Ethical Volunteering Conference 2016!

 Tourism Concern’s Ethical Volunteering Conference took place on Saturday 26th November and was a great success, so thanks to all of you who came and contributed. Here is a brief summary for those of you who missed this event.


Tourism Concern Executive Director, Mark Watson, welcomed everyone with a brief presentation on the work of our charity. He proceeded to note our concerns about the burgeoning volunteering ‘industry’ in which volunteers can pay thousands of pounds to undertake what can turn out to be unfulfilling and disappointing placements abroad.   For many people, volunteering is often a once in a lifetime opportunity, so it is important that people get it right. The critical step, Mark argued, is to understand your motives for wanting to volunteer. The purpose of our event was to help people to understand all the issues involved, recognize best practice, and pick up good questions to ask.

Tourism Concern Program Manager, Peter Bishop, spoke about the work of our charity in this field, highlighting our 2012 report ‘International Volunteering: Filling in the Gaps’, and the GIV standards, and more recent work of the Ethical Volunteering Group. Peter then gave us some ‘take-home’, best practice principles, that we should think about when selecting organisations with whom to volunteer.

Best Practice Principles:

  1. PURPOSE – Achievable objectives that have been identified by host partners and communities. Make sure you understand the project and your role within it!
  1. MARKETING – Marketing and imagery that is consistent with good practice. If a company offers responsible conservation projects, for example, then check their marketing images fit these claims. Are their images with animals consistent with appropriate care and contact with animals? If they have photographs of people riding elephants and cuddling drugged tigers, then I would think twice about taking their claims seriously. Similarly, do not be fooled by the ‘we’ve sent thousands of people’, ‘thousands of volunteer pounds have aided the local economy’, ‘our volunteers have a life-changing experience’. Always beware of over-enthusiastic claims.
  1. RECRUITMENT Fair, consistent and transparent recruitment procedures. A company should be upfront about your placement, the details of the location and the project as well as what is expected of you and where your money goes; if the answers you receive are vague there is usually a reason for this!
  1. PRE-PLACEMENT INFORMATION Clear and accurate information on the sending organisation, their partners, programmes and volunteer placements
  1. PRE-PLACEMENT TRAINING Appropriate preparation, training and induction
  1. VOLUNTEER SUPPORT Ongoing support appropriate to the placement and volunteer. What is available to you should be clearly outlined before you go.
  1. RISK MANAGEMENT Ensuring protection, safety and well-being of volunteers AND those they work with. Be sure to ask about how the impact on the community is measured; a company should have a clear understanding of the role and impact they are having in a relevant location.
  1. MONITORING & EVALUATION Ongoing monitoring and evaluation in order to improve performance and ensure work remains relevant. Be wary of an organisation that only shows positive feedback and is unwilling to engage in constructive criticism. A company should be able to answer clearly what they have achieved so far. This is a clincher, as they should be able to point to tangible achievements. There are many examples of volunteers painting the same school, again and again, counting the same sea turtle’s week after week, and ‘orphanages’ renting village children to create work for volunteers.

Peter advises any potential volunteer to look at the company and question whether they are a business or a charity, or a business that supports a charity. Is their main motivation to sustain a business or were they set up to achieve a specific goal? Do they have a written policy on ethics and responsibility?  What is the evidence for its implementation? It is one thing to pay your own way, it is quite another to support a profitable business. This might seem like a lot to consider, but if you think about the time and money that goes into these projects, it is important to get it right. And this is not just about being responsible and ethical, it all goes to make your project more worthwhile and hopefully a wonderful experience.

Tourism Concern Campaigns Officer, Helen Jennings, spoke briefly about her own experience in the volunteering sector and led a discussion on the variety of motives that people express when volunteering.

Key Motives that emerged:

  • To make a difference
  • To engage with a particular culture
  • To learn something
  • To further career / CV
  • To have something to put on Facebook
  • To have fun
  • To help other people


Helen noted how fantastic it is that the volunteering Industry is so vast. Whatever the motives, it is amazing that so many people are willing to donate their time to help others.  We simply need to harness that energy and good will towards organisations that are committed to long-term, sustainable and worthwhile projects. As with all tourism, we vote with our money and our time. By choosing an organisation that is aligned with your principles we will help to ensure that these are the projects that succeed. Helen warned the audience not to volunteer with too many unrealistic expectations: you are more likely to gain value in cultural exchange and new friendships than you are to change the world.

Film – The group then moved to a cinema where we watched Chloé Sanguinetti’s documentary, ‘The Voluntourist’, which explores the question of whether voluntourism is doing more harm than good?

We broke for lunch and a chance to network!

The afternoon began with a great talk from the Director of the Seaver Foundation: which is a member of our Ethical Volunteering Group. They pride themselves on their child-centred approach to volunteering. The Foundation works with children both here and in Mexico, conducting research and providing programs for children living in extreme poverty. Their work is facilitated both through the employment of local, professionals and through volunteers. We were fortunate enough to welcome Elle, the Director of the Foundation, to speak about the often controversial topic of volunteering with children. Elle began by stating how complicated the topic is, and how she believes that when done well, volunteering with children can be very beneficial for all concerned.  She offered three points to be conscious of when choosing an organisation to volunteer with:

  1. Protection – Does the company you are looking to volunteer with a call for certain requirements prior to your placement? For example, you should be asked to have a DBS check and made aware of child safeguarding procedures.
  1. Purpose – Think about the purpose and motives for your visit: be realistic about you might be able to contribute in any given time frame, and look for an organisation that clearly defines both what the project is, and your place within in. If your sole aim is simply to connect with a child and then leave, this is not enough and nor will you succeed.
  1. Participation – Think about how you can best participate. What skills do you have to offer? Are you are a good cook, an artist, and/or talented in sports? Such skills are useful when working with children living in extreme poverty.

For more information, on The Seaver Foundation visit Here or Here

Andriana Laskari, a volunteer from ICS, came to share her experience of when she volunteered on an entrepreneurial project in Kenya. She spoke with enthusiasm about her experience, how her skills in design and animation came in for unexpected use, as she could help local businesses market successfully. Adriana talked in detail about her time with a host family, with whom she is still in touch, noting what a unique and special time this was for her.

Perhaps the big highlight here is that it is the friendships that are made through travelling and volunteering that many volunteers claim to be the most important thing to come out of their experiences.

The aim of the conference was not only to raise awareness of issues surrounding volunteering but also to inspire people with ideas about worthwhile volunteering projects. And what better way to do this than hear about and show some videos from the organizations that are part of our Ethical Volunteering Group.

Ethical Volunteering Group

This aim of the group is to ensure that volunteering can be a force for good by collaborating with ethical and responsible international volunteering organisations that are passionate about maximizing the positive developmental outcomes of volunteering, whilst also working to minimize potential negative impacts.

Our Members

SEED Madagascar (Azafady) – is a UK-based charity working with a Malagasy NGO in south east Madagascar on a variety of community health, sustainable livelihoods, education and environmental initiatives. They offer a number of unique and award-winning volunteer placements – both long and short term. SEED’s approach is one based on partnership with local communities, working to alleviate poverty and support some of the world’s most vulnerable people in threatened and irreplaceable environments. Azafady is a recognised regional specialist in capacity building at the community level (empowerment, information, education and training, advocacy.

Watch Video:

The Crees Foundation – Is a conservation and sustainable development organisation that has worked for over a decade to promote sustainable resource management in the Manu Biosphere Reserve – a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most important areas of biodiversity globally. The Reserve is part of the last intact forest in Peru and is home not only to an amazing array of fauna and flora, but also to indigenous people and an ever increasing community of immigrant settlers who are struggling to live sustainably and in harmony. We strive to create a realistic long-term model for protecting the bio-diversity of the rainforest, one that fully involves the people who live here. This means encouraging and providing support for sustainable ways of making a living from the rainforest. Rather than feeling the pressure to exploit their environment, we want the local communities to realise its importance as a long-term resource, vital to their prosperity. This has to be a collaborative effort. On the one hand developing education programmes, on the other, building up enterprises that involve local know-how and harness global concern.

Watch Video:

IndiGO Volunteers – Is a UK registered charity. They exist to help humanitarian projects in the developing world, gain access to volunteers who might fill skill gaps they need. They connect volunteers with the right skills and attitude to facilitate a brilliant volunteering placement. We do not charge fees for volunteering and we focus on truly responsible volunteering. We are therefore the first fee-free, responsible and skilled volunteer network. Our model is enabling more people to volunteer, more often, on their journey to help more humanitarian projects that will greatly benefit from their support. It all began with founders Benjamin & Holly travelling the world in search of projects, and then working to define project goals and volunteering needs.

The Seaver Foundation – The Seaver Foundation is a small charity founded to combat commercialism & promote children’s rights in volunteering. They are a group of child professionals who believe that with the right structure, cultural understanding & support, programmes can be safe, sustainable & truly beneficial to volunteer & child alike. The Seaver Foundation also works in the UK as well as in one community in Mexico; we believe there are equal needs close to home. Our focus is on responsible partnerships in small communities where we can develop a culturally relevant understanding of long-term needs. We promote a child’s right to be heard and to receive responsible rehabilitation, always considering their views and responses to our services.

Pod Volunteer An award-winning, non-profit organisation arranging ethical and supported volunteering opportunities around the world. With over 10 years of experience Pod Volunteer offer a personal and professional service only working with long-term projects they know personally and where there is genuine benefit to local communities. They offer great value 1 week to 1 year placements at volunteer projects in Belize, Cambodia, Ghana, India, Madagascar, Nepal, Peru, South Africa, Thailand and Vietnam. Volunteers of all ages are needed to join in animal care, building, child care, teaching and community development projects around the world.

Watch Video:

Inter-Cultural Youth Exchange is a unique user-led registered charity working in the field of personal, social and community development. ICYE-UK host volunteers in the UK because they believe strongly in the principles of a reciprocal exchange. Volunteers live and work in countries throughout Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe, helping to support local NGOs, communities and to develop their own skills and experiences. Their main programme is our long-term programme, which enables individuals to volunteer for 6-12 months, but they also have a short-term programme of 3-16 weeks. As part of an international federation of NGOs, ICYE UK ensures excellent training and support and prides itself on breaking cultural barriers and bringing different people together. The federation’s aim is to promote peace, cultural understanding and youth empowerment through opportunities of international exchange and voluntary work overseas

Watch Video:

VSOThe world’s leading independent international development organization works through volunteers to fight poverty in developing countries. VSO’s high-impact approach involves bringing people together to share skills, build capabilities, promote international understanding and action, and change lives to make the world a fairer place for all. When people team up, they can spark the changes that transform lives. Working with partner organisations, such as local NGOs, governments, and teaching institutions, VSO volunteers make a lasting impact on the lives of some of the world’s most disadvantaged people. VSO staff and volunteers work with people living in developing countries to identify critical issues and solutions needed to tackle them

Globalteer – A registered charity that runs community projects in Cambodia and Peru, focussing on long-term community-led solutions to challenges caused by extreme poverty and poor education. We also provide support and connect willing and skilled volunteers with carefully selected partner NGOs in education, wildlife rescue, and conservation throughout South East Asia and Latin America. Globalteer seeks to aid the development of self-sufficient, locally run projects which effectively address the most pressing needs of disadvantaged communities. Globalteer has built up relationships with our partner projects over many years and as a consequence our placements fit all the responsible volunteering criteria that we believe are so important to sustainable development.

Watch Video:

Latitude Global Volunteering – is an international youth development charity. Our mission is to educate and develop young people worldwide by providing inclusive opportunities for them to make a positive difference to the lives of others through a distinctive, challenging, structured and supported international volunteering experience in a culture and community different from their own. Through global volunteering, we give young people the opportunity to experience the world beyond their community and to truly engage with it. We help to develop young people’s awareness and responsibilities towards themselves and others and equip them with vital life skills.

Watch video:

Blue Ventures -is a science-led social enterprise that works with coastal communities to develop transformative approaches for nurturing and sustaining locally led marine conservation. We work in places where the ocean is vital to local people, cultures and economies, and where there is a fundamental need to support human development. Blue Ventures develops projects that act as incubators for innovative approaches to incentivising, financing and sustaining marine conservation from the grassroots. Our integrated Population-Health-Environment (PHE) approach enables coastal communities to live more healthily and sustainably with their marine environment. And once they have developed a model that works, we support communities to share their experiences and encourage uptake or adaptation by others. We also collaborate with partners – NGOs, businesses, universities, governments and funders – to drive broader adoption of their models. Our work has won international acclaim for its innovative and integrated approach to conservation and development.

Watch Video:

Reef Doctor – is a UK-based, non-profit, tropical marine conservation organisation working in south-west Madagascar. Our organisation adopts a holistic approach to undertake coral reef conservation, by integrating of marine research, management, education and social development initiatives. ReefDoctor works with local fishing communities to encourage the sustainable use of marine resources in order to protect ecologically valuable marine habitats and secure the future livelihoods of coastal communities. We believe that by educating and involving local communities in the sustainable management of marine resources they can become successful stewards of their own environment.


Useful Links:

To see more information on our EVG:

To apply to be part of this group:

To read our report on ‘International Volunteering: filling in the gaps’:

To become a member to support the work we do:



About the author

Helen Jennings

Helen has studied at the Universities of Goldsmiths, Kent, Jyvaskyla (Finland) and The Arctic University of Norway (Tromsø) where she obtained a MA in Indigenous Studies. She has travelled extensively and has lived and worked in Canada, Scandinavia, and South America. Helen is particularly interested in cultural, indigenous, and spiritual tourism, ideas behind sensible ‘regulation’ and is convinced of the value of ethical and sustainable tourism.

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