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Responsible Volunteer Policy
Responsible Volunteering – Responsible Tourism Policy
There is a common misconception that volunteering abroad must be a good thing and will positively benefit not just the volunteer but the host community and those involved. Unfortunately this is not always the case. The increased demand for volunteer placements in developing countries has been met by an influx of new projects and volunteer sending organisations created purely to meet this demand. The result may cause devastating effects to local culture and result in the exploitation of both the volunteer and the host community.
The aim of this guide is to inform both volunteer sending organisations and potential volunteers how to act responsibly and can be used as a tool to develop responsible volunteer practices for everyone involved.
What is responsible volunteering?
Responsible volunteering involves everyone thinking about and taking responsibility for their actions.
For volunteers, responsible volunteering involves having an open mind, preparing yourself well before hand, being ready to learn from the host community, respecting and taking time to understand those you work with and taking time to research and find a responsible volunteer sending organisation.
For sending organisations, responsible volunteering involves developing projects that address actual local needs and have the communities’ needs at their heart. Understanding and respecting the host community is paramount to the success of any project. Long term commitment, support and adoption of sound environment, economic and social practices are just some of the ways sending organisations can start to become ‘responsible sending organisations’.
Why Responsible Volunteering?
Standards in the volunteering industry are not consistently high resulting in Volunteering often coming under criticism. Some projects being accused of doing more harm than good due to a lack community involvement, planning and understanding. By not following basic responsible and ethical principles volunteer projects can result in the exploitation of both the volunteer and the local communities’ expectations and run the risk of creating a dependency culture.
Responsible volunteering is crucial in ensuring a valuable and worthwhile contribution is made to the host community. By adopting the principles of responsible volunteering you can help create benefits for the host communities and reduce negative social, economic and environmental impacts.
What is responsible tourism?
To date there is no single agreed upon definition of what ‘responsible tourism’ is or accreditation system resulting in confusion and improper use of the term. Terms such as alternative tourism, ecotourism, green tourism, sustainable tourism and ethical tourism further this confusion as they are used interchangeably.
Despite tourism being the world’s fastest growing industry and bringing positive benefits to many countries the negative impacts, too often, far outweigh the good. Concern is growing over irresponsible business practices and recognition that something needs to be done now before its too late, along with increased media attention has led to responsible tourism being developed as a tool to minimise negative impacts.
Responsible tourism involves and aims to
- Minimise the negative economic impacts and work towards creating economic benefits for local people through employment and local purchases.
- Minimise the negative environmental impacts by adopting environmentally friendly practices and contributing to and supporting local conservation efforts.
- Minimise negative social impacts by involving local people in decision making, contributing to development of basic facilities and conserving culture and heritage.
- Create a more meaningful experience for tourists by encouraging understanding and respect of local culture and environmental issues, building local pride.
- Building relationships between tour operators and host communities based on mutual respect and shared goals
- Providing access for physically challenged people.
Responsible travel is about everyone taking responsibility for their actions, from tour operators to local governments, to the host communities and tourists themselves. Responsible tour operators work alongside local communities to create positive and equal benefits from tourism and create sustainable livelihoods. Responsible tourists seek meaningful experiences through learning from respecting and understanding local communities to minimising their environmental impacts and accept their surroundings for what they are.
How can I be a Responsible Volunteer?
There are a few simple steps that can be taken to help you on your way in becoming a Responsible Volunteer:
1) Choose a responsible volunteering organisation:
2) Question the organisation
3) Question your motivation for volunteering
4) Sign the Volunteer Code of Conduct and Good Practice
1) Choose a responsible volunteering organisation
There is a growing number or volunteer sending companies out there ready to take your hard earned cash. It is vital that you not only know where your money is going but what the quality of the placement is and that your work is needed and wanted by the host community. Aim to find out what is in it for the host community, not just you.
When choosing a company look for those that:
- Have a good relationship with the host community - An ethical company will work in joint partnership with host communities, working together to develop and achieve realistic outcomes. Look for those that represent communities in developing countries in a positive and respectful manner through images and text, giving you some clue to their relationship with those communities.
- Offer projects that are beneficial and relevant to the destination – Does the village need a school if traditional livelihoods mean they work from a young age? Does conservation need improving if the community are doing a perfectly good job in the first place? Does learning English benefit a community that is so remote tourism doesn’t occur there? Projects for the sake of projects are extremely damaging to both the community and the volunteer. Carry out your own research before hand and read as much about the project as possible.
- Have a selection policy – It is vital that organisation selects suitable candidates for their placements and those with the right motivations, avoiding disappointment on the volunteer behalf and any clashes with the host community. Those that do have a selection policy are likely to care about the quality of their projects and therefore the suitability of volunteers to those projects.
- Have suitable training programmes – Some volunteer placements may involve you doing something you’ve never done before so those that prepare you well before hand will help you be a better volunteer and your contribution will be more beneficial. For some of the smaller organisations pre-departure training may not always be possible but they should still want to talk to you beforehand to find inform you of what you will be doing and how.
- Keep in contact with you on your return – An ethical organisation will want to keep in contact with you even once you’ve paid your money and completed your placement. A de-briefing after your programme will allow you to bring up any issues you may not have been able to during the placement, helping the organisation to make changes to their projects where needed.
2) Question the organisation
Once you’ve found a responsible volunteer organisation you’re happy with there are several questions you they should seek to find the answer too BEFORE you book. If you can’t find the answer on their website then contact them, if they don’t or won’t give satisfactory answers then it may be worth re-evaluating your choice to one that does. Any responsible volunteer organisation will happily answer the following:
1) What will I be doing?
2) How is my money spent?
3) What training and support will I receive?
5) Is there any local involvement?
6) How long are the projects run for?
7) Does the company have an eco/ethical/responsible policy in place?
8) Can I talk to ex-volunteers or local workers?
9) Can they give me precise contact details for my chosen programme?
3) Question your motivations for volunteering
Once you have found a responsible organisation you’re happy with and they can answer the necessary questions its time to consider your own motivations for volunteering. Think about your reasons for going and expectations of volunteering, it is vital that your expectation match with the projects to avoid misunderstandings and ultimately disappointment.
Ask yourself if you’re ready to take on the responsibilities mentioned below. Are you prepared for living and working in a developing country? Are you willing to go into your placement with an open mind and willingness to learn from the host community and be adaptable to change?
Volunteering is often hard work, dirty and stressful but can also be a fun and extremely rewarding experience. Its is important to manage your expectations and consider if volunteering really is for you before parting with your money.
4) Sign the Volunteer Code of Conduct and Good Practice
Code of Good Practice for Responsible Volunteers
As a volunteer your actions and attitude towards your placement and the host community are paramount to its success. By adopting the responsibilities below you will not only improve the quality of your experience but, more importantly, improve the quality of life for the host destination.
Responsible Volunteers should:
- Research the country, its communities and relevant issues before they go. Be aware of the issues such poverty, inequality and politics in the country so you know what to expect. Study all information and resources given to you, as well as your own research. Preparing yourself well to live in a developing country will have a positive impact on your contribution.
- Understand what is being asked of them from the job role and be ready to take on the challenge. Thoroughly read the job role, so you know what to expect and asking any necessary questions to prevent any disappointment or misunderstandings.
- Be prepared to adopt the role of learners and guests. Respect local customs and traditions by familiarising yourself with the local culture, lean a little of the language and adhere to dress code etc). It is important to have an open mind and be prepared to learn from the local communities, which is a large par t of volunteering, rather than adopting the “I know best” attitude. Volunteering should be a mutual exchange and NOT a personal gain. Share a little of your knowledge but be prepared to add a lot to yours and gain a meaningful experience.
- Always act in a professionally throughout their placement. Your placement is not a holiday but a chance to contribute to development projects, therefore it is essential you professionally, turning up on time and carry out your duties as expected.
- Be prepared to be flexible. As well as adhering to your job role its important to be flexible in your approach and be prepared to adapt to changes in your itinerary and job role. Be open to how things are done in other countries, they may be very different to how things are done at home and it is important to respect this.
- Take care of their personal health and safety. Follow procedures and health and safety guidelines at all time. Take out suitable health insurance for you time aboard informing you insurance company of what work you expect to be doing. Ensure you seek professional medical advice on health and relevant injections before going away.
- Participate in feedback at the end of the placement. Your experience of living and working in another country can provide invaluable information for those thinking about doing a placement. By participating in feedback you will be able to bring up any issues you had and suggest any improvements allowing organisations to make positive changes that will further improve the quality of life for the host community.
Sending organisations responsibilities
Volunteer sending organisations not only have a responsibility for their environmental, economic and social impact but also a responsibility to the project and their volunteers.
Responsibilities to the project:
There is often a high demand for volunteer placements, especially in developing countries leading to many projects being set up in order to cater for this demand. Projects should fit with local needs and requirements and address actual local problems. Sending organisations should have the following responsibilities to the project:
· Ensure the project is based on realistic and achievable aims and objectives, meeting the needs of the host community.
· To provide volunteers with skills that match the needs of the project.
· Work in joint partnership with local governments, organisations and the host community.
· Work to ensure projects are sustainable to avoid dependency by the host community.
· Volunteers should work with, not instead of local workers.
· Provide appropriate resources and support to run the volunteer programmes to those involved
· Provide ongoing evaluation and monitoring of projects.
Responsibilities to the volunteer:
Volunteer sending organisations have a responsibility to the volunteer to provide them with a meaningful project that is based on solid responsible volunteering principles. Responsibilities to the volunteer include:
· Provide an honest and accurate image of the organisations true values and objectives. This allows volunteers to understand what the organisations values are so that those that share them can take part in their volunteer programmes.
· Ensure job roles are accurate and useful to the project.
· Provide free, fair and unbiased information on their organisation and placements as well as access to independent resources allowing potential volunteers can make informed choices.
· Prepare volunteers for the project through information on culture, what to expect and orientation programmes.
· Use fair and consistent selection procedures that are made clear to the volunteer from the start.
· Provide continual support for volunteers. From the moment they book until after they return home volunteers should have 24 hour access to support allowing issues to be quickly dealt with and maximise volunteer contributions.
· Provide adequate training and induction programmes for volunteers.
· Ensure the health and safety and well being of volunteers to protect them from harm and potentially harming others.
· Recognise the importance of volunteers and value their contribution helping them to realise the importance of their effort in the overall picture of the project.
· Prepare volunteer. Reading, cultures, what to expect, orientations
Volunteer sending organisations need to assist in creating local economies and ensure that the host community benefits financially directly from the placements.
· Help create a local economy through employing locals, using local accommodation and sourcing food and products locally where possible.
· Cost of volunteer placement is covered and paid directly to the relevant local partner.
· Donate to other community development projects that will improve the quality of life for the host community.
· Operate a policy of financial transparency, providing break down of costs and how and where the money is spent.
The needs of the host community should lie at the heart of all volunteer placements. By understanding the host community and building equal partnerships based on mutual trust and respect volunteer placements can run successfully.
· Any marketing should portray host communities in a positive and ethical manner.
· Respect host communities and their values, attitudes and beliefs whilst encouraging volunteers to do the same.
· Create local employment opportunities resulting in an alternative sustainable income for many families.
· Support and develop local infrastructure, health care, education and sanitation etc. creating a better life as a result of tourism.
· Use small group sizes to avoid
· Work with local people to develop and train them in relevant and useful skills providing them with a sustainable future.
· Long term placements help to build strong relationships, create local pride and develop a sustainable future for the host community.
Many volunteer placements may take part in areas of environmental degradation and fragile ecosystems it is therefore vital the organisations work with the host community and local governments in developing conservation goals and supporting these through training, education and finance.
· Adopt environmental friendly policies in both U.K offices and at the destination.
· Encourage volunteers to offset their carbon emissions for their flights.
· Use fixed group sizes to avoid putting pressure on the surrounding environment
· Educate and train the local community where necessary on conservation and environmental management
· Encourage volunteers to adopt environmentally friendly practices.
· Help to introduce more environmentally friendly waste management systems where needed