Improving Voluntourism Impact: A Global ESN for Host Communities and Voluntourists?

IDS-VSO Report 2015Impact. We hear this word often in the context of voluntourism.

This past week, VSO released a report entitled “The Role of Volunteering in Sustainable Development,” which provided some insights into the impact that volunteers have on host communities – a notable shift from all that is discussed regarding the impacts of these experiences on volunteers.

You can review the executive summary of the report, of course, yet this opening salvo gives you an excellent taste of what is to follow:

This report summarises findings from the global action research
project ‘Valuing Volunteering’. The research explores how and why
volunteering contributes to poverty reduction and sustainable
positive change, and the factors which prevent it from doing so.
It looks at both the intended and unintended impacts of
volunteering interventions.
VSO Message on Voluntourism Impact Is Consistent
What might have drawn the attention of some of you, if you caught up with this report via The Guardian, were the remarks offered by Katie Turner, global research and advocacy adviser for VSO, who shared the following about voluntourism:
We don’t believe that all voluntourism is bad. It depends on the impact it has on the ground. From our point of view, if it’s purely a case of volunteering for the sake of the volunteer, that’s not truly volunteering. It has to be about the impact of the work on the ground.”
If we line these up with remarks given to The Guardian in 2007 by Judith Brodie, former director of VSO UK, we see marked consistency regarding impact:

“While there are many good gap year providers, we are increasingly concerned about the number of badly planned and supported schemes that are spurious – ultimately benefiting no one apart from the travel companies that organise them.

“Young people want to make a difference through volunteering, but they would be better off travelling and experiencing different cultures, rather than wasting time on projects that have no impact and can leave a big hole in their wallet.”

The impacts of the Voluntourism Sector on host communities are being singled out as the most important contributors and/or detractors – more so than what voluntourism does, or does not do, for participants.
ESN logosEnterprise Social Networks (ESNs): Can They Improve the Impact of Voluntourism on Host Communities?
One thing we can see from the VSO report is the significance of impact. Eliminating bad programs is certainly one way to approach this end-goal – – VSO, and numerous others, have adhered to this call-to-action for years!
Is there another way?
By the year 2016, IDC estimates that sales of social enterprise software will top $4.5 billion. As social media moves from the social space to the enterprise space (e.g., Twitter to Tibbr), the option of moving voluntourism from Instagram, Facebook, and/or WordPress, to Slack, Socialcast, and/or Jive, seems ever more doable. If such a move took place, could the impact of voluntourism change?
Enterprise social networks (ESNs) are beginning to eliminate email; they sync with mobile technologies; and, as some argue, they are enhancing productivity. Imagine having voluntourists self-organize into a massive online community focused on improving the impact of voluntourism in real-time. Whatever a group of voluntourists, or an individual, is doing in Zimbabwe could very easily sync with what a similar group is doing in Madagascar, or elsewhere. If these groups had a “voluntourism” ESN to align their activities and experiences, and host communities had a similar ESN, or the same one even, the amount of sharing and connectivity could increase exponentially!
And that must certainly contribute to improved impact, right?
Final Thoughts…
Are we ready for a Global Voluntourism ESN?
I do not know. Perhaps we could begin with a prototype?
I do think that giving voluntourists an alternative to existing interfaces with specific providers and NGOs (which in most situations, attempt to set up their own “closed” social networks) represents a fresh start. Bypassing the “branded” social media experiences crafted by individual entities and utilizing a worldwide ESN focused on improving the impact of volunteering – wherever, whenever, however – could definitely benefit host communities. Voluntourists and host communities could learn in real-time; they could shift activities, for example, by finding out something which is working in, say, Colombia (as an example), where they are training former death squad members to be yoga instructors.
Anything which could place such elements as relating, serving, learning, or other practices into a real-time experiential environment, coupled with reporting results, impacts, and modifications, through a collective, globally-shared medium, and we could be on the verge of a real difference-maker.
What would it look like? Which ESN platforms might work better than others? Is there an ESN platform that allows people in the field, without wifi or network connections, to store data that automatically uploads when they do? Would an ESN help to professionalize voluntourism? Enhance our communications around it? Better understand its impacts? Share those in a manner that would allow more people to be informed about these impacts, and thus be able to leverage them, modify them, and/or eliminate them?
Many questions yet remain to be explored; here is one worthy of the initial ask: “Are there any voluntourists or host community residents who would use an ESN platform to improve the impact of voluntourism?”
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