has taken action against ICS and other members of the UK consortium of organizations providing volunteering opportunities over safety concerns. The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), according to a report by VSO, regarded ICS as a “high-risk programme due to the security and safety issues” involved.  “ICS safeguarding incidents have included death by drowning of two volunteers, sexual assaults, and the detention of volunteers by local police.” Volunteers live and work in countries where they may be exposed to petty and violent crime, political instability, endemic diseases and natural disasters.

There’s even a growing backlash against medical voluntourism, per reporting by Noelle Sullivan, a member of the faculty in global health studies at Northwestern University, who says her research shows that some people volunteering abroad for a few weeks, or several weeks, to engage in medical “help” for people in developing countries “does indeed cause harm.

It must be taking its toll, because I got a link to a press release about how a certain African “foundation” has hired a PR agency “to change the public perception of medical volunteering or voluntourism.” I’m not going to link to the press release – no free publicity here for a for-profit marketing company. But I had a look at the “foundation”‘s web site. The site is mostly about the gorgeous “luxury” accommodations for volunteers on a game reserve, whcih has an onsite gym, an infinity pool, a private patio “for stargazing,” and nearby opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, golfing, weight training, yoga, abseiling, white river rafting, tubing, kloofing, microlighting, helicopter rides, “and hot air ballooning!” The company can hook volunteers up with wildlife photography tours and photography courses, half day trips to an animal rehabilitation center “featured on National Geographic,” and visits for “pampering yourself at the local spas.” I’m surprised there aren’t workshops provided on how to take the perfect “Look how I’m helping these poor people” selfies… Oh, there is a page or two about the medical services volunteers will squeeze into their busy schedule enjoying all that hiking and hot air ballooning.

Also see: