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?”

“CareBnB”: Voluntourism 2015 and Beyond – Part 1

CareBnBAs we enter the 15th year of the 2nd Millennium A.D., we are seeing some emerging patterns across the globe. Two of these patterns – the sharing economy and the voluntourism sector – will begin to more fully integrate in the year ahead, in part because we ALL must begin to integrate our sustainability, our responsibility, our thinking, our actions, and our values more wholly and completely, or else! What will this look like exactly?

The Emergence of a Modified, More Advanced “CareBnB”

Doctors without Borders developed “” to address Ebola in West Africa and launched the site in Fall 2014. However imaginative and clever the site may have been at the time, it hasn’t even come close to realizing what is waiting to emerge in this space.

Think of AirBnB merging with LinkedIn, with Doctors without Borders (and every other skilled-workers-moving-about-the-planet-to-volunteer provider), with WWOOF and with the Travel Sector. The conflation of these various approaches will introduce something we have yet to see, at least on a broad scale. What will this consist of?

Individuals will create profiles based on their combined “care” AND “travel” resumes that will be developed through the insights of LinkedIn, AirBnB,  and Doctors without Borders (and similar providers). The Travel Sector will assist individuals in maximizing their purchasing power and mitigating their currency exchange risk through assisting them in booking travel through the most cost-effective methods. The catalog of opportunities and the membership approach of WWOOF will assist CareBnB in meeting its financial obligations and sustainably supporting itself over time.

There will be three different Care-Seeking/Care-Fulfilling audiences for the future iteration of “CareBnB.” The first potential audience will be those seeking to care for a space/have a space cared for. The second potential audience will be those seeking to care for Pets/Animals and those seeking to have their Pets/Animals cared for (of course, this could be coupled with the first audience, but not all members of the first audience may have pets/animals). The final potential audience, and likely the most imaginative of all, will be those seeking to care for people and those seeking to have people cared for.

It is the latter of these that we will concentrate on for this particular post.

Why exactly?

Health Care Pressures

The economic pressures coupled with the desire for caring of those with illness will continue to move from hospitalization, in the West, to home care. Families will be caring for loved ones, and loved ones will want to be at home, rather than the sterile, depersonalized environments of many of the current facilities offered – those which must cater to governmental regulations and countless other rigorous protocols in order to even operate.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor StatisticsEmployment Projections 2012 – 2022,” home-based healthcare represents 2 out of the top 3 projected leading workforce increases during the decade with an estimated 1 million additional individuals filling the job titles of “personal care aides” and “home health aides” (with “less than high school” education being required to fill the positions). Some families will bypass these aides altogether, while some will solely use aide workers; others may initiate a combined approach – family members and care aides working side-by-side; still others will initiate a family & friends approach – volunteering, if you will, to care for loved ones. And, as you might have guessed, there will be another version – visitors stepping into the caregiving mix.

Social Media

Social media has opened our lives to others to inspect, to share and invest in. It has brought the sharing economy into existence because we can check on one another from long distances, without requiring the “face-to-face” or “handshake” that has traditionally brokered arrangements with others. We have more ways than ever before to conduct educated assessments of each other, to speak to one another over the internet, to email, and text. This proliferation of connectivity and greater transparency enlivens the potential for

Integration of Service & Travel

The growth of the voluntourism sector has raised our awareness to the notion that individuals truly are willing to integrate their travel and their desire to serve. What’s more, we have come to realize that this integration need not be for extended periods of time. In fact, most individuals want to do so for periods of days and weeks, rather than months or year(s).

How Will This Start?

Introducing the “Care-for-People Resume” will expand on these long-standing models of exchange – “a visitor can stay in the space if they agree to care for it and/or the animals in it.” The People-Care model will take more time to develop. The early-adopters will likely be those who are accustomed to being cared for – say high-functioning quadriplegics, as an example, and those who receive regular care via multiple caregivers. Inviting a nurse from Austria to stay with you in Arizona could serve as an extraordinary encounter for both individuals. What’s more, the individual for whom the nurse may currently be supporting in Austria, may converse with the individual with whom the nurse might stay with during his/her trip to Arizona.

Some early adopters may be former caregivers themselves, or world travelers, or those with experience in hosting visitors – exchange students, for example. The list will increase as the willingness to explore increases.

Final Thoughts…

The door has been opened to this new approach of volunteering and travel intersecting with the sharing economy. A more robust version of “CareBnB” is emerging even as we speak. It is happening in slightly varied ways around the world – Aids Hospice volunteers for example, staying with local host families. Eventually it will become even more integrated.

With the push for more unique approaches to care, and the growing demand in the Western world for the need for human care in the household space, possibilities for creativity and “new technologies” are ready for our adoption and continued evolution.

Fortunately, 2015 offers yet another reason to expand the experiment in collective human care through travel and service – “CareBnB” indeed!