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Fair trade volunteering or voluntourism?


I came across this interesting view on tying up volunteering with overseas projects and campaigns – voluntourism.  It was written by Valere Tjolle, the editor of the global online tourism resource and I’ve included it verbatim below simply because readers need to be signed up to the Travel Mole service to access the often useful content.

I don’t take any credit for the contents but it did make me think that there is an opportunity for more charities to create voluntourism packages to support their fundraising efforts… what do you think?


Fairtrade voluntourism launched

Over the past few years, the number of volunteering opportunities and the organisations which provide them has grown substantially and there now a whole range of type and quality of placement for the prospective volunteer.  Some are commercial organisations; others are charities, churches or schools.

There are also host communities or projects overseas which directly recruit volunteers online. With the majority of these, volunteers are expected to make a payment for their placement, which may go towards covering their living costs, support while on placement, ongoing support for the project or as a fee to the organisation which has placed them.

With the increase in the concept of volunteering as a “saleable product”, has come a whole host of different types of operators with different priorities for the volunteers, the projects and the money it brings in.

This growth and diversity has also brought a great deal of negative coverage of volunteering, with the sector being criticised for exploiting volunteers and overseas projects for commercial gain.

Fair Trade Volunteering (FTV) aims to show that this is not the case across the board; however there are certain standards which must be met and maintained to ensure that the benefit the volunteers bring is a genuine and lasting one. The five criteria of the FTV standard (which all FTV members must meet) demonstrate that, when done correctly, volunteering can be a genuine form of sustainable development.

“Fair Trade Volunteering is not a kite mark or a CSR strategy,” says Gavin Bate, FTV founder. “It represents the fundamental ethos and operating philosophy of an organisation, and we are inviting the heads of organisations which share its principles to join together to create a voice for good in the industry.”

The Fair Trade Volunteering logo is an independent registered trade mark. While it is not officially linked to the Fairtrade Foundation, it does share many of their principles, including that of the “Fairtrade Premium”.

The growth of FTV will highlight the genuine benefit well-managed volunteering can give to overseas projects, whilst helping to raise the bar for the industry as a whole. It will also serve as a benchmark for individuals or groups looking to take part in a volunteer placement overseas, to help ensure their contribution is a positive one.

Fair Trade Volunteering (FTV) has been launched as a movement which aims to set the standard for short-term overseas volunteering.

Standards are as follows:

  • MINIMUM “LOCAL INVESTMENT” LEVEL Organisations provide investment into the project itself above and beyond the volunteer’s time and work. This can be in the form of finance, resources or training.
  • LONG TERM COMMITMENT TO THE PROJECT (MINIMUM 3 YEARS) Organisations have a direct relationship with the host project or community, and develop the project in joint communication with their project partners.
  • CLEAR AND HONEST PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND THOROUGH VOLUNTEER PREPARATION Organisations give clear, comprehensive and honest descriptions of their projects. They also have an appropriate pre-departure selection, preparation and training programme.
  • IN-COUNTRY SUPPORT AND PROJECT MANAGEMENT Volunteers receive constant support and regular communication while on site at their project.
  • 100% VOLUNTEER EXPENSES COVERED BY THE PLACEMENT ORGANISATION, NOT THE LOCAL COMMUNITY Organisations ensure that 100% of volunteer expenses on site (food, accommodation, transport) are covered, and are not in any way the responsibility of the local community.

Valere Tjolle, editor of the Sustainable Tourism Report Suite 2011

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 21/11/2011 2:12 pm

    OK…but anytime you come up with five requirements of a “good” project, you obviously leave out many more highly successful models. Our Conversation Corps, for example, is a highly successful model of people volunteering to teach conversational English to families and living with them. At least two of the requirements written by Ms. Tjolle simply are not relevant to that model of volunteering. Volunteer teaching the same.

    This happens constantly when someone is not comfortable with a multitude of successful business models and then tries to fit an entire industry into a few requirements for a logo to put on a website.

    Lastly…verification for the logo and ONGOING VERIFICATION that the organization is meeting the requirements is lacking in this piece. As is having requirements placed upon RECEIVING organizations, most of which market for more and more volunteers.

    Randy LeGrant

    • 22/11/2011 6:38 pm

      Hi Randy. I agree totally that whilst a Fair Trade logo does bring certain benefits if used correctly, not all programmes fit the fairly narrow parameters set for being given this particular standard (it’s actually worrying when you think about how many industries and sectors this applies to!) But, that doesn’t mean those programmes aren’t outstanding in their own right, against different criteria.

      Your cultural exchange opportunities tied up with volunteering options look to me like a truly rewarding experience for those taking part – and I’m assuming the communities benefit too?

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