JK Rowling and LSE: The UK - and the US? - take on Ethical Volunteering

For decades, child protection and rights specialists have known that orphanages are bad for child development - but they have found few allies in the popular media - until now. J.K. Rowling has an astute understanding of the intersection of short-term international volunteering and negative impacts on children around the world:

“Voluntourism is one of the drivers of family break up in very poor countries. It incentivizes ‘orphanages’ that are run as businesses. Globally poverty is the no. 1 reason that children are institutionalized. Well-intentioned Westerners supporting orphanages perpetuate this highly damaging system and encourage the creation of more institutions as money magnets.”

Or from her Twitter account:

Please, if you are considering volunteering in a foreign orphanage, read this first https://t.co/PIsy49iKeP pic.twitter.com/ZWOSNke4Wi

— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) August 22, 2016 Think this does not apply to the university sector? It does. Incoming students believe they should get service experiences, high schools therefore increasingly engage international service, and our own staff and faculty often vaguely encourage volunteering abroad. These short-term, harmful relationships with children are for sale in the marketplace we have inadvertently created. Try a quick Google search: Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 9.49.04 AM   As institutions of higher education and responsible NGOs advancing ethical global engagement, we must take a leading role in supporting best practice global learning and cooperative development. That's why the London School of Economics has created a pledge in the UK, asserting, "Universities have a duty to stop promoting orphanage volunteering." At the 4th International Service-Learning Summit, we'll be addressing these issues head-on. Previous Summit participants have indicated that they strongly value the participatory orientation of the Summits, and that they would like to see this community move forward on ethical standards. Before and during the Summit, we will therefore be advancing the question - and hopefully a statement - indicating the appropriate ethical role for institutions of higher education involved in global community engagement.

If you’re reading this post, you have a role in addressing these issues.

We look forward to seeing you at an engaging Summit, moving forward best practices and understanding at the intersection of global learning and cooperative development.


Manhattan, Kansas, is beautiful in the fall.

View the program, register now and book your hotel.

The 4th ISL Summit is hosted by the Staley School of Leadership Studies at Kansas State University. Summit co-sponsors are Cornell University, Duke University, Northwestern University, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Notre Dame.