Volunteering that Hurts, Global Change Campaigns, Universities and Nonprofits

September 18, 2020

Eric Hartman 

On Friday, September 25th, from 9:00 am to 10:30 am EDT, we’re hosting a free webinar, What NOT to Restart, and Opportunities Moving Forward – Global Engagement Post-COVID – and on Friday, October 16th, from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm EDT, we’re hosting Global-Local Curricular Connections and Experiential Education (also free). These seemingly distinct events are deeply interrelated – and they also relate to new opportunities for committing to ethical global engagement. I’m going to provide a bit of context before sharing those new opportunities below. 

Introduction: A Crisis in International Service and Volunteering 

In 2015, I was invited to a meeting hosted by the Better Volunteering Better Care Network, which included leading global organizations such as Save the Children and UNICEF. We gathered to address a global issue that was harming children. After the meeting, I came back to my role as an Assistant Professor at Kansas State University, blogged about Why UNICEF and Save the Children are Against Your Short-Term Service in Orphanages, and learned from the Director of the Staley School of Leadership Studies that we would be able to host a global Leading Change Institute on the topic of Ethical Global Partnerships, Learning, and Service. Both meetings built on strong foundations by gathering folks who had always been willing to acknowledge that volunteering doesn’t necessarily help, who brought backgrounds in critical global development and commitments to community-led social change. 

Yet the patterns that Better Volunteering Better Care clarified in London, coupled with the horrific practices related to medical volunteerism among pre-professional students, catalyzed us toward stronger actions and clarified a global campaign. In Australia, ReThink Orphanages launched a major cross-sectoral campaign to divest from orphanages. In the US-faith-based sector, Faith to Action re-clarified that strengthening families is the best way to meet the needs of children. In the UK, the Volunteer Manager at the London School of Economics wrote that universities have a duty to stop promoting orphanage volunteering. And here in the states, the network that has become the Community-based Global Learning Collaborative followed up the Kansas State Leading Change Institute with several articles and videos that not only clarify why orphanage tourism and volunteering is a bad idea for children; we also worked to share what does work well in global partnerships that aim to advance shared learning as part of building more just, inclusive, and sustainable communities.

I want to recognize here that I’ve pointed to initiatives in the Global North, deliberately, because it is comparatively privileged people with comparatively privileged narratives that reproduce stories validating paternalistic efforts that undermine community development. If we’re situated in privileged positions and involved in global partnerships, part of our job is to push back on paternalistic and colonial narratives to make space for more community-led initiatives emanating from more diverse areas around the globe. Additionally, each of the meetings and initiatives above is rooted in diverse, polyvocal partnership, which will feature in our September 25 conversation as we hear from leaders based in India and Kenya, and with strong experience in Nepal. 

Resources and Critical Questions for Ethical Global Engagement

A few of the resources that emerged through that work are below, including the adoption of national standards in education abroad and gap years. But this isn’t merely about clarifying what not to do, nor is it merely about doing. This work requires critical self-reflection, particularly among individuals raised in the Global North or with relative privilege in any context, working to understand how dominant discourses function to reward wrong actions in international volunteering, service, and philanthropy sectors. After sharing some of the videos and articles we’ve created, I’ll link to current opportunities for committing to this movement for ethical, critical, and aspirationally decolonial community-based learning and research for more just, inclusive, and sustainable communities. 

How volunteering abroad in orphanages is harmful to children (3 minutes)

Research on good, bad community impacts of international volunteering, voluntouring (3 minutes)

Fair Trade Learning  – a strategy for advancing ethical partnerships (3 minutes)

Fair Trade Learning, featured in this last video, is an effort to advance a critical, questioning methodology for partnerships that advance consequential actions toward the co-creation of more just, inclusive, sustainable communities. Our Fair Trade Learning page has a few of the tools, action steps, and relevant research that have developed through its consideration but it’s absolutely a work in iterative progress, and several collaborators and organizations have worked to clarify it, update it, or connect it with their broader standards work.

Fair Trade Learning plays a pivotal role in the Forum on Education Abroad’s Guidelines for Service-Learning, Community Engagement, and Volunteering Abroad and the American Gap Year Association’s Program Standards. And while it’s great to see these efforts codified by Congressionally-recognized standards organizations, it’s equally essential to keep the critical questioning and diverse perspectives on contribution and co-creation moving forward. A few years ago, I worked with Ramaswami Balasubramaniam, Janice McMillan, and Cody Morris Paris to contribute Ethical Global Partnerships: Leadership from the Global South to The Wiley International Handbook of Service-Learning for Social JusticeThe conversation moved forward there and elsewhere, and we’ll continue it this coming Friday as well.

Critical Conversations aren’t Enough. What do we DO differently?

Many of the efforts above have shifted individual and organizational behaviors, but there is so much more to do to reach toward ethical engagement in campus-community partnerships. To advance that effort, the Collaborative invites all individuals and organizations or institutions to sign on to a commitment that has grown from this work. The commitment challenges individuals and organizations to advance community-driven leadership, ensure protections for individuals in vulnerable populations, improve ethical representation, deepen learning, and advance evaluation of theories of change that actually move toward more just, inclusive, sustainable co-creation.

  • Individuals are invited to sign the individual commitment , while
  • Institutions and organizations are invited to sign the institutional commitment to advancing ethical, critical, aspirationally decolonial community-based learning and research for more just, inclusive, and sustainable communities.

In the coming weeks, we’ll dive into the ways these commitments require us to consider the pandemic as a portal, reimagining how global engagement happens off campus and where opportunities for critical reflective consideration align with it on campus and throughout the curriculum. I hope to see you there. More information and registration links are below.

Friday, September 25, 9:00-10:30 a.m. EDT: What NOT to Restart, and Opportunities Moving Forward – Global Engagement Post-COVID

Since the turn of the last century, higher education institutions have been touting global engagement and global experiences as important institutional offerings that build 21st Century skills. As the COVID-19 pandemic slows international trade and travel around the world, global educators must pause to ask: What have we learned and what should we avoid moving forward? Finally, how might we build better structures and programs toward the communities and the world we aim to co-construct in the years to come? Panelists include:

  • Jackline Oluoch Aridi, East Africa Regional Research Program Manager, Kellogg Institute for International Studies, University of Notre Dame
  • Ramaswami Balasubramaniam, Medical Doctor, Distinguished Visiting Professor at Cornell, Harvard, and other Universities; Founder, Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement
  • Martin Punaks, International Development and Child Protection Consultant

The conversation will be facilitated by Eric Hartman, Executive Director, Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, Haverford College.

Register here (closes at 9 a.m. EST on September 24)

Friday, October 16, 2:00-4:00 p.m. EDT: Global-Local Curricular Connections and Experiential Education

Join members of the Global Engagement in the Liberal Arts Conference Community, along with the Community-based Global Learning Collaborative and the Haverford College Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, for this important and current conversation.

In the name of education that is enriching, engaging and relevant both with respect to students’ trajectories and in terms of understanding and addressing 21st Century Challenges, faculty, staff, students and community partners have worked to better  align interdisciplinary global engagement programs. During this opportunity for connection and conversation we will hear from a range of faculty, staff, and administrative voices who have made progress on these efforts at selective liberal arts institutions.

Each presenting team will have 10-minutes to share a deliberately concise summary of (a) institutional changes they’ve made to advance local-global-curricular-experiential engagement, (b) challenges they’re currently sitting with, and (c) next steps or opportunities that excite them most in this kind of work. Following these presentations, the community gathered will have an opportunity for a short break, followed by one-hour of facilitated discussion regarding how institutions can continue to build momentum for these kinds of programmatic efforts and related institutional changes. Presenters include:

Carleton College:

  • Scott Carpenter, Professor of French and Director of Cross-Cultural Studies
  • David Tompkins, Associate Professor of History and Director of the Center for Global and Regional Studies

Connecticut College:

  • Amy Dooling, Associate Dean of Global Initiatives Director of The Walter Commons for Global Study
  • Kimberly Sanchez, Associate Director of Engaged Scholarship & Community Learning

Dickinson College:

  • Samantha Brandauer, Associate Provost and Executive Director of the Center for Global Study and Engagement
  • Julia Carnine, Resident Director Dickinson in France and Contributing Faculty in French and Francophone Studies

Haverford College:

  • Thomas Donahue-Ochoa, Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science and Associate Director for Curricular Innovation and Connection, Center for Peace and Global Citizenship
  • Eric Hartman, Executive Director, Center for Peace and Global Citizenship

Swarthmore College:

  • Ayşe Kaya, Associate Professor, Political Science and Co-coordinator, Global Studies Program
  • Carina Yervasi, Associate Professor of French/Francophone Studies and Co-Coordinator, Global Studies Program

Wesleyan University:

  • Stephen Angle, Professor of East Asian Studies and Philosophy and Director of the Center for Global Studies
  • Magdalena Zapędowska, Assistant Director of Fellowships

Register here (closes Monday, October 12)


Eric Hartman is Executive Director of the Haverford College Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, lead author of Community-Based Global Learning: The Theory and Practice of Ethical Engagement at Home and Abroad, and Editor and Co-Founder at The Community-based Global Learning Collaborative. The Collaborative, the Pennsylvania Council for International Education, the Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development, the Global Engagement in the Liberal Arts Consortium, and the World Council on Intercultural and Global Competence are cooperating on these two webinars as important pieces in a series of fall events designed to deepen understanding of local inclusivity and its relationship with global processes and understanding. The Center for Peace and Global Citizenship is a co-sponsor throughout the series, as part of its celebration of its 20th Anniversary Year. 

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