“Flourishing” – A Conscious Enhancement for Voluntourists?

RSUS_22_01_cover.inddDr. Alexandra Coghlan, in the Department of Tourism, Sport, and Hotel Management at Griffith University, has published numerous articles on volunteer tourism over the past decade. Her most recent offering, “Tourism and health: using positive psychology principles to maximize participants’ wellbeing outcomes – a design concept for charity challenge tourism,” is currently available for download from the Journal of Sustainable Tourism website. I highly recommend taking a closer look at the proposition that Dr. Coghlan puts forth. She writes [p.7]:

“This paper is based on the premise that it is both desirable and possible to integrate findings from the emerging science of positive psychology into the design of tourism experiences to improve their quality. Doing so extends the tourism and wellbeing literature beyond a description of wellbeing outcomes from tourism, and moves towards the deliberate experiential design of a tourism product to bring about human flourishing.”

She illustrates her vision with the following figure:

Tourism and health: using positive psychology principles to maxi

What does this tell us about voluntourism?

The Charity Challenge and Voluntourism

The charity challenge is closely aligned with voluntourism. In fact, some might consider it a form of voluntourism. What distinguishes charity challenges from what is most often considered voluntourism is that the voluntary service which is performed – traveling to a destination voluntarily to climb, hike, walk, bike, what have you, in an effort to raise funds for a cause – benefits communities outside of the destination. This distinction has raised numerous questions for host destinations, particularly those communities near such icons as Mt. Kilimanjaro in Kenya, as an example.

However, this is not what I wish to address in this post. Others have raised this question, most recently Nik Frey in this short piece for the Daily Nexus. No, for this post, I want to draw our attention to the premise that Dr. Coghlan puts forth, mainly that tourism products (in our case, voluntourism products), can be designed using the latest findings in a field such as positive psychology.

The Emerging Field of Developmental Leadership

Some of the most promising literature in the field of developmental leadership research has been introduced over the past several decades. Findings by Gardner, Graves, Cook-Greuter, Torbert, Wilber, and more recently, Scharmer, Laloux, Watkins, and numerous others have presented a very definitive picture of what we may do by designing experiences with a conscious awareness of enhancing what has been most commonly referred to over the last decade-plus as our awareness and perspective. Awareness and perspective have been described in the context of quadrants, lines, states, stages, and types by Wilber, and the Integral Theory that has ushered forth from these conceptual frameworks has moved across the globe rapidly through consultancies and publications.

A Confluence?

What has not been explored in the literature, at least to this point, however, is how this developmental leadership research and theory can be applied in the context of tourism products, or in our situation, in the context of voluntourism products. Coghlan’s premise may serve as a catalyst for academics to consider developmental leadership theory and its application in the design of voluntourism products, as the charity challenge certainly has an alignment with voluntourism and positive psychology similarly reflects the breakthroughs in developmental leadership theory.

Final Thoughts…

Coghlan’s piece represents a possible breakthrough in the exploration of the design of travel & tourism products – that we can consciously design travel & tourism products with the goal of wellbeing and “flourishing” at the heart of them.

Can we transfer this notion to voluntourism experiences?

Certainly, if we are developing ourselves as leaders and as human beings through uniquely designed “voluntourism” products, we are potentially benefiting the planet, not merely the destinations which may experience economic, and possibly social benefits as a result of voluntourists making their ways into host communities. If we can incorporate some of the concepts of developmental leadership theory and practical guidance that has emerged from those who have dedicated countless hours to researching how human beings develop and expand their awareness and perspective, we may introduce a new form of voluntourism that in effect will assist us in re-conceptualizing it (more on this in a future post).

For now, let us see if we can build on Coghlan’s thoughts of enhancing the wellbeing of humans, not as a mere byproduct of tourism, but as a consciously designed experiential approach to travel and voluntary service.


International Women’s Day: Celebrating Their Ginormous Contribution to Voluntourism

SarahWhile the world celebrates International Women’s Day, it is important to recognize the tremendous contribution that women have made, are making, and will make to voluntourism. With nearly 80% of all voluntourists being female, the significance of their involvement at the community level, at the participant level, and at the facilitating level is beyond measure.

For those who may be wondering why women are such an integral part of voluntourism, there is still no clear cut answer. Hypotheses abound regarding the nurturing nature of women, their  inclination to be of service to others, and their willingness and interest in traveling to places with which they are unfamiliar in an effort to make the situation for people living there just a little better.

I have spoken to many women over the years. Some have shed tears in reference to their voluntourism experiences. Some have told me about how much they have grown through their journeys. Some have shared with me how much it meant to them for visitors to come to their villages. And some have put forth great effort to ensure the integrity of voluntourism. These women have impacted me in many ways as I have watched either from afar or up close and personally their direct and indirect contributions to voluntourism. The world of voluntourism is all the better because women play such an integral part in it.

So, on this day of celebrating women around the world and what they have accomplished, the challenges they are facing – in quite a number of  places, an uncertain future, we should all take a moment to honor how they have shaped voluntourism to become what it is today. And in seeing what women have done so far, can you imagine what voluntourism will look like ten years from now in 2023?

Reconciling The Conundrum: What’s Next For Voluntourism?

2013 marks the 10th Anniversary of VolunTourism.org. Watching this space for the past ten years has proven to be a roller-coaster adventure to say the least. It just so happens that as we enter this second decade of monitoring the progress of voluntourism, we have an opportunity to do so at the beginning of several interesting threads to pay attention to in the coming years.

Holei Sea Arch 380

Holei Sea Arch – Hawai’i Volcanoes Park

First, President Obama is entering his second term in office. There are some real opportunities for voluntourism to expand in the U.S. due to an increased focus on domestic voluntourism, but also a very unique opportunity for the potential engagement of international visitors in volunteering at U.S. National Parks, which turn 100 years of age in 2016. (I discuss this further in the latest issue of The VolunTourist Newsletter – “Could Voluntourism See Significant Growth During Obama 2.0?“)

Second, we are but two years removed from the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) final year (2015). The next couple of years will bring forward many questions as to how well the world has responded to the call from the United Nations nearly 1.5 decades ago. And questions will be raised as to the effectiveness, or ineffectiveness, of voluntourism to contribute to the MDGs during this final two-year span.

Third, Brazil will play host to two major sporting events over the next 3 years – – The World Cup (2014) and The Olympics (2016). The favelas will doubtless be brought into the conversation at some point. Will visitors contribute to the well-being of the Brazilian society and the environment when they visit the country? Will they be volunteering during their stays? Might they possibly help Brazilian sex workers learn English, or other foreign languages, to enable them to negotiate better situations for themselves?

Finally, calls for Aid Transparency will create a whole new genre of voluntourism – geo-coding voluntourism – and will encourage travelers of all ages to use smartphone technology to upload data on official development assistance (ODA) projects around the planet. Geo-coding voluntourists will not be confronted with rhetorical questions such as: “Are you doing more harm than good?” Their contributions will be accepted and redistributed in a matter of minutes, if not seconds, for them and the world-at-large to see.

Final Thoughts…

If you are wondering why voluntourism will be moving in these directions, well, you have to realize that a growing number of people on this earth are beginning to resonate with the potential socio-economic impact of voluntourism and are encouraging this type of travel. Critical analysis from academic researchers is now being put forth with suggestions and recommendations on how to improve voluntourism – not whether it is a good idea or not.

As information continues to spread throughout the emerging “global mind” we call the internet, we will see inspiring practices from the ever-growing family of voluntourism practitioners. Time will prove the catalyst for refinement as we discover what’s next for voluntourism.