Hope you caught the announcement from the European Commission today – “Green light for Erasmus+: More than 4 million to get EU grants for skills and employability.” The press release has at least one item of interest for the voluntourism world and that is:
More than 500 000 young people will be able to volunteer abroad or participate in youth exchanges
(BTW: This is something the U.S. Congress tried to put together years ago with advocacy from the Building Bridges Coalition. It never reached fruition.)
The Erasmus+ effort looks like it has some promise, particularly as a continuation of past efforts within the European Commission. The question for us: “Are there any implications for voluntourism as a result of this announcement?”
Some of my original arguments against U.S. Congressional funding for volunteering abroad will apply in this case. Immediate questions include: “Who, i.e., participants, will be eligible to receive funds?” “Which entities will be eligible, e.g., are there any exclusions based on ‘for-profit’ vs. ‘non-profit,’ do the entities have to be incorporated within the EU, etc.”? “If there are exclusions, how will this change the balance of the volunteering abroad community?” “Will entities be held to certain criteria regarding their operations?” “Because volunteering abroad requires hands-on guidance with volunteers, will the EU be looking to advance local youth employment and employability in host destinations as well?” “Will the EU offer a matching grant option for some of the grant money to leverage the funds and broaden the base of participants?” And the list goes on.
Clearly, any funding that is earmarked to move more volunteers around the planet, in this case up to 500,000 more, is significant. If we hold that the 2008 TRAM ATLAS Report – “Volunteer tourism: A global analysis” – represents the most accurate numbers on volunteering abroad –
Based on our survey of over 300 volunteer tourism organisations worldwide, we estimate that overall the market has grown to a total of 1.6 million volunteer tourists a year, with a value of between £832m and £1.3bn ($1.7bn – $2.6bn). The most substantial growth in the sector has taken place since 1990.”
– then this infusion by the EU will represent a potential 33% increase!
What is more compelling, however, is that these funds will be earmarked for EU residents. This could double, triple, even quadruple, or more, the number of individuals volunteering abroad from certain EU States. And, if these young people return to their homes and share their stories with families and friends, we could see a significant jump in the voluntourism market in the EU over the next 5 – 10 years, something that I certainly did not consider, given the growth of domestic & international voluntourists from the South East Asia market and India, China and Korea.
One of these days, North America, South America, South East Asia, and the Middle East will band together in a similar fashion as the EU has and create mechanisms for moving young people around the planet to engage in voluntary service. If a unified world is the goal, which hopefully it is, these service engagements play a two-fold role – 1) opening the field of volunteering abroad to individuals who could not otherwise participate in such experiences, and 2) connecting cultures across borders to uncover the potentialities of a more inter-dependent world.
The task will not be a simple one. The EU will need much support to see this reach greater heights of possibility. Doubtless, they will have some sharp folks looking into this. Let’s hope they have plenty of voluntourism field experience to fall back on.