Volunteering – why it’s not a part of socialbnb

Can i volunteer in a socialbnb?

Booking a socialbnb means staying in an accommodation of a social or ecological project instead of a traditional hotel or hostel. During that stay you get a close encounter with the local people and get insights in the important work of the project. We often get the question: “Can I help? Can I also book a volunteering stay?” There are several reasons why we decided that this is not part of the socialbnb experience. While there are many productive and helpful forms of volunteering, some negative side effects to the popularity of volunteering opportunities have occurred. Especially, in projects that work with communities, children, vulnerable people or wild animals, volunteering can become a problem.

In this blog post we want to give you an overview about the biggest challenges and how you still can have an impact while travelling.

Voluntourism – a billion dollar industry

Voluntourism means the connection between a holiday stay and working within a social or ecological project. It is a well-meant thought to give something back when you are travelling through a country. Apart from that, many people often shortly after school, want to experience a new culture and be productive in the meantime, it has even become a popular way to improve the CV. The increased popularity of this form of travel has produced a billion-dollar industry1.

The problem in here is that the primary function of many organisations that offer voluntourism programs is not development cooperation: they offer commercialized entertainment tourism2. To cater to travellers, the mentality of local projects towards volunteers is often that the needs of volunteers take precedence over the needs of the project’s target group3.

This is particularly evident in the short periods of stay, maximum flexibility, negligent selection processes, insufficient preparation of volunteers and attractive tasks on site. Imagine this: Could you work in a German Kindergarten without work experience, without background checks on how well you do with kids, sometimes for just a couple of days? And sometimes with traumatized children?  The answer is obviously no.

On top of that, volunteers in these critical organisations are often allowed to function as primary caregivers and develop emotional relationships with these kids. The volunteer will leave sooner or later, the child will potentially have many unstable relationships with frequently changing and unqualified volunteers. The same can happen for projects that work with wild animals, which are then used as tourist attractions instead of trying to release them into the wild. In addition, wild animals depend on permanent caregivers for their species-appropriate development throughout their time as young animals.

Keep the work local

Another factor is, that jobs are taken from qualified people in the country that volunteers are visiting. Employing someone local or even providing the possibility of professional development likely to be more valuable than employing someone who plans to stay for a short time. In addition to the continuity that this local employee provides to the organization, in many countries a single person employed can support the livelihoods of several other family members, which in turn has an impact on local communities and local value creation. Sadly, social or ecological projects often do not have the funding to employ people and need to rely on volunteers.  That is why stable financing is essential to their productiveness.

Profit or Non-profit?

Be aware of scams: The dark side of the voluntourism business are fraudulent organisations that look like NGOs from the outside, while their main goal is to generate profit. Sadly, voluntourism has created a demand for people and animals in need of help- even when they don’t exist. An example for that is the situation with orphanages In Nepal: Here, 85% of so-called orphans have at least one parent4.

The situation is similar in countries like Uganda and Cambodia. However, as orphanages whose concept is based on working with short-term volunteers bring in profit, the demand for orphans is increasing everywhere, and families are being ripped apart to meet tourists’ demand for short-term volunteer work with children5. It is often possible to work in orphanages even for a couple of days, the children are not protected against exploitation or abuse at all. This is one example, why we have a very strict selection process to avoid supporting those NGO scams.

For you- or for the locals?

We often connect development work in the global south to the idea that we personally can help and that our contribution is always beneficial since people in the global south are underprivileged and our effort is always appreciated. “White saviourism” is a term that describes the idea we have of countries in the global south and our relationship with them. Coming from a rich country and arriving in a poorer one often means taking stereotypes with us of which we aren’t even aware, some of which are rooted in colonialism. The volunteer often view themselves as heroes who help defenceless poverty-stricken people and therefore make the world a better place.

A lot of these ideas are stereotypical or even plain wrong and create an unequal power structure. When we don’t reflect on this issue, it is easy for us to simplify the reasons for the social inequality that we witness. In this way people from the global north insert themselves into stories which are not their own, the main goal isn’t helping anymore. The orphanage industry is just one example of why this is harmful. Volunteering organisations can capitalize on this false narrative, be mindful of what your attitudes are when visiting another country. You can find detailed information about how to deal with this topic in our traveler guidelines that you receive after you booking.

How to find the right organization?

Because of those critical aspects within volunteering, this is an important criteria for us at socialbnb to decide if we work together with a project or not.  We check under which circumstances they allow volunteers. We pick organisations that have a similar understanding of the importance of protecting children or other vulnerable groups from exploitation. Criteria to be a part of socialbnb are for example child protection polices and a minimal stay for volunteers. The work of the NGO must always be the main goal.

Still, volunteering can be productive if done right and is often an essential way to create income for many projects and therefore shouldn’t be disregarded completely. We hope however that using tourism as a stable income base, will provide a valuable alternative. Learn more about our process how we evaluate the projects we work with.

If you consider volunteering make sure you have enough time, you work in a place that you are qualified for, and that the sending organisation is legitimate. Try staying away from jobs that could be done by someone native to the country. Reflect on what is in the best interest of who you want to support and ask yourself if this is the best way to help. If you are looking for another way to support, you can always donate and try to spend your money on companies and tourist attractions that are locally owned instead of big international companies.

Finally, you can always decide to book a stay in a socialbnb to generate revenue for the projects and make them less dependent on offering volountourism activities!


Additional links:

https://rethinkorphanages.org/; https://bettercarenetwork.org/bcn-in-action/rethink-orphanages

https://www.spiegel.de/ausland/white-saviors-in-afrika-wir-brauchen-keine-weissen-retter-a-853c6e9f-2239-404c-9b90-92ddeb0503d4

https://www.unicef.org/rosa/what-we-do/child-protection/volunteering-orphanages